From Europe: reflections, ruminations, musings and reactions regarding art, culture, media, politics, science, technology and travel

by

Gregory P. Bufithis





13 August 2017 - Yesterday I wrote a rather long piece on legal technology conferences on the heels of the much maligned "extraordinarily ill-timed leadership shake-up" at ILTA as reported by those all knowing mavens at  Legal IT Insider ... literally days before the start of  ILTACON 2017 which kicks off todayMany have used the phrase "ill-timed" given there has been with no official communication going on, the only "communication" being via social media and comments in private forums. One ILTA insider told me "the personal fiefdoms are over" (whatever that means). The comments at the end of the Legal It Insider piece I linked above go both ways, attacking and defending ILTA. And yesterday Rick Hellers (one of the founders of ILTA) published an  "open letter"  condemning the purge by the new team at ILTA.


So who really knows what is going on. But it is so indicative of the legal technology conference market today: turmoil, chaos, instability, re-branding, a mantra of  "what-in-hell-should-we-do-now?!"  

Many vendors responded to my piece yesterday and wrote "can you do a short piece just summarizing your thoughts on what we should do differently?"

Ok, glad to oblige ....  

I think the biggest issue is that, at the end of the day, the e-discovery technology ecosystem is a cottage industry. It does not generate anywhere near the cash flow the other mega technology ecosystems do so it cannot match the expenses incurred by these technology mavens to put on a proper show. 

NOTE:  my media team and I attend/cover over 35 technology events a year. We have 65,000+ readers across a myriad of technology subjects. I will not bore you with the details.  If you are interested you can read about our conference coverage by clicking here.


These other technology events spend thousands dollars (and Euros) to keep people engaged, to keep them at the event, to service all of the players involved. The most you can hope for at ILTACON or LegalTech is to get an invite to a vendor's pizza night or drinks night. The most embarrassing Tweets last year at LegalTech were the plaintive cries from exhibit hall attendees  "does anybody know where I can find food up here?" ... with the response  "hey, Vendor X has a few bags of crisps and a few bottles of water".

Because money is the weak link in legal tech marketing. And the reason is simple. Yes, the e-discovery market is estimated to grow to $8 billion in 2017 and maybe $22 billion by 2021. Wow.

But look around the e-discovery ecosystem, especially the key players. These are "Mom & Pop" companies, some backed by venture capital and private equity partners ... with shoe string marketing budgets. Many are not backed by any money but their own resources.

And to be frank, as many vendors told me, most of them are living from hand to mouth and LegalTech is probably their only marketing punt of the year. I get that.

But this is much more than being able to afford a pizza night. The e-discovery venues inhibit holding a proper technology forum.  And even if we accept the lack of money surely there are many things to do to forge a better way. 

The points I want to make are simple:
  1. If the only technology events you attend are legal technology events (and that includes e-discovery events) then you've robbed yourself of the opportunity to attend events that demonstrate how technology events should be run.
  2. Given the extraordinary recent technological innovations ... in particular, the explosion in information volumes along with the computing power and analytics applications now available ... you need to expand your horizons and attend real technology events or otherwise you'll miss out on the truly outstanding technology out there that will effect, does effect the legal technology market.
  3. And if you are a vendor you are missing out on opportunities to network and pitch your wares to interested parties at venues beyond the "usual suspects".
  4. The thing that keeps folks coming back to events is the event organizer's focus on the "people factor" - making sure to satisfy what vendors, attendees and sponsors all expect and want. Satisfying everybody. I think legal technology conferences have lost the plot, have forgotten that people factor. Two brilliant exceptions to that rule: the Yerra Solutions conferences, and the ING3NIOUS retreats and workshops. That's why I think the other legal technology events are in turmoil and decline. 

