Legal Tech Conferences 101

There are choices upon choices when it comes to legal tech conferences. How exactly does one sift through all of the available options? This month we asked our panelists to provide some of their best practices when it comes to choosing legal tech conferences.

Our Panelists

Alexander Paykin (AP), Steve Embry (SE), Gyi Tsakalakis (GT), Allison Shields (AS), Jim Pauli (JP), and Tucker Cottingham (TC).

What are the legal tech conferences you make it a point to attend every year?

AP: While I try to attend quite a few, the two I make it a point to never miss are the Clio Cloud Conference & ABA TECHSHOW. ABA TECHSHOW gives me a broad overview of the newest technology available to the legal industry. There, I can see a showcase of both hardware and software, as well as unique emerging products. The Clio Conference is a much more hands-on event where I get to corner the developers and demand features, as well as see the various integrations that work with the practice management system that runs my entire firm (Clio). Basically, at the Clio Conference, I look for all of the vendors that tie in with Clio and look to get the Clio developers to add features I want or need. At TECHSHOW, I look for other unrelated technology, such as hardware (scanners, laptops, telephone hardware, stand-alone software) and various new services.

SE: ABA TECHSHOW is probably the first one that comes to mind. If you’ve never been to a legal tech conference, I would be sure to go to this one. It’s a little more low key and welcoming than some of the others. Great place to meet people and get a handle on what’s going on. If you want to be on the cutting edge, then the Clio conference is the place to be. Always lots of energy, great keynotes, and well-planned. Third would be the one put on by the Association of Law Librarians in the summer. Law librarians sit on the edge between law firms and legal department and technology and as a result, they are quite knowledgeable of real-world issues. There’s a host of others but in my mind, these are the three “can’t miss” ones.

GT: ABA TECHSHOW, Clio Cloud Conference, Lawyernomics (assuming Internet Brands continues the tradition).

AS: I usually make it a point to attend ABA TECHSHOW, but I’ve heard great things about other legal tech conferences as well, including Clio Con, Lawyernomics, MILOfest, and others that I haven’t had an opportunity to attend yet.

JP: NCSC’s eCourts/CTC.

What are 3 things that make a good legal tech conference?

AP: A legal tech conference needs a few things to be successful: Primarily, it needs a quality vendor expo so that attendees can be introduced to all of the newest and most exciting products and services. Second, it needs quality CLEs that provide training to the attendees on how to embrace the new technology… While you’re at it, a nice venue in a convenient city never hurt…

SE: Good question, since it’s not always easy to define. Obviously good content, that’s a given. But more than that, there has to be an opportunity for people to talk and learn from one another, an openness and commitment by the organizers to not only let that happen but to encourage it. Location can be important but not in the typical sense. While exotic locations are nice, most people want to go someplace that’s easy to get to and which is not terribly expensive.

GT: The people, the people, the people. But seriously, it’s the people. Second to the people, look for conferences that expressly limit “pitching from the stage.” You don’t want to travel all that way to “get sold.”

AS: I am a firm believer that you need to evaluate for yourself which is the best legal tech conference for you to attend, based on where you are at currently with using technology in your practice, what your goals for the conference are, who the speakers at the conference will be, what vendors will be attending, what other activities are planned in conjunction with the conference, as well as who the other attendees are. Whether a legal tech conference is successful for you also depends on how much you put into it—reviewing the agenda before you go and make a preliminary plan about what sessions you want to attend, which vendors you want to visit, what other attendees you want to network with, and how you plan to follow up after the event and/or implement what you’ve learned can all make or break the conference experience for you. For me right now, a good legal tech conference provides up to date information about technology in the legal space with dynamic speakers, fosters opportunities to network with both attendees and presenters, and makes it possible to learn about legal tech in settings other than just talking heads lecture sessions.

JP: Truly innovative solutions that solve business issues, connectivity/networking, and good metric- based comparison of products—vendors who can clearly present solution differentiators.

TC: Attorneys are under increasing pressure to reduce overhead and increase efficiency in order to meet client expectations and remain competitive. Good legal tech conferences offer an opportunity to learn about the tools that are available and give attorneys a chance to see the technology in action and talk with the companies that are offering the solutions. It’s also a great way to learn about how other firms in your practice area are leveraging the available technology and to see what new developments are coming down the pike. A good legal tech conference should have industry-leading vendors, practice area-specific sessions about to leverage technology, and, of course, it’s always nice to get some MCLE credit.

What do you think is the future for legal tech conferences: smaller regional ones, online ones, more/fewer exhibitors, etc.?

AP: More legal tech conferences are going to follow Clio’s model and be both hosted and centered around a particular practice management system. After all, while I may be generally interested in all new tech, I am most likely to engage with the tech that is compatible with my existing technology to create a single consistent platform. Walking around at Clio Con, I know that all of the vendors are compatible with my main software platform. Equally important, such a conference can provide tech support and feature requests in a much more focused manner, since the attendees are also the organizer’s clients and the organizers are the developers. That being said, ABA TECHSHOW isn’t going away anytime soon, as it is the gold standard for the wide-angle global view of legal tech.

