This post is about ILTA the event – the organisation and the experience of being there. I will write separately about the legal technology subjects which came up in the sessions and in discussion. August 1914 is my starting point for August 2014, allowing me to make comparisons between the book I am currently reading and the organisation of ILTA. If you lack the time and the patience for my comparison between the preparations for war and the planning for ILTA, jump down to the heading The logistics of ILTA.
My book for the journey was August 1914 by the respected American historian Barbara Tuchman. I know how the story ends, not least because I have read the book twice before, but Tuchman manages to invest the familiar with an atmosphere of suspense as the decisions are made – to advance, retreat or dig in, to march this way or that; you read it with hands metaphorically over your eyes as pig-headedness, personal animosities and lack of intelligence (in both senses) lead inexorably to four years in the trenches, with most of France’s coal and iron production left in German hands. Many of the mistakes had been made long before the war – mistakes of diplomacy, of judgement and, most particularly, of procurement and supply as the Allies prepared to fight the last war; generals are always getting ready to fight the last war.
Armies in 1914 to lawyers in 2014
This is not, as you may think, a precursor to an analysis of the parallels between the armies of 1914 and the lawyers of today, much as I like that kind of example. You do not have to look far to find them. French generals refused to discard the pantalons rouge which made soldiers an easy target; they disdained heavy artillery as being inconsistent with the élan expected from a philosophy which knew only of attack, and they made no provision for entrenching tools for the same reason – only defenders needed to dig in and defence was not on the agenda; newfangled aeroplanes were rejected. Meanwhile, the British Liberal government invested reluctantly in Dreadnoughts but declined to spend any money on dry docks big enough for them or on shore defences for naval bases. The parallels with the way some law firms prepare for doing business in 2014 are obvious – predictive coding anyone?
This can keep for another day. The connection with ILTA is to do with more minute aspects of preparation and logistics. Sir Henry Wilson, Sub Chief of the General Staff on the outbreak of war, spent his summers in the preceding years cycling round those parts of Belgium and northern France which were almost certainly going to be the battleground. He examined every plain, river, and railway line, the rise and fall of the land, all those physical features relevant to logistics and deployment of troops. As Barbara Tuchman puts it, “the joint work of the French and British general staffs was complete to the last billet of every battalion, even to the places where they would drink their coffee.”
The logistics of ILTA
The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville is roughly the size of Belgium, the only covered place I know where directions might read “Go past the waterfall, through the tropical forest, down the street of restaurants, along the canal until you reach the bridge and look for the third ballroom on the left”.
Every moment of every day of ILTA had been thought through, with exploratory visits by ILTA staff and advisory members, resulting in maps, signs and a complex timetable in which every event and contingency had been planned. Everywhere you went around the convention area there was someone to ask for directions – particularly helpful for me, because it took me till Day 2 to realise that my new glasses had not been properly adjusted, making it hard to read the signs.
So my starting point about ILTA is to thank Peggy, TJ, Ken, Judy and the rest for the organisation which went into the pure logistics without which the rest – the learning, the networking, the parties – could not happen.
Some ILTA Statistics
Let’s have some raw statistics. There were 1,577 paid delegates plus exhibitors, consultants, press, alliances / other association leaders, speakers, volunteers and staff; the total number of badges printed was 3,922. Some of the categories overlap – I was there both as press and as a speaker, for example. On the learning side, there were 210 sessions delivered by 410 people; sessions involve many others beyond those who actually sit on platforms. The exhibit hall was occupied by approximately 200 booths displaying software and services across a very wide range of legal technology needs. ILTA is an educational conference with an exhibit hall, not a trade show, and this number of exhibitors was about right for the delegate numbers.
ILTA is still working on the demographics but here are some stats:
– 10% of attendees were not from the U.S. – from 15 countries
– 72% of attendees were C-level, Directors and Managers
– 2/3 of attendees were male or (to put it another way) 1/3 were female – not bad for a technology event
– 9% of the attendees have been to more than 10 conferences and 26% were first timers.
All these people had to be fed, watered and entertained, and the venue needs to provide a setting for the big ILTA events – the welcoming party, the awards dinner and the After Glow party at the end, as well as a place for people to meet and talk.
Marketing people who measure the success of events solely by the number of leads generated rather miss the point. There were, I would guess, plenty of those, but a gathering this size and with this demographic, gives an opportunity to meet users, not just to demonstrate your wares but to find out what is important to lawyers and their technical and information staff, what their problems are and what they look for in a supplier. ILTA provides a context and the space for discussions like this. The focus on “decision-makers” is perhaps understandable, but suppliers need to pay attention also to the those who actually do the work and their potential to be influencers. Because ILTA runs from Sunday to Thursday, and attracts a wide range of people at all levels involved in legal technology, it is a spawning-ground for ideas and for connections, not just a bazaar and not just an educational forum, however important these functions are.
ILTA is more than a big annual event
It is worth remembering that ILTA – the International Legal Technology Association – is not just one big conference. I am lucky to be one of the very few, apart from ILTA’s own staff, who is involved in the Asian Legal Technology Summit in Hong Kong (I wrote about the most recent of those here) and in ILTA Insight in London which is coming up on 13 November. Beyond that again, ILTA is an all-year-round organisation, with events, interest groups and publications. I recently referred to a panel I led in Hong Kong about cultural issues in legal technology and said of it that “No other legal educational organisation in the world is capable of covering big subjects like this”. You will gather that I am an unabashed fan of ILTA.