THE KEY IS WHAT YOU'LL LEARN OUTSIDE THAT CLOSED LEGAL TECHNOLOGY CONFERENCE BUBBLE. For instance (and I am just cherry picking a few items across our vast conference landscape) my team has learned:
  • about "narrative science for lawyers", how the tsunami of data and information we deal with as lawyers gets divorced from context. Data only tells part of the story.  Understanding data requires real world expertise.  It requires a narrative. And there are visual and analytic tools to use.
  • about mobile device forensics, that branch of digital forensics relating to the recovery of digital evidence or data from a mobile device.
  • how Google's DeepMind is marching out an algorithm that can summarize documents and use machine-learning to produce and connect coherent and accurate snippets of text from other documents in a database.
  • how Ravel, using data viz and machine learning, using visual search, can help craft "argument-cases".
  • how metadata can be "scrubbed" and/or changed ... something the Chinese cyber sleuths have turned into an art form if you have been following the recent cyber news.
  • how corporations use intranets to avoid email chat trails. We used that information to assist an EU corporation in an e-discovery internal investigation of price fixing and other dubious activities by its marketing/sales staff in preparation for an expected government regulatory crackdown that had already embroiled some of their competitors.
  • about "splinternet", the break up of the world wide web as we know it. Due to the ever tightening control the net by multiple governments, regional content blocking, the need for companies to comply with diverse, often conflicting national policies, regulations and court decisions, many search engines cannot access Facebook, Google, news sites like The Economist and the New York Times, etc. I have learned this first hand through my travels in the Middle East. So someone's experience of the internet in China or Israel or Turkey, for example, will be increasingly different from their experience of the internet in Australia.
  • about the increasing use of fake cell towers across the U.S. by law enforcement ... and also foreign intelligence operations ... to scoop up all cell phone traffic in a targeted area.
  • how Ogilvy UK (a client of mine) assisted the UCL Forensics Lab in London to show how many criminal cases could be using incorrectly interpreted evidence via an artificial intelligence program to reach a verdict.
  • workshops that provided our grounding in the overall framework of cyber security, government data collection, and what "full visibility into all data" means at various security, e-discovery, and data analysis levels.
  • how hackers are now using the exploit behind  WannaCry to snoop on hotel Wi-Fi systems across Europe to steal data from some very high-profile hotel guests.
  • And cool bits like a presentation from a chap who was with the United States Cyber Command (granted, a highly sanitized version) of how, every morning, the Pentagon must clear 65,000 people through various entrances, all within 3 hours.  The example was used in describing the various levels of cyber security/identity verification a corporation can employ, when and where they are needed, etc.  At the Pentagon "front door" you are not going to do a badge check-fingerprint check-retina check on everybody and get those 65,000 people through the gates in 3 hours.  It is a "layered" process and security passes have multiple embeds depending on where you work in the Pentagon.  And yes, James Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense, has his own very special security badge unique to him.

LESSONS FOR THE LEGAL TECH CONFERENCE WORLD


As regards LegalTech, I have always had a problem with a legal technology show being hosted in a venue that later in the year will host the "beads, baubbles and baskets" show and the "baseball card trading" show. But that might be because all the other technology events I attend are at professional convention centers.

ILTACON at least is always at a member of the Gaylord Hotel chain which are more pleasant surroundings. In general, ILTA, is a peer group - notwithstanding its recent St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. So it is not a business like LegalTech, although Rick Hellers would beg to differ.  So ILTACON puts on a far better show in terms of content, sponsor involvement and opportunities (for instance, there is an exhibitor hall "kickoff", where sponsors have an opportunity to mingle with attendees for two hours), facilities, etc. It also tends to be more focused because many of the attendees have the same background (law firm IT), compared to LegalTech which has a smorgasbord of different tracks and panel topics and attendees. I have to believe LegalTech's emphasis is on exhibitors and getting people to walk the exhibition halls. There is more money there than in the educational sessions.

Many balk at the pricing. If you compare mid-level sponsorships, the cost of a vendor booth at LegalTech is about $9,650 versus $10,350 at ILTACON. Yes, there are extra costs. Both charge for electricity, internet, labor, and extra passes beyond the allotted amount (about 5 each). But this is typical for almost all legal conferences.

Does it cost you to speak at a session or moderate a panel? At LegalTech, yes. I have been quoted $7,500. At ILTACON, there is also a charge but maybe not explicitly. Sponsors told me they can get first dibs on those speaking spots. 

