Will Legalweek talk about the Ukraine War? Probably not.

 It's a technology conference, not a legal/political conference. It’s part of "the corporate legal industrial complex. It’s only about business and making💰" as one star in the eDiscovery ecosystem told me. But then he clarified.

8 March 2022 (Berlin, Germany) - LegalTech/Legalweek and ILTACON were the smallest technology events my media team ever covered. I used them as training opportunities for my staff so they knew how to cover the larger technology events. I have not attended in years, and I no longer send my teams. But from the feedback we get from our listserv, not much has changed: for the average attendee, LegalTech/Legalweek can be covered in a day and a half … and increasingly, that has been the duration for most attendees. ILTACON is a wee bit different.

What has always surprised me is that for an event where attendees and exhibitors pride themselves as saying they "break out of the silo" very few attend anything other than these types of events. And if the only technology events you attend are legal technology events (and that includes e-discovery events) then you’ve robbed yourself of the opportunity to attend events that demonstrate how technology events should be run. Plus, given the extraordinary, never-ending technological innovations … in particular, the explosion in information volumes along with the computing power and analytics applications now available … you really need to expand your horizons and attend real technology events or otherwise you’ll miss out on the truly outstanding technology out there that will effect, does effect the legal technology market.

I thought about all of this when I saw a Twitter thread from my good friend, Ralph Losey, which covered a number of points:

• he was astonished that the legal tech community is so tone deaf and absent about the war atrocities going on in the Ukraine

• he hoped every panel at Legalweek should begin with a minute of silence for the innocent people in the Ukraine who are being killed daily

• he hoped some vendors take time to explain how a E-Discovery can help prove the atrocities and bring the criminals to justice (he noted ZyLab's work which was instrumental in helping prosecute war crimes, and Nuix for its involvement in the Panama Papers - how its software brought meaning to information that would pose an insurmountable challenge)

• knowing that billions of dollars have gone into law technology in last decade, most from outside investors via private equity and venture capital, he hopes there was some way to certify there is no outside Russian money supporting law technology companies

I want to take the last point first because my team is already working on that aspect in our Ukraine war coverage. As we explained to Ralph, it is a bit tricky given how much Russian money has flowed into U.S. private equity and venture capital funds and at least one fund which has Russian investors has invested in legal tech. But this is no surprise. The United States is the single largest recipient of foreign investment worldwide. This openness reflects the country’s innovative industries, deep capital markets, and ease of doing business – since it is only about, all about the money.  

At the same time, a hands-off reporting regime makes it difficult for law enforcement and other government agencies to determine whose money is behind investment flows or where they should focus their investigative resources. While most foreign investment is benign, the current framework presents inviting loopholes through which adversaries can gain non-transparent access to U.S. businesses, technology, and data - and hide who they are. The German Marshall Fund did a huge study on this vis-a-vis Russian money flooding into the U.S. which is part of one of our upcoming Ukraine reports so I'll hold off more details.

As far as Ralph being "astonished" that the legal tech community is so tone deaf and absent - well, come on, dude. When the Trump Mafia seized control of the country for 4 years and painstaking emasculated the U.S. justice system, that was the time for action, for substantive panel discussions. But, my God man - in 2020 Legalweek had Rod Rosenstein as a keynote speaker 🙄.

Although there is one standout: OpenText. And they blast it out on their home page:

• They stand with the people of Ukraine, and condemn it in the strongest possible terms. These acts are war crimes.

• They have stopped all current and future business in Russia, removed all employees from Russia, set aside funds to donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency, and are in partnership with their key customers and governments to ensure their operations, supply chains and systems are protected, secure and resilient.

As far as having some vendors take time to explain how a eDiscovery can help prove the atrocities and bring the criminals to justice - he has some points. And even more so, there are vendors at Legalweek who excel at Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and make it an integral part of their eDiscovery/forensics process. As I have noted in my Ukraine series, OSINT has been a critical tool in understanding the Russia/Ukraine war. I will have a far lengthier post on OSINT in the coming week. It would be fabulous for Legalweek to promote that.

But I suspect the Legalweek organizers are not a fluid, agile group. And I can only look at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) as guidance. Cassandra Este, one of my technology reporters, just returned from the event and noted:

The GSMA, the organizers of the MWC, opened the conference with a strong condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

• They noted "in light of the emerging situation and considering the tragic loss of life, MWC seems immaterial under the circumstances. But MWC is a unifying event with a vision to convene the mobile ecosystem to progress ways and means that connectivity can ensure people, industry, and society thrive" and several vendors quickly added new programs to their agendas (more below).

The GSMA eliminated the Russian Pavilion (almost every country has its own pavilion showing off its mobile telecom wares) and it also eliminated numerous Russian companies presenting outside that pavilion.

Security for the event is constantly reviewed and adjusted as information emerges and it was beefed up due to the perceived Russian threat. [NOTE TO LEGALWEEK ATTENDEES: stay the hell off the hotel wi-fi, and be extra cautious. Legalweek attracts all manner of black hats, never mind any Russians].

As I noted, several MWC vendors quickly added new programs to their existing agendas, which were blasted out to attendees via the MWC app + the daily bulletin (every day, as you enter the event, after you pass the security portal, there is a bulletin summarizing the key events of the previous day, and updates on new events added that day).

Just two examples:

Why is Ukraine’s internet still up?

In the days before Russia invaded Ukraine, many observers thought the oncoming tanks would be preceded by cyber attacks and a media blackout as Russian hackers took down the country’s communications. Instead, Ukraine’s IT infrastructure has held up, allowing officials and citizens alike to dominate the global narrative with images of confused Russian soldiers and downed fighter jets.

