Legal technology conference (r)evolution—the launch of Legal Geek North America

Originally published in Legal Insights Europe.

By Joseph Raczynski

Like the legal industry itself, legal technology conferences are transforming and Legal Geek is leading the change. These industry events are finally beginning to mirror the, more, customer centric start-up community perspective. Taking a step back, a decade ago the most renown and popular legal industry conferences in the US included International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), now ILTACON, and LegalTech now rebranded Legalweek. Both conferences have established a forum by ushering in a global audience for multi-day events centred on a mixture of vendor products and industry specific legal technology discussions. LegalWeek itself is a spectacle with hundreds of vendors vying for compact, tightly knit cubicals in a midtown New York City hotel in the middle of January. ILTACON, a mega conference, roams from city to city each year in late August with a five-day event in some of the largest hotels in the US. While the original intent was to educate, the creep of vendors and suppliers into the space may have watered down the primary mission. With the recent upheaval at ILTA and their executive leadership, one can almost sense the tug and pull of the shift in focus.

As all things evolve, hopefully, the next iteration of this evolution is the British Legal Technology Forum. This conference has mixed up the notion of what a legal conference looks and acts like. With an open mimosa bar in the morning bleeding into a beer fest for the rest of the day, this environment is starkly different than the traditional suit-clad legal technology events. In addition to the social-centric aspect of the one-day event, the British Legal Technology Forum has quicker sessions, sometime only 15 minutes enabling speakers to discuss a specific topic that is tight on scope. Vendor presence is strong at this event, but not as fully emmeshed in the fabric of the event sessions.

Legal Geek, the prime example of the conference revolution, originated in San Francisco in 2015, but gained favour in London—and so made it ‘home base’. This is the latest iteration of collaboration in the legal tech community. Over the last several years Legal Geek London has received rave reviews among legal technologists, consultants, investors, lawyers, and legal students alike. It has built a bit of a cult-like following. The founder, Jimmy Vestbirk, offers perspective on why Legal Geek has such fandom. The philosophy: come to make friends, not to sell; dress comfortably (please, please, no ties); come to learn and to teach; look after your fellow law-gends, you may need their help someday; and, this is your community, please pitch in and help. You will be rewarded. This elicits a mental shift of mindset for all who come to this legal technology event—from the typical conservative, staid legal conference approach—to the hip, cool, cutting-edge vibe of a grass-roots start-up company. There’s even promptings to ‘high-five’ your fellow delegates throughout the day.

Recently I attended the first Legal Geek North America in Brooklyn, New York. There was a buzz about this event weeks prior. Attendance reach over capacity with 450 people from around the world. A waiting list of dozens were reported—and understandable with an enterprising agenda of 60 presenters, from six different countries, speaking between 8-12 minutes each—and only three vendors present. The speaker line-up was geared to technologists and lawyers, from both private practice and in-house—on what legal technology is out there and why it matters.

This event had potential to be an earthquake event in the industry. The biggest difference at this conference, presenters are not supposed to talk about their products, at least until the very end of their 10-minute spiel. It was effective.

Highlights

Blockchain for non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): Jim Brock, CEO of TrustBot, is working on creating a tool that creates NDAs very quickly through a document automation system. Its primary goal is to solve for the problem for the user accepting the agreement. Anyone can adopt the agreement, then you share the URL. Each party is adopting the NDA prospectively—so that when you agree to it, anyone else who has already agreed to it is already set. You are accepting the ‘hash’ or the signature stored on a blockchain. This is all verifiable.

Access to Justice: Stevie Ghiassi, CEO of Legaler, is endeavoring to help legal services reach 1 billion people. Through the use of all of the latest buzz words—digital scarcity, smart contracts, programable value, internet of value, digital identity—Legaler is creating a blockchain operating system for legal services. One component of this is LegalAid—you can donate money to this fund using a blockchain and see who the money goes to using a smart contract. This enables the tracking of your donation and you can see how it impacts an individual’s life. Another aspect of the operating system is a Litigation Fund which pools people’s money together, raising money for a group of people who want to sue a mega company in a class action suit.