BUT THE EDUCATIONAL SESSIONS SHOULD BE USED TO DRAW PEOPLE IN. They should be run by by people who are exciting, led by people foremost in their field, who have an incredibly passionate about what they do. Otherwise you get lackluster sessions.

Before I detail what other technology events do and make suggestions for legal technology events, some of the common complaints as told to me by multiple vendors:
  • Why is LegalTech in the dead of winter, in the most expensive city in the U.S.? Surely a more receptive clime, a cheaper clime would help everybody concerned.
  • We need a press section where media can meet with vendors off the floor, away from the noise. (NOTE: every event I attend has one. See photos below. They are a great boon to vendors).
  • We need some food and drink stands in the event. Why are we driven off-premises to grab even a quick bite? (NOTE: I have been told conflicting stories. LegalTech personnel tell me The Hilton prohibits that because it competes against their food facilities; The Hilton marketing people tell me "that's nonsense". And another LegalTech insider told me they make more money selling a space to a vendor rather than a food cart. But see the photos below to see how things could be done)
  • Reconfigure the event so the educational session venues are "merged" with the exhibit hall. Blend them. (NOTE: I suspect that is impossible at The Hilton. But common at a normal convention center).
  • More places to sit for short meetings and to recharge mobiles. (NOTE: easily done; see photos below).
  • One recurring comment: given the growing focus on all elements of data analytics, how about an event with that sole focus and only vendors in that sphere? I really don't need to know about automatic contract generation, teleconferencing, etc. and trolling the exhibit hall looking for the vendors I need (NOTE: these events already exist)
  • Put the vendor demonstrations next to/near the vendor booth.  Why do I need to schlep down 3 sets of escalators, out the door, and find the vendor's hotel?! (NOTE: done at all other tech conferences; impossible The Hilton).

NOW ... HOW I THINK IT IS DONE THE RIGHT WAY

The "people factor": keep people engaged, all the stakeholders; keep them at the event, service all of the players 



The following photos : sections of the press areas at several conferences. Free coffee/soda and finger sandwiches.  There are sections to conduct interviews and to set up film crews.  The press areas are normally located on permitter of the exhibit hall.











The following photos: common at most conferences. A separate place for exhibitor staff to eat and relax,  and a VIP areas for vendors willing pay a bit extra to host a customer for a coffee, chat,  whatever. Normally located close to the exhibitor hall.  The larger venues (the last three photos)
scatter eating venues throughout the conference area.













The following: a bench at a typical event. These are scattered throughout  the venue. Not shown but behind each bench is a power outlet for recharging your phone,  tablet, whatever.





The following photo: several events have the exhibit halls connected my hallways.  In each hallway are food kiosks such as this one.





The following photos: almost every vendor has a basic coffee/water bar and/or food bar, many with tables to sit  and chat with prospective customers. What is becoming popular: co-working areas (last photo)

















The following: rather than separate the educational sessions and vendor presentations away from the exhibit area,  almost every event circles them  around  the exhibit hall  (and vendors can pay extra to make sure a  theatre is in close proximity to its booth)




The following: this was shot at InfoSec but I have seen them across the U.S.
Smaller events have these "meals on wheels" located  throughout the venue.







CONCLUSION


The message is not whether or not ILTACON and LegalTech are dead but that the world has moved on and both of these tech conferences need to get out into the wider world. But more importantly: law firms and in-hosue counsel ... and legal technology vendors ... need to break away from their safe, cloistered view of the market.

As noted in the beginning, given the extraordinary recent technological innovations ... in particular, the explosion in information volumes along with the computing power and analytics applications now available ... these events and players need to expand there horizons and incorporate the truly outstanding technology out there that will effect, does effect the legal technology market.

Georgetown Law Advanced eDiscovery evolves  EVERY year, adapting to their audience, the market, the players. Please read my post on why they have become the "must attend" e-discovery event ( click here). Other legal conferences would be wise to follow their lead. 





To subscribe to my personal blog click on the following link:




You can email me at at gbufithis@gbmediastudios.com.