Takeaways from ILTACON 2021

on Topics: Company | Future Law | Legal Tech

Takeaways from ILTACON 2021

The global pandemic still ensuing around the world and here in the United States has changed the practice of law and the way we think about the technology and the data needed for the business of law. This year’s 2021 ILTACON held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV was no exception. 

From the topics covered, to the hybrid, virtual and in-person model, and COVID health safety protocols, ILTACON adapted to cover the moment the legal industry as a whole finds itself in and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. 

An Emphasis on Data Analytics, Knowledge Management, and Change Management

Though there were a diverse range of educational sessions at ILTACON this year on topics ranging from cybersecurity to AI in eDiscovery, when looking at all of the sessions and the keynotes in total, three main topics emerged: data analytics, knowledge management, and change management.

What’s fascinating about the framing of most of the conversations on data analytics at ILTACON is that they all carried a similar undertone — there was no question at all as to whether analytics, and litigation analytics in particular, were something law firms should be doing. Instead, the conversations focused on the how. How should they be building analytics, how can they avoid the real landmines laying about, and how can they secure quick wins and iteratively expand their capabilities. 

On the knowledge management front, a common theme that surfaced throughout the sessions we attended was the importance of breaking down information silos. This can take on many forms. More than just breaking down the age-old data silos separating practice groups within law firms, or functions like legal operations, case management, and business development, law firms also need to break down the barriers preventing them from accessing external data sources and leverage Legal Data APIs to make that happen. 

Knowledge management has a central role to play in breaking down these silos, and ensuring that while all functions and roles within a firm have the data they need, that they also are using common data standards, nomenclature, and classifications. By using a common language and data framework, law firms can move forward on developing better reporting and the data analytics they need to position their firm for the future while providing better value to their clients. 

To bring about innovations in knowledge management and data analytics and bring lawyers, who are often notoriously resistant to anything new, along for the ride, law firms need change management professionals focused on end user engagement and adoption. Without true adoption at the end of the day, what good is a new innovation? If you don’t have buy-in from stakeholders, or if you haven’t correctly incentivized the use of new technologies and processes for support staff, having the largest innovation and technology budgets possible and the world’s most renowned data scientists, machine learning experts, and design thinkers won’t amount to much. 

Placing change management at the forefront of this year’s ILTACON provided attendees with a more practical look at how to move innovation forward. It was also nice to see most speakers abandon talking in glittering generalities and delve into how to really get in the trenches to make change happen within law firms.

Takeaways from ILTACON Sessions and Keynotes

Of the many wonderful sessions at ILTACON this year, my favorite by far was the initial Collaboration Kick-off session on Technology Adoption / Change Management, led by Martha Breil, Legal Service Delivery Manager at Cooley LLP and the ILTACON 2021 Co-Chair. 

Held on late Sunday afternoon before the conference was in full swing, the Collaboration Kick-off session on tech adoption and change management lived up to its name. Being able to have a real dialogue about tech adoption, and the issues that surround tech adoption, like talent acquisition and retention, stakeholder buy-in, and encouraging user adoption, was refreshing and something we were all clearly craving. 

Our group of about 15-20 leaders from AmLaw firms, regional law firms, and legal tech vendors had a lively and frank conversation about the issues we were facing, and it was a safe enough space (without the cameras on) where people asked for ideas and suggestions on how to solve the problems that they were facing. Here are some of the takeaways from our discussion:

  1. Don’t try to turn the Titanic. Focus on the people on the ship.
  2. Get the lawyers who complain the most to participate in new legal tech adoption and provide feedback.
  3. Want to encourage attorneys to learn about tech? Let them bill time for hours spent discovering and investigating new tech, but don’t call it training.
  4. Develop cross department committees to discover talent that can be repurposed like high performing support staff who will leave without new walls and challenges to overcome.
  5. Billing issues and getting lawyers to handle new requirements for billing is a huge, recurring pain point when it comes to change management.
  6. Flexibility is key in realizing law firm change management.

On Monday morning, the virtual and in-person attendees all got to hear from one of the most inspiring and impressive human beings who’s walked this earth and seen our Pale Blue Dot from space, Dr. Mae Jemison — the first African American female to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program, as well as the first African American female in space. 

