This week, while taking a break from my favorite pastime — hanging out with strippers and snorting coke with federal judges — I attended the Masters Conference in Washington, DC. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this conference, it has carved out a significant niche for itself in the e-discovery universe. The Masters Conference is a gathering of legal technology thought leaders from all over the world, who come together every year at this time to talk about all things e-discovery. The yearly meeting was the brainchild of entrepreneur extraordinaire Robert Childress, president of Wave Software.
After attending last year’s Masters Conference, I thought I knew what to expect again this year: a small meeting (certainly not on the level of a LegalTech or an ILTA Annual Meeting), with the usual suspects, and similar — if not the same — topics of discussion.
Well, what a difference a year makes! The Masters Conference may only be in its fifth year of existence, but it seems to have just had its coming-out party. I’ll give you my three takeaways, after the jump…
1. Size: Attendees, Sponsors
Perhaps the economy is slowly on the upswing. While last year the Masters Conference had roughly 120-150 attendees, this year that number roughly tripled, to 410 people in attendance. The number of conference sponsors also nearly doubled as well, with over 30 companies displaying their wares in the exhibit hall.
The increased interest reflects a lot of intense effort by the folks behind the Masters, who were working overtime trying to develop buzz for the conference. Carolyn Depko of EDGE Legal Marketing seemed to be sending a press release every five minutes with various announcements regarding the sponsors, speakers, and panels making up the event, which paid off handsomely.
2. Speakers and Content
“The best technology we have is between our ears.”
That quote, from UK lawyer and e-disclosure expert Chris Dale, helped set the tone for the entire conference. Dale was on the very first panel, “The Bastardization of Early Case Assessment and Emergence of Rapid Investigative Review.” I pretty much will attend any panel that has the word “bastardization” in the title.
David Carns also confirmed this pattern with the following tweet:
“Decent educational sessions at #masters2010, but clear that no new technology is a must have. Back to people, process.”
That is a really good sign. For quite some time, the trend has been focused on using technology to take people out of the equation. It’s nice to see that it may be reversing.
Chris Dale wasn’t the only UK attorney in attendance. Senior Master Steven Whitaker, of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, also spoke as part of an International Judges Panel, along with Justice Clifford Einstein of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Einstein definitely logged the most frequent flyer miles for the conference, having made the trek to Masters all the way from Australia.
Walter Willey, the director of this year’s Masters, confirmed all the efforts he and the other organizers made to attract a wider audience:
“We worked really hard on putting together a good board of advisors. From there we were able to generate content and speakers that I think were attractive to a lot of people.”
3. The Arrival of the DC Bar’s E-Discovery Committee
Less than two years after its creation, the E-Discovery Committee of the DC Bar has really made a name for itself, and its members were quite prominent at Masters. The committee even had its own booth in the exhibit hall. Among the committee members who manned the booth were my colleagues Dan Pinegar and Jennifer Goodenough of BIA. Goodenough was also instrumental in putting together the DC Bar event I mentioned a few weeks back.
Other committee members spoke during the three-day conference as well. Courtney Barton, formerly of Crowell & Moring and now a Senior Counsel at AOL, is one of the founders of the committee, and she spoke on ethical issues related to social media. The committee’s Vice Chair, Allison Stanton, who recently left Hogan Lovells to become the Director of e-Discovery for the Civil Division of the DOJ, was also a panel speaker yesterday on federal investigations and cloud computing.
I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in the numerous legal technology conferences I’ve attended in the past few years. From what I can tell, the Masters Conference has really developed a framework for continued success in the future.
Gabe Acevedo is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and the owner of the e-discovery blog, Gabe’s Guide to the e-Discovery Universe. He also writes on legal technology and discovery issues for Above The Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.