Book(-like Thing) Review(ish)

October 16, 2012

I was fool enough to think that the arrival of what looked like a book, smelled like a book and called itself a book meant that I had a book for review. OK, it was only 44 pages but it has an ISBN number and claims to be from John Wiley & Sons and they are proper publishers. The first clue I had that something was strange as I flicked through its pages was the references to TAR (Technology Assisted Review), which has become a trade term. I then noticed that the front cover had ‘Brought to you by Symantec’ in larger type than the author’s name and a red sash with ‘Symantec Special Edition’. Still the special contributors listed included Ralph Losey and Dean Gonsowski and I am well aware of them and sure that they really know what they are talking about. Moreover, the author was named as ‘Matthew D. Nelson, Esq.’ and my rude plebeian roots always force me to defer to anyone assisting knights.

Some further confusion ensued shortly after the book’s arrival when I was offered what I thought was another copy in an e-mail. I did not want to hog the world’s supply when there are so many dummies out there in need of help with predictive coding so I naturally rejected the offer, saying that I already had a copy. But apparently the new offer was for Recommind’s book called Predictive Coding for Dummies, published it seems by John Wiley & Sons, and that was a clear different thing.

I was going to compare and contrast but, as I write this, the Recommind version that was due out on 4 October is still being shipped across from the USA. Perhaps it is a more heavyweight tome or has been unluckily allocated to a dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. But it has not arrived and I cannot criticise it without having read it. As all good (and cheating) reviewers know, you need to have {i}either{/i} read the book {i}or{/i} praise it.

While I do not feel that I should scrutinise the ethics of John Wiley & Sons in publishing two works with the same title at virtually the same time (I have no magnifying glass handy), it does seem to be a strange thing for a ‘respectable’ publisher to do. I might also venture to suggest that any publisher that allows the release of a book with an opening paragraph that reads as follows has lost touch with reality:
{i}Are you completely confused about predictive coding and how the technology can be used in eDiscovery, or are you a predictive coding expert hoping to learn about cutting-edge developments in the area? Either way, this book is perfect for you.{/i}

It is as if a packet of peanuts had the slogan ‘Lover of salty snacks or sufferer from nut allergies? Either way, there is something in here for you.’ Just to compound their incompetence, they have stuck to the tried and tested Dummies formula with such rigidity and so little imagination that two of the ‘Tips’ are mere cross-references – I am not sure that ‘read another bit’ counts as a ‘tip’. I note too that Wiley’s pride in publishing this work does not extend to listing it on their web site.

I do feel brave enough to criticise Symantec and Recommind though. Time and time again we are told by them and their ilk that predictive coding (under whatever trade name) is the most important new development for lawyers to master. The leading suppliers of this technology call conferences and write articles full of dire warnings – the big, bad judicial wolf will impose sanctions on litigators if they don’t master CAR, TAR and predictive coding soon. They are the evangelists saving lawyers from eternal (or at least temporary) damnation through ignorance. But I have to say that evangelists carrying the good book to the natives should at least agree on one version of the testament, or risk finding themselves in a bit of a stew.

Suppliers of e-disclosure software currently accidentally conspire to increase ignorance of predictive coding by 11% (on my rough calculation) despite having a marketing budget equivalent to the GDP of Peru (or perhaps {i}because{/i} of having an excessive budget). They do this mainly through having 28% of those who truly know about it spend 12% of their time flying to conferences about it (which some supplier has sponsored), and 22% of their time at such conferences talking only to each other. They also conspire to increase ignorance by telling litigators the same thing over and over again – often in a way that suggests that the lawyer has straw behind his or her ear – thus ensuring that the message cannot get through. You would think that they could deliberately conspire to produce just one book and make it a good one but my guess is that they both had the same marketing idea (perhaps planted by John Wiley) and that they are going to say exactly the same thing (at least) twice – and muddy the waters yet again.

But here is what somewhat spoils the laughable lack of co-ordination. Despite the fact that Symantec’s Predictive Coding for Dummies is no better than reading a series of freely available articles on the SCL web site, and despite the fact that it is sometimes embarrassingly US-focused, it isn’t without value. It’s not the sort of value that you should pay actual money for – but then I wouldn’t be surprised if they are leaflet-bombing these publications over EC2 and litigators may struggle to avoid being given one. It is in fact a handy pocket-sized guide for the confused dummy. If you think of it as a leaflet/brochure, it does seem quite impressive. It’s a pity I don’t do leaflet reviews.