Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute.

By Joseph Raczynski

In a year like no other, the most prominent legal technology conference recently wrapped their weeklong virtual event as the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) morphed its annual ILTACON event into ILTA>ON.

After initially vacillating on a hybrid in-person and virtual event, before ILTA decided to go with a fully virtual event with more than 100 sessions and various virtual activities. According to the site, ILTA>ON (as it was known) had roughly 3,800 attendees and vendors compared to past years of around 5,000 — a very respectable haul given the circumstances.

As with the 12 other ILTA conferences in which I have partaken in the past, each day begins with a keynote speaker. One of the highlights from the daily keynotes was the first day presentation by Stephen Carver, a professor at Cranfield University in the U.K., titled Leadership Under Stress: Exploring Project Failure at NASA, which dissected the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster.

Prof. Carver’s talk explored NASA’s failures in planning, procurement, leadership, and change management with the intent to help attendees apply the learning to law firm technology projects. “It’s all about a really small bunch of people not communicating and not learning from their mistakes,” Carver said, adding that sometimes from failure, you have to reimage the entire organization.

Another keynote highlight was provided by Jia Jiang, CEO and founder of Rejection Therapy, a social self-help game, who regaled participants with story after story of his own self-induced humiliation tests — done as experiments in 2012 — to overcome his own fear of rejection. His goal? To be rejected every day for 100 days.

Embarrassing examples included asking strangers on the street for $100 to see their reaction, requesting Krispy Kreme create him donuts in the shape and color of the Olympic rings, and asking a pilot at a rural airport if he could fly his plane, even though Jiang had no flying experience. His underlining theme — fear of rejection can hold you back. It is our natural tendency is to avoid rejection at all costs, which can be detrimental to our businesses, careers, and lives, he said. His goal was to teach the importance of becoming rejection-proof, the basic principles of turning a No into Yes, as well as how to get more Yes answers.

Lastly, another keynote speaker, Richard Punt, who leads legal strategy and market development at Thomson Reuters, offered his insights in a talk titled, After the Quake: Predictions for an Uncertain Legal Futurewhere he took the audience beyond the here and now to see what the future of the legal industry might look like.

Making a virtual event work

The monumental efforts of the ILTA community of volunteers fostered as close to an in-person event as possible. The numerous educational sessions were available via Zoom and ran the gamut from leadership, business development, company track updates, data science, knowledge management, legal services, legal operations, marketing, and finally finishing on the future of the legal tech space.

Intelligently sprinkled among sessions were activities and events facilitated in a networking fashion, with the Watercooler and Hallway as places to meet informally. People could simply jump into the Watercooler and connect with small groups, or one-on-ones via video. Often after a specific session, people were encouraged to meet with the speakers in the watercooler room. This compares to the often bum-rushing of speakers that occurs at typical live ILTACONs, post-session. Other events included wine tastings and comedy events.

Overall, the level of engagement and content delivered at ILTA>ON was impressive. Another highlight included a session that walked participants through how law firms can create workflow apps using a combination of web services and data to build a process on Microsoft Power Automate. In their example, participants learned how they could build a COVID-19 check-in app for firm employees. Another great set of sessions was on data science, unpacking internal data at firms and how it can be leveraged.

Finally, I had the privilege of being selected to report on how ILTA did on their Law Firm 2020 Predictions that were made seven years ago. With a Back to the Future movie theme in the background, I reviewed past predictions to see what came true and what industry sages got wrong with legal technology between 2013 and today. I also peered into the abyss of legal tech’s future over the next five years, before taking a 1.21 gigawatts ride and shooting into that future, focusing on technology in 2030, 2040, and into the Singularity.

It was a Great Scott! moment indeed.