Pre-pandemic, I faithfully attended ALM’s LegalWeek every year. The event was traditionally held in late January, in the dead of New York city’s winter. So every year, it would snow sometime during the conference. Attendees were fond of saying: it ain’t LegalWeek unless it snows.
This year, the conference was moved from late January to last week due to the Omicron surge and finally kicked off this past week. I figured it wouldn’t snow (and it wouldn’t be the normal LegalWeek) since it was mid-March and the crocuses were already in bloom. But sure enough, on the first full day of the conference, just like the swallows returning to Capistrano, on cue, it did indeed snow.
And just like the weather, the Show itself provided a sense of normalcy finally after two long years.
By way of background, LegalWeek was originally an e-discovery conference. Over time, it gradually morphed into an everything legal tech conference as the years went by. But it’s always been directed toward Biglaw. The products are marketed toward a big law audience. There is more sales pressure and orientation than, say, at ABA’s TechShow, about which I previously wrote.
One of my friends pointed out that the Show is populated by men in expensive suits instead of
blue jeans like you see at TechShow. More coats and ties, fewer blue jeans. Lots of selling. Lots of meetings where vendors hawked their wares. The traffic both at the Show and at the parties seemed heavy. And if it was not what it was at the 2020 show, I sure couldn’t tell the difference. Everything seemed normal. As it should be.
And oh, the parties. All the big discovery providers threw the standard full bar, tons of food parties at swanky locations we were all used to. Masks and social distancing? Forget it. Lots of 20 somethings guzzling liquor. Even a reported fight thrown in. But Lord, it was good to feel normal again.
The exhibit hall also had good traffic. While there did not seem to be the same number of general legal tech vendors as I remembered, all the big name discovery providers were out in force. The Show appears to have returned to its e-discovery roots. Perhaps understandably, there were some empty spaces in the Exhibit Hall where booths used to be.
But it still seemed to be a good vendor showing. ALM allowed all attendees—paid or not-to get in Exhibit Hall. And unlike ILTA, which refused to even invite many of the legaltech journalists back in August of last year, ALM went out of its way to accommodate and help journalists do their job. Another feel good aspect of the Show.
The session themselves seemed well attended and offered a wide variety of topics. Another piece of good news, at least for law firms: the theme of ALM State of the Industry was “less is more.” Or better said, less is a lot more. Some key points from the Keynote given by Patrick Fuller, Vice President and chief legal analyst of ALM Intelligence and Heather Nevitt Editor in Chief of Corporate Counsel:
- Pandemic disruption, in a nutshell, generally meant more money for law firms. The pandemic put immense new work pressures on in-house counsel. These in-house counsel had little choice but to in turn increase the work of outside counsel, driving up demand and law firm revenues.
- The number of equity partners in the AmLaw 200 has decreased a lot over the last 20 years. On average, less than 25% of lawyers were equity partners in 2021. And as I have previously discussed, the number of non-equity partners (glorified associates) has also increased. The result: more money for equity partners. Bigger pie and fewer people with which to share it.
- Law firms have reduced costs and cut back on things like travel. More money, especially for equity partners.
- Law firms with smaller multiple offices which generate costs but less revenue make less money. Firms that reduced the number of smaller branch-type offices made more money. And technology reduces the need for smaller offices
- At the beginning of the pandemic, the knee-jerk reaction was for firms to reduce the number of lawyers, which cut costs. The ones that remained worked harder, increasing revenue.
It will be interesting to see where we are next year. The increased salaries of associates necessary to deal with demand could impact profitability. But for now, the picture for law firms indeed looks rosy. Which I think added to the enthusiasm and optimism of most all LegalWeek attendees
And like TechShow, there were lots of smiles, handshakes, and hugs going on. People seemed happy to be back together and being normal, even though the ominous background of war was undoubtedly present. I got the sense that people really wanted to have a good time releasing that all this could early be once again taken away.
In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of.
There’s nothing you cant do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York
Empire State of Mind, Alicia Keys & Jay-Z
Another piece of normalcy: New York itself. New York was hopping, unlike Chicago, whose streets seemed deserted last week during TechShow. Lots of people out shopping on 5th avenue, restaurants crowded. The New York I remembered, not the ghost town I feared. (Use time square pic). And the lyrics from Alicia Keys and Jay-Z are maybe more relevant now than ever: New York inspires us. There is nothing we can’t do.
So I’m back home after two solid weeks of Legaltech conferences. I’m happy and thankful that they both went off as planned and, by all accounts, were successful. I’m grateful that, at least for a time, my world felt normal.
And I’m thankful that, just like always at LegalWeek, it snowed.