Relativity Fest 2023 has been a year of anniversaries, including the 10th anniversary of the Judicial Panel and the 10th anniversary of the Innovation Awards. Although it’s not a milestone year, it’s also the eighth anniversary of The Best of Relativity Fest, our annual compilation of some of the commentary around Fest.
We’ve inserted “Some” into the title because, as we’ve noted in previous years, it’s impossible to get all the great commentary around Relativity Fest. With the thousands of people participating in Fest—from the 1,700 guests to our Relativity colleagues to the team at the Hyatt to the community in and around Chicago contributing—everyone had an important role in bringing Relativity Fest 2023 to life.
With that, here’s some of the best insights from Fest 2023:
Bob Ambrogi, attorney at law, editor of LawSites, and executive director, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, on artificial intelligence and access to justice:
“I agree that authentication is the biggest concern as a legal issue—and my concern is not that there won’t be the technology that is going to be able to authenticate this, because I think there will be—but my concern is that courts and a lot of litigants are not going to have access to that technology or know how to use that technology.”
and on technology as the great legal equalizer:
“The fact is that, over the last couple of decades, technology has dramatically leveled the playing field between solo and small firms and large firms. We’re not equal yet, but it has dramatically changed the game so that solo and small firms can play in the big leagues when they want to play in the big leagues.”
Jonathan Armstrong, partner, Cordery, on Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation:
“Transparency is to the GDPR is like yellow French mustard is to a burger: it’s essential, it runs right through it, and if it’s missing, it’s all wrong.”
Doug Austin, editor, eDiscovery Today, on In re Bed Bath & Beyond Corp. Sec. Litig:
"In a week full of terrific educational content and industry observations, perhaps the most interesting tidbit in the 2023 Case Law Update is what a “smiley moon” emoji is and how using it can lead to litigation!"
Greg Buckles, analyst and consultant, eDJ, on the importance of the e-discovery professional:
"Back in the days when I was doing the Enron e-discovery work, I had my crew in t-shirts that read, ‘We read your email.’"
The Honorable Toni E. Clarke, president, National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), and retired Maryland Circuit Court Judge, on behavior in different types of legal matters:
"In terms of civility, cooperation, respect for the process, and getting the job done, we have a saying that we’d rather do a murder trial than a domestic case because, in a murder trial, you have some of the worst citizens on their best behavior, and in a domestic case, you have some of the best citizens—and sometimes their lawyers—on their worst behavior."
Devon Crosbie, director of professional services, CDS, on security in the cloud—and defining "the cloud":
"You can maintain your setup with protocols and agreements similar to what you would do with an on-premises server provider or even in-house. It may seem intimidating at first for folks because 'the cloud' has been such a nebulous term—is 'the cloud' when I’m working with a third-party vendor and just having someone host my data or is the cloud a specific infrastructure, and what does that mean?"
Senior U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer (W.D. Pa.) on judicial approaches to case law:
"Judges are not like pigs; we’re not out in the field looking for truffles."
and look back at the past decade of the Judicial Panel:
"It’s been my honor and privilege to participate; I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned a lot from all of you in the audience."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Goddard (S.D. Cal.) on Mata v. Avianca, Inc.:
"We have been dealing with lawyer hallucinations since the beginning of the law. Lawyers are like my teenagers: I love you, you’re part of my family, but I don't believe you necessarily—I’m going to verify what you tell me."
The Honorable Lida Kharooti Sayed, scholar and researcher, College of William & Mary Law School, and—until the Taliban takeover—Judge of the Anticorruption Court, Afghanistan, on the events of August 15, 2021:
"It’s a very painful story I will never forget. I was in my office, busy reading a case, and suddenly, there was a knock at my office door. It was my security guard who said, ‘Please, let’s go home.’ I said, ‘But it’s only 10 o’clock.’ He told me that the Taliban was close to Kabul City and that they would kill us because I was a judge who sent the Taliban to jail. I was in shock. I went to our chief judge; he was also worried. He was collecting his papers, and he said, ‘Please hurry up and leave the court.’ After I got to my house, my security guard and my driver told me, ‘After this, we cannot take care of you; you must take care of yourself.’"
Isha Marathe, legal technology reporter, Legaltech News, ALM
"I feel like deepfakes are the most interesting topic to come out of generative AI because it affects all the characters in court, including the jury, the judge, and, of course, the lawyers—and the e-discovery professionals perhaps the most out of everyone, because they’re the first line of defense on all forms of evidence coming in. I’m deeply, deeply concerned about deepfakes."
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman (S.D. Fla.) on artificial intelligence:
"I don’t fear artificial intelligence. Instead, I look forward to it and embrace it. This is primarily because artificial intelligence cannot possibly be worse than certain levels of human intelligence I’ve suffered over the years."
Judge Victoria McCloud, PhD., Master of the Senior Courts, Kings Bench Division (England and Wales, United Kingdom), on the similarities in cooperation in civil litigation between the United States and the United Kingdom:
"Like Judge Fischer, I’ve really noticed a difference between criminal and civil matters. In criminal, it’s like the law is the object we’re all talking about; in civil, it’s as if you’ve got a small, fluffy animal, and one side’s got it by the head, and the other side’s got it by the tail, and they’re trying to rip it apart."
and on the similarities between recreational establishments in the United States and the United Kingdom:
"I see the Billy Goat Tavern, which appeals to one’s sense of Old Chicago, used to be a favorite among journalists, which is very much the sort of place where press, judges, and lawyers used to hang out in London in the days when Fleet Street was where the newspapers were located."