Mobile infrastructure analysts from Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson explained that (1) the invaders need it and (2) Ukraine has spent eight years of effort to harden its IT infrastructure. 

Russia is relying on the network to conduct its attack. Putting a communications network together, other than radios, is actually really hard. Russian forces are likely navigating and communicating via cell phones and local internet connections. Military intelligence can see Russians using cell phones and local internet connections. You can't take down the cell phone towers, because then you blind yourself.

Plus, the opposite: Russian cyber ability is quite sophisticated. Russia is also preserving the networks to eavesdrop on the Ukrainian military and civilian resistance.

How is OSINT being used in Ukraine?

Maxar Technologies conducts the type of work that intelligence agencies do behind closed doors. They put together a quick tutorial on how OSINT researchers gained quick, mainstream traction on Twitter, TikTok and other social media. An information-hungry public was transfixed with the analysis of real-time movements of the Russian military. Maxar explained the use of newly available technologies to provide real-time analysis of key activities, like the supposed withdrawal of Russian troops before the war along the Ukrainian border (which never happened) and following the 40-mile Russian convoy outside of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

OSINT researchers use information freely accessible to anyone, which can include security video feeds and satellite imagery. The community trades tips on where to find information and how to analyze it for identifiable markers like geolocation tags and serial numbers. After using this data to trace anything from military activity to arms flows, researchers publish their findings on social media platforms like Discord, Twitter, and Facebook.

But to make these kinds of last minute changes to a major technology requires a top-flight, agile sponsor and money - and I think that is the weak link in legal tech, especially the money. Yes, the e-discovery market is estimated to grow in $billions and $billions. But looking around the e-discovery ecosystem, I see shoe string marketing budgets. The average (significant) vendor at MWC spends $250,000 … and that’s before any per diem charges are calculated. And they come with 10-15 member marketing teams. But MWC knows lots of mobile vendors are on shoe string budgets so they have an entire pavillion for vendors that can only afford a smaller footprint.

And as regards Legalweek, I have always had a problem with a legal technology show being hosted in a venue that later in the year will host the “beads, baubbles and baskets” show and the “baseball card trading” show. But that might be because all the other technology events I attend are at professional convention centers.

Legalweek really should be at The Javits Center where vendors can have their presentation booths and meeting rooms and not make people schlep to their hotel for a one-to-one presentation, are surrounded by drinks/food kiosks so attendees stay at the event and do not need to leave it to eat, etc. But a few years ago somebody sent me the Legalweek exhibit/sponsorship packages - which many vendors still balk at - and I realized the Javits Center was a pipe dream. Unaffordable.

But you do need food and drink stands in the event. And I haven't been in years so maybe that has changed. Why are attendees driven off-premises to grab even a quick bite? I have been told conflicting stories. Legalweek personnel tell me The Hilton prohibits that because it competes against their food facilities. The Hilton marketing people tell me “that’s nonsense”. And another Legalweek insider told me they make more money selling a space to a vendor rather than a food cart. But if you go to any other technology event you will find, at a minimum, a food cart or a vendor/exhibitor sponsoring a food/meeting place like these.

MY FAVORITE LEGALWEEK STORY: in 2018, the last year I sent staff, my film crew followed an elderly couple around the exhibit hall (they were guests at The Hilton) who somehow got passes (they would not say how) and were scooping pens, mouse pads, soft toys (“oh, perfect for the grandkids!!”) into a vendor tote bag so at least somebody was having fun.  

Getting back to Ralph's point, I think many in the legal tech community are not tone deaf and "absent from real life" but Legalweek is not the place for real life. More of a place to annoit "rock stars" because they are good at moving around bits and bytes. And a time to just focus on what attendees and exhibitors do best: discuss the technology framework for collecting, storing, and disseminating electronic information in the global marketplace. Not a place to discuss the war atrocities going on in the Ukraine.

I have been told a few vendors are actually going to change their panel presentations and talk about the Ukraine war, and that's a good thing. But also hope a lot of vendors deviate from their script and take the time to explain OSINT and how it is an integral part of their eDiscovery/forensics process. 

I'll close with another quote from the star in the eDiscovery ecosystem who opened this piece, part of a very long chat last night:

"Legalweek serves two purposes: (1) it’s for the great unwashed, the new people who know zip about eDiscovery. They get to see all the kinds of legal tech out there, together, all in one place. Think of it as a carnival. And (2) for those of us in the trenches we use it to catch up with fellow colleagues, and hopefully some customers or prospective customers. Yeah, make some money. The educational sessions … eh, there are just basic. Not like ILTA or Georgetown where the serious eDiscovery practitioners go. No new things at Legalweek, really. No new ground is going to be plowed. Just version of the current software. Or another merger announced. Yes, it could be better.

But I still think we are a community. Perhaps I was too callous earlier when I said Legalweek is only about the money. But we do take ourselves too seriously at time, like the tail thinking it wags the dog. At the end of the day we are really just backroom stuff. None of us practice law - we practice tech. We are not subject matter experts in law. We are subject matter experts in tech.

And while most of us are just part of the corporate legal industrial complex, pretty far removed from the American justice system, we do care, we can make a contribution. We must. This slaughter in Ukraine is a precursor to something even more dreadful to come, I fear. I see Big Tech joining the fight and hopefully legal tech will get off its ass and make a contribution, too. Ralph Losey is right: there can be no ‘business as usual’ while this is going on. All is connected".

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