Dr. Jemison’s keynote speech, “Peak Tech: Arts, Sciences, and Humanity Required,” was forward-thinking and futuristic, yet firmly grounded in the limitations of time and the need to focus on the problems we can solve now. As someone who is an astronaut and was also the first real-life astronaut to appear on Star Trek as Lieutenant Palmer in the episode “Second Chances,” it’s not surprising in the least that Dr. Jemison is now solely focused on the challenge of making interstellar space travel a reality. Her keynote touched on how many of the problems we face with interstellar travel offer a window into the other obstacles we face as human beings, whether we’re lawyers, technologists, data people, or managers.  

Here are some of the great gems and pearls of wisdom from Dr. Jemison speech:

  • “Even the sharpest blade can’t cut its own handle.” Yoruba Proverb
  • “Research is a formalized curiosity. It’s a poking and a prying with a purpose.” Zora Neale Hurston 
  • “The miracle is this: the more we share the more we have.” Leonard Nimoy

From Dr. Jemison:

  • “To thrive into the future, our commitments and caring must endure connecting us across generations and geographies.”
  • “You don’t have to change people’s hearts and minds. You just need to change their behavior.”
  • “Time is the one truly indispensable thing we have. But time has unlimited potential.”
  • “The impossible is just something really difficult.”
  • “What do we do with our time? We use it.”

At the end of her speech, Dr. Jemison honed in on something that the legal industry can learn from. One of the key challenges of interstellar travel is not developing the type of new age propulsion system needed to catapult us from star to star that doesn’t yet exist — it’s actually dealing with the age old problem of how to get thousands of people to work together for an extended period of time without everything devolving into chaos. 

Most law firms are equally as far away from completely transforming into the tech-first law firms of the future as humanity is from developing the propulsion system for interstellar travel, but we do know some of the basic problems that law firms and the legal profession as a whole need to solve. We need better data, better access to the courts, better knowledge management, better automation, and better service delivery. We can start with these problems first and worry about AI that will replace lawyers later down the road. 

Later on in the ILTACON lineup, one of the other sessions that stood out for it’s content, interactivity, and candor, was “Ewww, David! Change Management and User Group Lessons Learned from the Roses,” led by Susan Sommers, Director of KM Innovation and Solutions at Ogletree Deakins, with panelists, Jeffrey Roach, President of Encoretech, Marti Phillips, Director of Learning & Development at Encoretech, and Tim Fox, Director of Practice Intelligence & Analytics at Ogletree Deakins.

(Left to right: Tim Fox, Jeffrey Roach, Marti Phillips)

Geared toward moving law firms along the change management ride, this hour and half session featured clips and scenarios from the hit TV show Schitt’s Creek to help illustrate some of the problems change management professionals and knowledge management professionals face inside of law firms. 

The leading situation the talk centered on (spoiler alert!) was when David Rose sees the General Store in town closing and recognizes an opportunity to open his own store, yet not unlike any good technology or KM initiative within a law firm, David runs into his own series of problems and questions. 

Who are his customers? How does what David wants for an eclectic environment of carefully curated products jive with what his customers want and are willing to buy (plungers)? How does he define what his business is about? What does success look like? Can he compromise to achieve success when the data confronts his vision? And how does he engage his community and rally them around the promise of Rose Apothecary?

Throughout Susan Sommers presentation on the “how” of effecting change management within the law firm setting, she and the panel used running the analogy of the Rider — the analytical, rational, logical individual who likes planning, details and needs directions and clarity, the Elephant — the emotional and instinctive individual who wants instant gratification and will go where they want if the reward isn’t obvious and no motivating factors are present, and the Path — the real-life obstacle course you need to move the Rider and the Elephant along on. To make change easier and reach the end goal of sustained user adoption, you need to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path. 

Direct the Rider

  1. Follow the Bright Spots
  2. Script the Critical Moves
  3. Point to the Destination

Motivate the Elephant

  1. Find the Feeling
  2. Shrink the Change
  3. Grow Your People

Shape the Path

  1. Tweak the Environment
  2. Build Habits
  3. Rally the Herd

In addition to these three excellent sessions, there were a whole host of sessions with great content, conversations, and learning and growth opportunities. Here are some of our favorite sessions that you can stream online by logging into ILTA.

