I did not attend LawTech Futures 2012 – the Future of Legal Technology, the conference organised by Netlaw Media and the Orange Rag’s Charles Christian last week. There is enough to do on my own patch without straying into the wider pastures of general legal technology, and I reckoned that I would hear enough about it to save me the trouble of going. The expression “hear enough about it” proves something of an under-estimate, and we have not even seen Charles’ own report yet.
He can probably save himself the trouble, in fact, thanks to the comprehensive report of Brian Inkster of Inkster’s Solicitors, on his Time Blawg. Headed LawTech Futures 2012 Reviewed: the Search for the Holy Grail of Legal Technology Conferences has Begun!, Brian’s report amply justifies my decision to wait and take it all in at second-hand. When you add the enormous quantity of high-quality photographs which have been posted – and this is just the first batch apparently – physical presence was clearly unnecessary.
I like the idea, incidentally, of photographing Charles Christian from below with half his face in darkness as he delivered his Brave New Technology Future speech – the Ghost of Christmases which will never come if you don’t get your act together, perhaps.
The already apocalyptic effect of this is enhanced by converting the photograph to black and white.
Some broader points arise which are of importance to anyone organising conferences aimed at lawyers and law firms. The marketing was brilliant – it obviously helps that Netlaw Media and Charles Christian are both professionally concerned with marketing and promotion in this space and have the skills, the contacts and the platforms to reach both sponsors and delegates. The post-event marketing, which is important for more reasons than the attraction of next year’s sponsors, has maintained that high-quality pitch.
Where were the lawyers?
Brian Inkster draws attention to the dearth of law firm partners amongst the delegates. Many of the tweets which came out of the day emphasised that clients had become (not will become) demanding and informed drivers for change. Comments like “IT and the business should be so close together as to be indistinguishable” and a reference to “client push, not law firm pull” (in relation to law firm technology), caught my eye together with the observation that the Internet is an equaliser in which small firms can compete with bigger ones if they get the technology right – a positive antidote to the fair number of old-fashioned “fear, uncertainty and doubt” observations which were made during the day.
You would expect me to be interested in this area, coming as I do from that most disjointed area of legal practice known as eDisclosure or eDiscovery, where all the elements of what should be a seamless process fall into discrete silos both within the clients and between the clients and their lawyers – and that is before they start interacting with opponents and the court. Do the lawyers just sit in the middle waiting to be pushed from one end by the client and from the other by the courts and regulators? That is not a rhetorical question and the answer, on the whole, is that yes, they do.
The idea that law firms send only their IT people to such conferences would be fine if they actually then empowered the IT people to lead the changes when they came back.
Andrew Haslam of AllVision, Frank Coggrave of Guidance Software and Kate Paslin of AccessData did an eDisclosure panel which made sure that the subject had an adequate airing alongside the many other IT concerns faced by law firms.
A different kind of conference?
The Holy Grail referred to in Brian Inkster’s heading is a different kind of conference format which will attract more of the decision-makers and influencers. Should we be delivering more content via various forms of Internet-based media? Well yes, of course, but not as a substitute for events at which suppliers, speakers and delegates assemble in one place and actually meet each other. Those discussions – the peer-to-peer discussions as well those with people who are selling solutions – are a key element which would be lost completely if we moved over entirely to virtual delivery of content.
We have yet to find a formula which works better than the standard set-up of booths and platforms, speeches and panels. I am not knocking it – it does work, and it is not a criticism of the status quo to hope for a different format which does more than tweak the edges or add some glitz and bling to the day.
Brian Inkster raises a specific point which I am happy to endorse – a dislike of having people speak during the breaks and whilst delegates are eating. This is misery for everyone, as the speaker tries to be heard over the clatter of knives and forks and across the gentle hum of resentment as the one opportunity for discussion is ruined.
I once had to be the sucker doing the speaking, notwithstanding my well-known antipathy to the idea. No one heard a word, and the nearest I got to audience interaction came when I broke off to invite the nearest table to shut up. We need the white space between panels, and delegates need to talk to each other before they disappear back into their caves.
The feedback on Twitter suggests that this conference will be back. It seems set to deliver the coup de grace to a couple of moribund events. Let’s have some law firm partners there next year.