(Not only is John a brilliant legal tech mind he has a keen sartorial sense. Absent any coordination, we showed up on the first day wearing nearly identical outfits. Right down to the watch. It was cute…ish.)
But, in all seriousness, it was great to have John along last week, and you’ll be hearing from him in the form of his own reaction pieces in the coming days and weeks.
For those of you not familiar with ALM’s Legalweek, it’s a three-day collection of conferences on the legal industry, plus an expo of scores of legal tech and other legal-related ventures. Dubbed “Legaltech” up until two years ago—a heritage still reflected in its heavy tech focus—the Legalweek18 comprised five distinct “conferences,” described by ALM as follows:
- Legaltech: Delves into leading legal technology solutions and showcases how the industry’s most successful law firms are preparing for the future.
- LegalCIO: Arms today’s law firm information and technology management professionals with cutting edge updates on technologies, inventive practical strategies and effective risk tools.
- LegalDiversity and Talent Management Forum: Examines what it takes to attract, retain, and develop a competitive workforce in firms and corporate departments as well as provide key diversity and inclusion strategies to be incorporated into an organization’s culture.
- LegalMarketing: Provides insights from the industries [sic] top CMOs, overviews of innovative tools and processes and strategies for staying ahead of the curve.
- Business of Law Forum: Brings together key stakeholders in the legal services delivery ecosystem, to discuss where the legal industry is headed, ideas on how to capitalize on these changes and an action plan that fits their organization.
Those conferences contained are a series of talks and panels, which along with broader keynotes and the expo, constitute the lion’s share of Legalweek’s programming.
We spent the week attending a range of substantive panels and other sessions, perusing the expo hall, and chatting with key legal innovators. To share our thoughts and impressions with you, our readers, B&B’s Legalweek18-related content will take three forms:
- some initial impressions of, and reactions to, the key trends and takeaways from Legaweek18;
- longer-form form reaction pieces on specific topics and legal tech frontiers; and
- a “Voices from Legalweek18” podcast, compiling short answers to a set of questions we solicited from number of thought leaders and legal techies throughout the week to help those who couldn’t make the show hear a little bit about what was happening straight from the source.
We did our best to explore a little bit of everything that Legalweek had to offer. Here are a few key impressions/notable takeaways.
A good start to the expanded programming
We attended, and were impressed by, the sessions in last year’s LegalCIO track, so made a special effort to stick our heads in each of the Business of Law Forum, LegalMarketing conference, and LegalDiversity conference. While the sessions we attended weren’t always teeming with attendees, the topics were important and the speakers offered valuable insight into areas that we think are hugely important to the future of the legal industry—from workforce management to business intelligence to social media marketing—and we look forward to watching these new conferences take root and bloom in the coming years.
Although the conference has become increasingly more diversified in recent years, and notwithstanding the takeaway above, if you’re not in the eDiscovery world, you can’t help but feel a little beat over the head by that 800-pound gorilla in the room. There were a number of sessions I marked on my agenda on the first pass through the program that I ended up skipping once a closer look revealed a heavy eDiscovery slant. And the experience of traversing certain parts of the expo hall felt a little like a Turkish bazaar/Morrocan souk, where you’re desperately trying to subltly glance to see what’s on offer while avoiding eye content and not attracting a high-pressure sales pitch for something in which you have no interest.
Interview with the Innovators
A highlight for me was the an “Interview with the Innovators” panel where the inimitable Bob Ambrogi moderated broad-ranging and substantive panel discussion among Dan Jansen (CEO and Managing Director, Nextlaw Ventures (and former B&B podcast guest!)), Scott Cohen (Managing Director, Winston & Strawn), and Stephen Allen (Global Head of Legal Services, Hogan Lovells). The discussion was a refreshingly candid take on what drives innovation in the legal services market, complete with calls of BS on certain overhyped topics and a candid appraisal of how difficult it can be innovate at large, established, risk-averse law firms. (One of my favorite lines from the day came from Steve Allen: “Sometimes, the only way to get innovative is to go rogue.”)
A sober take on innovation
Relatedly, I was struck in a number of sessions by the unexpectedly sober take on innovation in the law. Instead of framing innovation as the shiny new silver bullet that should be directed at every corner of the law firm, speakers repeatedly acknowledged at that innovation is law firms is difficult because innovation almost certainly results in lots of failure on the road to success. In fact, in multiple sessions I heard stories about internal firm stakeholders who deliberately avoided the word innovation (in labeling efforts, personnel titles, etc.) because it can trigger the wrong reaction in a risk-averse lawyer. Instead, those stakeholders promote efforts “improve delivery of client service,” bolster “quality control,” establish additional “safety checks,” etc.
An evolved reaction to artificial intelligence
This is a trend I’ve seen in the industry, generally, over the course of the last year, but it was pronounced at Legalweek18. AI is still a watchword on everyone’s lips. But a year ago, AI-related conversations were laden with concerns about robot lawyers taking our jobs and the demise of traditional legal practice. The conversations happening at Legalweek18 around AI were much more positive (and, dare I say, realistic), focusing instead on ways that AI tech can help supplement the efforts of lawyers to make them more effective (i.e., the whole “lawyers plus machines,” not “lawyers v. machines” schtick).
Law firm enemy #1: The Big Four
One of the most notable aspects of Legalweek18 was the focus on the threat posed by the Big Four accounting firms and their increasing efforts to capture a larger share of the legal services market. Despite regulatory hurdles that prevent the Big Four from providing certain types of legal services to certain clients in certain markets, we heard a ton about the successful push the accounting firms are making to capture an increasingly large slice of the lucrative legal services pie, reflected by their international legal headcount and even PwC’s recent launch of a US-based law firm. Although the accounting firms may not yet be truly competing for the most high-value work of the top international law firms, their scale and deep relationships into the C-Suites of clients worldwide position them very well to continue increasing market share. And we heard how, statistically, law firm leaders view the accounting firms’ move into the legal industry as their number one major market-share-related threat.
Relative absence of blockchain
With a few notable exceptions (a lonely panel discussion, a tangential reference in a few expo pitches, etc.), Legalweek18 was relatively free of references to blockchain technology. When compared with the frenzy in the startup/funding landscape and crypto markets, it’s an interesting indication of just how far away distributed ledger technology is from playing any mainstream role in legal services.
Finally, and sadly, though not particularly surprising (at a conference trafficked by tech types and law firm leaders—worlds in which we’re all familiar with the gender-balance hurdles), it didn’t always feel like there was a semblance of gender parity on the panels and in the presentations and keynotes. I wanted to get beyond a mere feeling/impression, however, so I totaled up the number of male and female speakers at the specific 12 sessions I attended. The initial result wasn’t great, but—in historical context and accounting for the two factors noted above—it also wasn’t also that bad. To the best of my recollection, I saw 33 male speakers and 15 female, meaning that women made up about 1/3 of the presenters. But that didn’t really accord with the feeling I walked away with, so I took a closer look. And I realized that—of the 15 women I saw speak—ten of them appeared together on three particular panels: one of the LegalDiversity panels on millennials in the workforce, a LegalMarketing panel on social media, and a session geared for KM teams. And though those three panels were great and valuable, one could argue that each was, in its own way, somewhat peripheral to the core legal tech and innovation programming of the conference. And if you look at the remaining nine sessions that I attended, the gender breakdown of the speakers was 30 to 5, male to female. In other words, only 1 in 6 of the speakers on those panels were women. An observation I thought worthy of including here. (Note: I only attended 12 sessions, so—of course—my experience may not have been statistically representative.)