SE: I think the demise of the really big conferences has been a bit exaggerated. People still come to the big ones, if for no other reason, they know there will be plenty of opportunity to network—i.e., other people are there. I have definitely seen a decline in folks exhibiting in halls, however. The trend seems to be for those with products or services to sell attending and networking but not exhibiting. The other trends I think we will see more and more of is speakers attending and presenting live stream instead of live. I have done several presentations this way and it allows you to get better speakers for less cost.

GT: There’s really no substitute for face-to-face networking. While the popularity of online content will continue to grow, the real value of the conferences is sitting down with friends old and new.

AS: I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question, because I think it depends on the needs of each audience. There may be a place for a mix of all of these things. I don’t think legal tech conferences will ever all go online, even if there is some component of online learning for those who can’t attend a conference in person, but the value of talking to people one on one and having that real-time face to face interaction can’t be underestimated. The networking component is one of the main reasons I attend conferences, so moving them all online would take a lot away from the experience, I think. Smaller, more regional conferences might help address specific problems or needs and might make it easier for people to attend legal tech conferences because of a reduced need to travel, but I don’t see the national conferences going away any time soon.

JP:

  1. Virtual conferences.
  2. Larger, less expensive conferences. Multiple small conferences are too expensive for vendors.
  3. Perhaps an east coast, middle of the country, west coast rotation.
  4. Find less expensive venues.
  5. Help vendors sell products so then they will be sponsors and reduce costs.

If someone has never been to a legal tech conference, which one would you recommend that he or he go to first and why?

AP: If they use Clio for their practice management system or if they currently don’t have a practice management system, Clio is the ideal conference. It will give the attendee a very good understanding of how a fully integrated set of software should function. If you’re using a different practice management system, then either a conference hosted by that company (if they have one), or ABA TECHSHOW, which will at least provide general info on all tech.

SE: TECHSHOW, without a doubt. Some of the other big conferences can be overwhelming and less inviting, particularly if you don’t know a lot of people. TECHSHOW goes out of its way to be welcoming and inclusive, sometimes at the cost of being a little less sophisticated than perhaps some of the others. But that’s good. It still has a “mom and pop” feel to it.

GT: I’d recommend ABA TECHSHOW. It really hits the spectrum of what’s out there in terms of technology and subject matter experts sharing what they know.

AS: Since I haven’t attended a lot of the other legal tech conferences aside from TECHSHOW, I can’t speak specifically about the pros and cons of those other events, but I would recommend that if you haven’t been to a legal tech conference before, you take some time to research the different conferences; see who is speaking, what topics will be covered, what other events or activities are available, who typically attends, etc. to get an idea which conference might be right for you. Every conference has a bit of a different vibe or personality, and the attendees may be different at each conference. Or you might have specific tech needs that you want to address. You’ll also want to talk to people who have attended the conference in the past to find out what the pros and cons of each conference are. For example, I stopped going to Legal Tech NY several years ago because, at the time, it seemed far too focused on e-discovery and not much else, the educational sessions didn’t interest me, and it was too crowded. It just didn’t meet my needs at the time.

What’s the best way to become a speaker at a legal tech show?

AP: Submit a good proposal.

SE: It’s like a jury trial or law school exam: sometimes you can try really hard and not succeed. Other times you can put forth less effort and win. I think having something relevant to say, writing, doing other presentations, and networking are keys. And it helps to be a good presenter. And to have patience. Most of the shows just don’t grab people off the street: you have to be present, get to know people, and be relevant. In short, pay some dues!

GT: Start sharing your knowledge! Publish. Connect. Nurture professional relationships.

AS: I’m not sure I can offer the “best” way, but here are some of my recommendations:

  1. First, check to see if the legal tech conference you are interested in has a call for speakers or if it accepts proposals for presentations at the conference. Read the qualifications and instructions carefully and be sure to submit your proposal on time.
  2. If you don’t meet the qualifications for speaking at a particular conference, try another conference, or offer to do a legal tech presentation for another organization, such as your local bar association, to build your speaking credentials.
  3. Include your speaking and/or writing credentials (particularly on legal tech topics) in your bio
  4. Publicize the fact that you speak on legal technology topics
  5. Write on legal technology topics on your website, your blog, or for other legal publications
  6. Network! Meet influencers in the legal technology world and let them know you would like to speak; the more people you know, who know you and know you are interested in and knowledgeable about these topics, the better your chances will be, especially if you get known as a great speaker.
  7. Consider teaming up with someone who is more well-known to do a legal tech presentation or submit a proposal—offer to do more of the work (materials, slide presentation, demo recordings, etc) in exchange for working with them
  8. If you don’t get accepted the first time, don’t give up!

JP:

  1. Be a sponsor.
  2. Have something unique or interesting to present.
  3. Be a great showman!

About Law Technology Today

Law Technology Today
Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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