This year’s ILTA Conference was held in Disneyworld, the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth.”
I just returned from this year’s Conference put on by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA). It’s a massive show held every year for ILTA members and guests. This year, the four-day Conference was held in DisneyWorld.
Conference organizers reported that this was the second most attended show in ILTA’s history with over 3400 registerants. There were over 150 sponsors and exhibitors in a hall that spent two wings of the convention center in one of the hosting hotels.
Obviously, this is a big show, perhaps one of the largest LegalTech shows. With a show this big, it’s impossible to see everything, meet with everyone who wants to meet, attend all the educational sessions, and go to all the parties. It’s exhausting.
But it’s always a good show. This Conference draws a lot of people in IT departments in large and mid-size firms that ILTA caters to. These folks tend to be technical, so the conversations are often full of tech speak and jargon. As I have discussed before, few lawyers attend. That’s a shame since the tech folks that attend often have to go back and convince lawyers that the tech they saw and discussed is valuable. The lawyers who aren’t technical then get the information secondhand from folks who are. And the lawyers often don’t communicate their needs and pain points to the IT people. All of this often leads to a reluctance of the decision-makers in law firms (lawyers) to understand and accept some of the recommendations.
This year, though, may be a little different. Several vendors reported that many law firms are under pressure to get with the generative AI program and fear being left behind. This fear and race to get ahead perhaps raises the IT and tech folks in stature and importance. Some of the large firms sent. 20-40 people to the Conference, and one firm reportedly sent over 50. These numbers certainly would suggest a heightened interest in tech. It also will place increased pressure on the IT departments to perform.
ILTA describes itself as a “peer-to-peer” organization. The goal, I think, is to encourage conversations and learning by and between the members. Typically, there is a feeling of just this sort of cooperation and exchange among the attendees, and I didn’t detect any difference this year. I wonder, though, if this will continue because of the pressure of law firm management on IT departments to provide generative AI tools and use cases. I hope so.
Generative AI was, of course, the subject of many of the educational sessions and discussions. I attended a few of these that focused less on the technical aspects of the tools and more on how they could be used.
One thing I noted (and plan to post about) was the use of AI and generative AI tools to assist back-office operations. I hadn’t focused on what the tools could do for the business end of law firms. Still, several vendors claim to offer soon a variety of new products. Many of these products that will be directed toward managing the finances of firms and partners, profitability, and even diversity initiatives.
While generative AI dominated the discussions, there were a few other issues. ILTA representatives told us that, a bit to their surprise, there was a lot of interest in cyber security. Law firms have been notoriously slow in adopting cybersecurity protections. So I’m glad to see this increased interest.
In addition to the educational sessions, ILTA offered four keynotes, and I attended three of them. LegalTech conference organizers often struggle with keynotes. You can try to come up with keynote speakers in the legal tech space. Or you go outside legal tech for general tech speakers, or offer more touchy-feely keynotes on non-tech topics. The problem with the first option is that there just aren’t that many LegalTech speakers of keynote quality. And if you bring in someone from nonlegal tech, you risk they don’t get legal tech. So while the audiences expects relevant content, they often are disappointed. You go outside tech altogether, and you get critiqued for not offering tech-related content. It’s hard to satisfy everyone.
ILTA decided to go outside tech and offer content designated to generally uplift and enhance wellness in at least 3 of the keynotes. These keynotes were well attended, the speakers were of high quality, and the talks were entertaining. While I’m a bit jaded on this point and would have preferred more tech and less wellness, the attendees seemed happy. You certainly can’t fault ILTA for going this route.
The Exhibit Hall
The Exhibit Hall was pretty crowded with booths. And while the foot traffic seemed a little light (lunches were held away from the exhibit hall), the vendors seemed, if not ecstatic, at least satisfied. I liked that ILTA spread the exhibitors out over two wings, which resulted in many open spaces where you could sit, have discussions, and take a break. My feet thank you for that ILTA.
Another bonus this year. ILTA made space in the Exhibit Hall for a start-up ally. There were a dozen or so start-ups, and ILTA allowed each to make a short schedule space from a stage set up in that same area of the Hall. I tried to talk to several. Some were good, some not, and one I thought had a really interesting idea. More on that later. ILTA also told us they offered first-time exhibitors a discount to encourage newer legal tech businesses.
ILTA seemed to be more hospitable and accommodating to the media than in years past. While the information could have been passed along more efficiently, ILTA did seem to be making more of an effort to help us do our jobs.
The parties were great. It seemed like there were more of them this year, which perhaps reflects that fears of COVID-19 have receded. I didn’t see many masks in evidence, nor did the virus seem to be on anyone’s list of concerns. I hope it stays that way.
Complaints, There Were a Few
There were complaints about a couple of things, neither of which ILTA could do much about. The Wi-Fi in the facilities, especially the Exhibit hall, was abysmal. Dropped connections, no service, and random shutdowns. That is frustrating for a tech conference.
The other major complaint was that the Conference was spread out over four different buildings and travel times could range from 5-8 minutes. If you walked, it not only took time, but it’s August in Florida. But ILTA did a good job supplying golf cards to take people back and forth. When I heard about this feature, I was skeptical and envisioned long waits. But it was just the opposite, so for me, the distances between sessions and events weren’t an issue.
And, Of Course, The Contact Gizmos
One final thing that was kind of cool. Attached to your badge was an electronic gizmo called a Klik. When you wanted to exchange contact information with someone, you brought the gizmos close to each other and clicked them. The contact information then appears in your conference app. There were a few bugs, such as a still-to-be-determined means to get the info out of the app and on your personal devices. ILTA says it’s working on that. And you had to return the gizmo before you left or face a $50 fine. But the devices were fun and a conversation starter.
So was it a good Conference? Not sure it was the happiest place on earth (again, it was August in central Florida), but I do think generally it was a good show. Most people seemed happy and satisfied. And it was sure fun to be back at the really big Conference again. Congrats ILTA.
P.S. In case you were wondering, your intrepid Legaltech reporters did manage to have some fun!