A Tale Of Two Conferences - Legaltech 2020 Debrief

Posted by Tom O'Connor | Tue, Feb 11, 2020

I recently attended the Law.com Legaltech conference in New York. The first conference was in 1990 and I’ve been there as either a speaker or an attendee for roughly 25 years (with a stint somewhere in the middle as a member of the Advisory Board) so it has been interesting to watch its evolution. The latest phase of that development is the concept of Legalweek with Legaltech placed in the center (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) of several other overlapping events with a similar legal technology focus.

But I’m not referring to that with my title. Rather I was struck by the ongoing trend of the “shadow show” at Legaltech. Some people have called it the “show within the show” but I think that phrase applies better to LegalTech in relation to Legalweek. My reference is actually to the events directly connected to Legaltech but not directly associated with it.

At Legaltech itself, attendance has been dropping for years. Actual attendance numbers were not forthcoming from the conference but it was obvious in the number of hotel vacancies as well as the lower rates, neither of which occurred in years past. In addition, this year the exhibit hall was down to 150 vendors on 3 floors. Still sizeable but not the overflow it was just 5 or 6 years ago.

Also, this year the ongoing trend of vendors in adjoining hotels or suites within the conference hotel without any formal presence in the exhibit hall was pronounced. And even those vendors in the exhibit hall continued their practice of hosting parties and receptions at adjoining .... and not so adjoining ... venues rather than the hotel itself.

The result was that the actual conference became a focal point, a gathering spot even a disembarkation station for other activities. Meetings at law firms, parties on Wall Street, receptions in restaurants blocks from the hotel: all made the “Show within the show” an active force and one that need to be considered when planning your schedule of activities, both educational and social.

Finally, keep in mind that this is a BigLaw conference. Products, sessions and discussions are aimed at, run by and concentrated on large firms and businesses. You won’t find solutions for small firms or solos here unless it is entirely by the La of Unintended Consequences.

 

So all that being said, what were my overall impressions?

Here they are ... the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

GOOD

  • Some great sessions, although not all technically in Legaltech. Highlights for me were The Unconscious Bias in AI PreConference Workshop on Monday, Mental Health in the Legal Profession on Tues in the Legal Business Strategy conference, the Big Data session on Tuesday moderated by Robert Brownstone, the Thurs AM case law session also in the Legal Business Strategy conference and the AALL presentation on Analyzing Analytics held on Thursday.
  • Traffic in the exhibit hall was vastly improved by moving the Registration area and entrance to the hall up to the third floor of the hotel. This drove people rather naturally to the 2nd and 3rd floors of the exhibit hall rather than the old practice of entering on the first exhibit level where many people tended to stay and never go upstairs.
  • The ability to compare entire product categories was enhanced by the “show within the show”: both off-site and in hotel demo suites, many from companies who were not exhibiting at all. One attorney I know spent two days getting demos of web based lit support tools which allowed him to not only compare but evaluate and then go back for a second round of questions with products he liked. The same was true for Practice Management, Document Management, T&B and other specialty areas.
  • B2B opportunities flourished as a very high number of consultants and strategists were present, including a noticeably high number of attendees from overseas. Many of these had Exhibit Hall passes only and were conduction business in the lobby bar, the Executive Lounge even other hotels.
  • Emphasis on process, not product. This led (IMHO) to a high energy “buzz” that had been missing for several years (also IMHO) that made the event extremely productive.
  • Product focus, even in the exhibit hall, was very often on workflow, not features. This emphasis on workflow and process led to many productive discussions about specific usage which I found refreshing.
  • The weather. This may have been a great influence on the feel of the conference as fairly mild temperatures and very little precipitation made getting around to off site venues far less of a problem than it was last year.

 

BAD

  • Traffic in the exhibit hall was not well designed for getting people to the first level of exhibits. Having want had been the main entrance for years closed led many people to believe that the room itself was closed and the signage directing people to that level was poor. At best.
  • Some sessions are still just shameless plugs for the sponsors product. When I see five speakers on a panel and three are from the sponsoring vendor, that’s an immediate “PASS” on my schedule planner.
  • Paper. Really, does the word “green” even apply in New York? A 25-page full color, thick stock program brochure. A bag at registration filled with more color brochures from vendors. Tons of color brochures on desks in the exhibit hall. And piles...and piles and piles...of paper being swept up on Thursday afternoon during breakdown. For shame

 

UGLY

  • Buzz words. AI and Management were the leaders this year. One commentator who shall remain nameless asked if the latter word was mere “window dressing” on the Innovation focus that has been a buzz word for much of the past year. And forget getting anybody in the exhibit hall to EXPLAIN what they meant by AI. That question led to a cluster of buzz words that was both annoying and off setting.
  • Amid all the talk of women contributing to technology in the law and Me Too awareness and diversity and innovation do we really still need drunken frat boy all you can drink howl at the moon parties every night to do business? Kudos to Relativity for stopping this obnoxious practice several years ago.
  • Cost. Still a very expensive show to attend. Flights to New York, hotels in New York and great googly-moogly, the cost of food in New York! The hot dog vendor on the corner of 6 and 53rd was the same price as a hot dog at a Saints game. And not even close to as a good a tube steak as the Dome Dog. Really?
  • Overall a very good experience for me as an independent consultant. Better than I expected quite honestly, which probably says more about me than the show. An energized crowd from all over the world with great discussions everywhere, not just the sessions. If you play in the Big Law sandbox, this is the show for you.

 

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Topics: Conferences

Written by Tom O'Connor

Tom O’Conner is an attorney, educator, and well respected electronic evidence expert. He has also written three books on legal technology and worked as a consultant or expert on computer forensics and electronic discovery in some of the most challenging, front page cases in the U.S.

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