Ryan O’Leary, research director, privacy and legal technology, IDC, on whether self-collection in e-discovery should be prohibited:
"Obviously, I’m going to say, ‘It depends,’ because I paid a lot of money to get a law degree to be able to say that."
and on the role of e-discovery professionals:
"e-Discovery and legal technology still seems like the domain of the weird kids at the end of the hall. We’re not on the main stage, even in the legal profession. It’s still like, ‘Oh you guys are the ones with the computers,’ but there needs to be more of a focus on e-discovery because we have our hands in everything—we should not be an afterthought in decision-making." (However, Stephanie Wilkins of Legaltech News responded that AI is changing that: "Suddenly, the nerds are the popular ones.")
Kenya Parrish-Dixon, attorney at law, on the evolution of the mobile phone:
"Your phone is no longer a repository; it’s a portal."
Joe Patrice, senior editor, Above the Law, on ChatGPT:
"The rub is not going to be whether the technology can do things, because it will give you an answer—though it could easily be wrong—because it’s basically mansplaining as a service. The big test is going to be who builds the best guardrails around this tech that everyone’s going to have, and that’s going to be where we’re going to see cheap versions that aren’t as good as the expensive ones."
The Honorable Andrew Peck, senior counsel, DLA Piper, retired U.S. Magistrate Judge, and evangelist for Fed. R. Civ. P. 502(d), on multiple years of the Judicial Panel:
"A Rule 502(d) order is your ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card; it’s malpractice not to use it."
and, similarly, in the Relativity Fest Case Law Update 2023 program, Kelly Twigger, principal, ESI Attorneys, and founder, eDiscovery Assistant:
"I love 502(d). I use it in almost every case ... I don’t know why you wouldn’t use 502(d) because the likelihood you’re going to make a mistake these days is exponentially higher—particularly with all the short message data and everything else—not getting a 502(d) is just cray-cray."
U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez (W.D. Tex.), on the evolution of cooperation among counsel in e-discovery from the video of the first Judicial Panel to this year’s 10th Anniversary Judicial Panel:
"I think in that snippet I said something to the effect of ‘Sooner or later, lawyers will learn that it benefits them and their clients to cooperate.’ I guess 10 years hasn’t been enough time."
Joy Heath Rush, CEO, International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), on the 10th Annual Judicial Panel:
"When you can talk about discovery rules, diversity in the judiciary, and hallucinations in a single session, you are doing something right!"
and on whether we should fear artificial intelligence:
"I’m actually kind of in the camp of yes—and I’m not an easily panicked person—because it’s one of those areas where technology intersects our private lives in a way that’s particularly alarming. It’s the deepfakes of the kids calling their parents saying, ‘I’ve been kidnapped.’"
James Sandman, distinguished lecturer and senior consultant to the Future of the Profession Initiative, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and president emeritus, Legal Service Corporation, on Access to Justice:
"The reality is that every day in the United States, we have people who are trying to navigate the legal system alone. Let me give you some statistics. In the United States today, both parties have lawyers in only 24 percent of civil cases in state courts—where over 97 percent of civil litigation occurs. The person who doesn’t have a lawyer in our legal system confronts a world that was created by lawyers, for lawyers, on the assumption that everybody’s got a lawyer. Everything about the system—from the language of the law to the forms that are used to the Rules of Civil Procedure to the Rules of Evidence—they were all created with lawyers in mind. It’s a system that works pretty well if you have a lawyer, and horribly if you don’t."
Linda Sheehan, head of IntelligENS, ENS, on the people around the world who use Relativity:
"Relativity: it’s more than software—it’s a lifestyle. The word, ‘community,’ just doesn’t do this community justice anymore."
Nicholas Wittenberg, a specialist leader at Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP in the Government & Public Services practice, on the importance of conferences:
"Conferences like Relativity Fest aim to move the technology needle allowing for free-flowing discussions where challenges are identified, pros and cons are measured, ethical implications are debated, all to push for meaningful solutions that can address today’s challenges. The constant distilling of technological progress helps in the improved delivery of services to citizens and operations for the nation."
and with what is perhaps the most ubiquitous social media intro of Fest 2023 (find him on LinkedIn to see all the editions):
"You know #RelativityFest is off to a great start when [...]."
Stephanie Wilkins, editor-in-chief, Legaltech News, ALM, on artificial intelligence:
"You have people arguing that AI will end civilization as we know it, and others hyping it up as magic that will save the planet. I'd argue that there's at least a tiny bit of room for some nuance between those two outcomes."
and on outside-the box CLE programming:
"The Relativity Fest panel about the women judges of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and about how the National Association of Women Judges is helping get them out and provide for them, was just mind-blowing. I’ve never seen a panel like that at a legal tech conference. They had one of the Afghan judges. They had amazing stories, and they’re doing amazing work."