The Gaylord and Nashville
I quite like the Gaylord venues. Any establishment capable of hosting an event of this size is necessarily both vast and impersonal, but there is a certain grandeur about the place and it just works, both as a convention centre, and as an hotel and place to eat, drink and meet up with people. Even when the convention centre was packed, it is possible to find enormous empty spaces
I am no great enthusiast for American hotel food in general, something which matters when the venue is 20 minutes from the city, but I had two or three very good meals which will stand comparison with restaurants anywhere else in the US; there are also places serving more regular fare, right down to warm brown liquid in plastic cups from an international “coffee” chain, and pre-packaged meals.
Nashville itself is an increasingly interesting city even if, like me, you are not much into loud music. You can take or leave the sounds of Nashville – for myself, I’d leave them, preferably by a margin of about four miles. I like to talk and listen, and neither is possible in these places. If you like that sort of thing, then Nashville is definitely the place to be.
The city is also becoming a centre for high-tech start-ups, of which eDiscovery software company Cicayda is the obvious example.
Gatherings, celebrations and parties
So you’ve been to a few sessions, taken few turns round the exhibit hall, had a few demos, bumped into almost everyone you know in eDiscovery or legal IT and worn out some shoe leather in the process (the only sartorial rule at Gaylord events is to take some comfortable shoes). What else is going on?
My first event was a tweetup, that is, a meeting in the flesh of those who know each other only or mainly via Twitter. Several other interest groups were meeting in similarly informal style at the same time. On Sunday, I went to the Speakers’ Meet and Greet, followed by a packed orientation session, and the opening party.
On Monday night there was the Exhibit Hall opening reception at which a great range of inventiveness of dress was on display. Tuesday evening brought the ILTA Distinguished Peer Awards at which the UK’s own Opus 2 carried off the award for Innovative Solution Provider of the Year and Seyfarth Shaw won Most Innovative Law Firm Award again.
There are many awards ceremonies in legal IT, and many of them give the impression that the size of your sponsored table reflects the odds of winning; not so with ILTA, whose nomination and selection process is painstakingly objective, so that winning one of these awards really means something. The awards were followed by a party in a couple of the Gaylord’s vast rooms. It is these events, and the lunch rooms stretching to infinity, which show how many people there are at ILTA.
That left only Wednesday for the parties organised by various providers. I went to three and could have gone to a dozen, all in various establishments in and around Nashville. Party animal I am not, but these parties are an opportunity to catch up with people otherwise only glimpsed as you rush from place to place.
Getting there and back
The one drawback to an event in Nashville, particularly for those coming from outside the US, is the need to connect to an internal flight. In my case that meant coming via Chicago on American Airlines, who lost my bag on the way in and mislaid an entire flight on the way out. It must, I think, be nationalistic loyalty which makes Americans tolerate the level of service given by their airlines; they equate, perhaps, to Britain’s railways in the way they offer incompetence and offhand service in exchange for ever-higher fares while all the time blaming some external force for the problems.
Other businesses who want object lessons in how to screw up customer relations would do well to study how these airlines treat their customers, the blithe way in which they turn their problem into your problem, and their complete indifference to the consequences. The desk staff and the tweeters are superb, but their role is essentially defensive, picking up the pieces after the organisation as a whole has failed. Better, you’d think, to try and work out how to avoid the problems in the first place.
It’s all right, said the man on the desk – we have rebooked you for a flight out of Chicago tomorrow. No arrangements had been made by American Airlines for overnight accommodation in Chicago, so I went back to the Gaylord and checked in again there. I found that ILTA had organised yet another big After Glow party. Vast ballrooms had been given over to fairground-type activities, together with gaming, karaoke and other ways of relaxing after a busy week. I was able to have one last meeting with somebody I had missed during the week – it is surprisingly easy to do this, by the way, in an event of this size. If ILTA’s staff ever tire of organising educational events, they could make good careers as party planners.
The following day, American Airlines frigged around again with the flights, leaving me only a 20 minute interval between arriving at JFK and my transatlantic flight. My bag caught up with me a few days later. #ShamblesOnWings was the hashtag I used in subsequent Twitter discourse on the subject.
Next year ILTA takes place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. What that place lacks in taste relative to Nashville it makes up for in convenience, with direct flights to within a couple of miles of the venue. Even American Airlines can’t screw that up, surely? I will be there. Meanwhile, as I say above, we have ILTA Insight in London on 13 November and, I hope, another Asian conference next year. Jason Plant, a senior IT manager at a large UK law firm, ended one of his very good articles on ILTA by saying:
it ended up with me thinking that maybe we as Legal IT folks in the UK need to get involved more with the ILTA events in the UK to shape them to something akin to the full US conference. This may bring us closer to the communities of interest through the year too.
I took some photographs which you will find here. Jonathan Maas of Huron Legal took many more, which he has posted here. Apologies to those who were confused by the presence of two tall, bearded Englishmen of broadly similar appearance waving identical Nikons.