I spent some time at kCura’s Relativity Fest, meeting people, sitting in on sessions and finding myself out of my element. My experience with eDiscovery is cursory. I’ve read about it, seen product demos and have a general understanding. Words were tossed around that my brain registered with print production of a magazine or newspaper, mixed in with technical terms like “load balancing.” Turns out, most people who don’t spend their days elbow deep in eDiscovery have similar experiences. One lawyer I talked to mentioned how a growing part of their business is eDiscovery for small law firms. Platforms like kCura’s Relativity help make that possible.
The conference was held at the Palmer House, a famous Chicago establishment. It’s also a labyrinth, requiring going down a set of escalators, turning corners and climbing a flight or two of stairs to get to a particular session room. It didn’t seem to bother anyone, but rather provide a source of humor.
One of the more interesting parts was a ballroom converted to a computer lab. Rows of long tables with PCs sitting on them filled the center. Along the sides were kiosks staffed by kCura employees who were available to answer questions, demonstrate new features that had been announced and be of general assistance. At the front entrance to the ballroom, there was another table setup and staffed by kCura employees that contained packets. These packets took users through changes, new features and additions to the Relative Platform. Attendees could pick up a packet, sit at a computer, log into their own Relativity instance and walk themselves through changes, updates and lessons geared towards helping them get more out of Relativity.
kCura set me up with some representatives at various law firms, including Seyfarth Shaw and McDermott Will & Emery. It was interesting to get a crash course in the history and evolution of eDiscovery, which seems to evolve a little faster than law practice in general but is still behind the pace of consumer technological advances. One of them provided the iPhone as an example, and that it is now impossible to get a full forensic image of an iPhone. The tools to do so haven’t been able to keep up with the develop cycles and encryption of consumer products.
I asked about the use of apps like Secret and Wickr. Having such apps installed on your phone is an immediate red flag, which wasn’t surprising. What was interesting, and what has come to light, is that such apps aren’t necessarily secret, either. Messages sent, even if deleted, still exist in a database somewhere. The word “delete” is another of saying hidden. Comparisons were made to iTunes, too, and how when it syncs it sometimes “deletes” information. It’s still there, just not visible, making it possible to read between the lines and piece together the data.
The more people lean towards encryption and secrecy, the harder some jobs become, it seems. I was also struck by the move towards more secrecy in the consumer market while a continued call for government and corporate transparency. Age-old tension, to be sure, private v. public. The Internet, and devices like the iPhone, merely magnify it.
Lawyers and Predictive Coding
Predictive coding has been getting attention quite a bit this year. One story I was told related to a case involving the Department of Justice, and the education of the Department of Justice on the benefits of predictive coding. The main argument is that it is a time and cost saver. It gets that way, though, through the use of lawyers. Lawyers need to tell systems what to look for, what to discard and help the systems learn over time. Examples of machine learning often related to employment law. There are databases of words and phrases flagged as inappropriate, or considered sexual harassment. Some law firms at the conference do some preventive lawyering by sharing these databases with their clients, educating them on what is appropriate in order to avoid a sexual harassment or employment lawsuit. The computing power is phenomenal, and law firms are putting it to use.
One area where predictive coding runs afoul, however, is in niche areas like pharmaceuticals. Documents contain chemical formulas with characters generally considered “noise.” Something like “2′-” (two prime dash) will be filtered out even though it’s important. Without lawyers working in tandem with machines, such information will get tossed, or lost. A workaround can be found, and systems programmed to employ them.
As much as the industry claims machines will overtake lawyers, turns out machines aren’t perfect, either. I came away with the sense that attendees of Relativity Fest understood the importance of technology, the benefits and cost-savings but that it is not a complete replacement of skill. Rather, it is another tool in the growing legal arsenal of technology.