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.
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.