Distributed Law Firm: James M. Fisher II, Founder & Managing Partner of FisherBroyles, LLP has created the first distributed law firm in the world. It has just cracked the AmLaw 200. Their platform is based on compensation, people, location, and technology. They use smart contracts on a distributed network where all partners can see how everyone is billing, it’s automated and in the clear. Partners get 80 percent of all billable work for their clients. If you work with another partner, you receive 48 percent of the earnings. The cost savings comes from having no physical office space as every partner is geographically distributed as well. Their people join the programme from some of the biggest firms in the world with the attraction of no commutes, no overhead, increased professional growth potential, and an extremely diverse partnership. Lastly, their technology is a mix of both cutting edge and traditional tools to help their clients.   

Legal Geek North America, still in its infancy, is primed to shake up the legal technology community. The shortened sessions and its focus on the customers and not product is something to watch for the next several years. Likely the North American event will soon rival the mega-success of the Legal Geek Conference in London.

Cybersecurity at the centre – competing globally with different rules

 

Originally published on Legal Insights Europe.

By Joseph Raczynski

The topic of global cybersecurity will challenge each one of us. It is an unstable concoction of cultural norms and legal property rights patiently awaiting attention before it bursts. The overarching question is ‘how can legal organizations and overall society manage rising threats to the integrity of intellectual property (IP) whilst retaining and using information’? Add in the complexity that the global landscape is comprised of open societies, with freedoms and individuality, and close societies, of collectivism and oppression. The fundamentals of open society and IP rights—contrasted with closed societies and their misuse of IP through cyber threats will soon force change.

The Situation

The Council on Foreign Relations has been focusing recent seminars on emerging technology and cybersecurity as it relates to China and Russia. The thematic quintessence from the highest former administrators in the U.S. Intelligence Community is that the UK, Europe, and U.S. are under constant IP attack. They cited countless examples of nation states sending students and other professionals to the UK and U.S. with the sole intention of pilfering IP. Purportedly in one example, students at some of the best scientific universities are forced into this criminal role by their government. Their family, at home, is threatened if information from the student is not collected and given to the state. The majority of students have honest intentions in their travels—advancement of their own education and to enjoy the cultural exchange, but increasingly the U.S. Intelligence Community is alarmed at what they are finding. Commercial cyber espionage.

The cultural philosophies are starkly different, from one state to the next. The society of one state is open and the other closed. For example, pushing for individual’s governance of their own personal information manifested through General Data Protection Regulation—as with the European Union, while the other state created a ‘social credit’ score by ranking citizens based on their behaviour from data gathered by millions of facial recognition eyes in the sky. Both governments strive for rapid development in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, and biotechnology. Governments develop these specialty areas in different ways. Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, once said, “there will be two internets, one for China and one for the rest of the world”. The washing of information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests from every Chinese online forum and publication is cited as an example of the ‘other internet’. As a result, most teenagers in China have never heard of the protests which turned into a massacre.

Law firms as a collective serve as the largest holder of IP. As such, they are a top target for cyber espionage. The overarching laws are clear in the UK, and most often people abide by them. When there is conflict, legal process takes place and ultimately decisions are made, resulting in a final adjudication. What if no one paid attention to the decision? What if people did whatever they wanted, even though the IP for Flake candy bar is registered, China could copy it and sell it where ever they wished? This is the situation with the closed societies, and typically cybersecurity breeches are the means to an end for nation states looking to bolster their own companies.

The Dilemma

According to the U.S. Intelligence Community, the challenge is that closed societies are breaking into law firms and corporations, stealing IP and using it to build their own companies. The speed of these new companies built on the backs of stolen IP is phenomenal and will be much more difficult for those UK organizations to compete against.

Certainly, corporate espionage has been around since before cobblers competed in shoe-making. The difference is that open societies, by their nature, are now threatened by IP exploitation in the UK and US. Going forward and beyond sanctions, as the super powers of the world grow in strength and play by a different set of rules, law firms and corporations will likely need to map new ways how they protect their information and IP. The UK, U.S., and Europe will need to figure out how a society that plays by a clear set of rules competes against a society that can hack any law firm and use that information to illegally profit.