Redefining the Delivery of Legal Services

  • Brad Blickstein – Principal, Blickstein Group
  • Kimball Parker – CEO, SixFifty
  • Meredith Williams-Range – Chief Knowledge & Client Value Officer, Shearman & Sterling, LLP

Powering your Analytics with External Data Sources

  • Alexander Boyadjian – Competitive Intelligence Attorney, O’Melveny & Myers LLP
  • Peter Geovanes – Head of Data Strategy, AI and Analytics, Winston & Strawn LLP
  • Jennifer Mendez – Director of Knowledge Management Innovation, Fisher Phillips

The Changing Nature of Legal Procurement: ‘New Law’ and Aggregators of Legal Products and Services

  • Brian Corbin – Executive Director, Assistant General Counsel, JP Morgan Chase
  • Christian Lang – Head of Strategy, Reynen Court 
  • Eugenia Frenzel – Director of Pricing & Practice Management Economics, Perkins Coie LLP
  • Jae Um – Founder & Executive Director, Six Parsecs 
  • Joe Borstein – CEO & CO-Founder, Lexfusion

Data Literacy for your Company: A Critical Skill for the 21st Century

  • Tim Fox – Director Practice Intelligence & Analytics, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Designing Impactful Data Visualizations To Inform Strategic Decisions and Empower Change

  • Madison Henry – Senior Business & Competitive Intelligence Analyst, Troutman Pepper
  • Joe Sremack – Managing Director, BDO Consulting

The Legal Engineer Consultant

  • Rebecca Holdredge – Innovations Manager, Husch Blackwell LLP
  • Michael Mills – Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Neota Logic
  • Rob Saccone – Partner, Nexlaw Partners

The ILTACON 2021 Hybrid Approach

As the global COVID-19 pandemic shows no real end in sight, the open question of will a hybrid approach work for conferences has largely been answered with ILTACON 2021. The answer is yes, but we still need to experiment to perfect the right amount of engagement and interaction between attendees, speakers, and vendors. 

The clearest takeaway for me from the hybrid approach is that more Collaboration Kick-off styled sessions are needed, and with options to include virtual attendees as well. Though some are just there for the vendor swag, which included light up Harry Potter wands this year (yours truly obviously chose the Elder Wand), what most are really looking for from conferences like ILTACON is engagement — the opportunity to talk openly about the problems we’re facing and get real, unscripted answers about how to solve those problems. 

As a frequent poller of others, I solicited feedback from several attendees, and one of the running ideas that came to the forefront was the development of multi-day collaboration sessions. For instance, attendees could meet on certain topics like KM or data analytics, raise items for discussion in the initial collaboration session, and take away homework or items to build on over the course of the conference, so that attendees can get below the surface of an issue and dig deeper into solutions.

Though ILTACON ran smoothly production-wise for the most part, one of the recurring issues for hybrid presentations and virtual panel discussions was the inability of the virtual speakers to see the audience. It’s hard to create the atmosphere of a back-and-forth dialogue when speakers can’t see who they’re speaking to in the audience, and especially if there are hands raised for questions and speakers aren’t able to see those visual cues and interact in the moment. This could easily be fixed with a crowd camera facing back at in person attendees. 

One of the looming questions for ILTACON 2021 was how will the attendance look with a hybrid model and the COVID-19 Delta variant on the rise? From anecdotal stories of attendees I polled throughout ILTACON, the general consensus on the ground was that there were maybe one fourth (max one third) of the people present who typically attended the conference pre-pandemic. While several vendors and exhibitors did attend this year’s conference, there were a handful of very large vendors, like “ILTAMAX” sponsors iManage and Litera, who did not attend and a number of vendors who packed up and left before the last day of the conference.  

Many of the vendors I polled, including some clients of UniCourt, said that though the quantity of conversations with prospective customers is not what it had been in previous years, the quality of the conversations and potential leads was much better. With less than a thousand attendees — at least half of which were vendors — there was much more time to have more in-depth conversations and get to learn more about vendors’ products and get into the underlying use cases and challenges customers were facing. 

Overall, we’re really glad to have attended ILTACON 2021. It was the first conference we’ve attended in-person in over a year and half going back to the 2020 Legal Services Corporation Innovation in Technology Conference, and it was nice to see familiar faces and get to talk with leaders in knowledge management, analytics and data science who get it and are actively working to make sure other people get it as well.

We’re also excited to share that we’ve got a wonderful upcoming lineup of leaders in legal innovation, knowledge management, and competitive intelligence who we met at ILTACON and agreed to participate in UniCourt’s Influencer Q&A series. The next three Influencers we are looking forward to featuring are impressive women in law: Susan Sommers of Ogletree Deakins, Madison Henry of Troutman Pepper, and Rebecca Holdredge of Husch Blackwell.

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