Legal and legal tech conferences have shied away from using avatar platforms for fears their constituents won’t accept them. They shouldn’t.

 

Like most of you, I’ve been to more virtual conferences the past year than I care to count. You know the drill: you sign up thinking you will diligently attend. The conference starts, and your attention wanders. You look to the exhibit hall, and it’s a bunch of videos or chat rooms populated by God knows who. As the conference drags on, it’s harder and harder to keep engaged. As the day closes, there is the proverbial zoom happy hour. This is a usually pretty dreadful affair with a bunch of talking heads interrupting one another. I’d rather drink alone.

 

Gone are the intersections we used to see, the networking we all loved. The chance encounters, the ability to move around, the ad hoc discussions in the hallways.

 

But there is a better way than Zoom. I attended an EDRM (Electronic Discovery and Reference Model) conference last year where the participants attended as avatars. We could have our avatars roam around a campus. We could attend the sessions or get up and leave. We could wander around an exhibit hall, bump into people you knew (each avatar is identified by name), and have actual conversations. If you were bored, you could explore the campus, go to a virtual beach, even drive a virtual boat. Happy hours? You were free to walk around, meet up with people, walk up to people in small groups and join the conversation.

 

ERDM described the conference as an “avatar based immersive virtual venue providing a shared social experience, virtual booths, conversations in the hallway, networking events, and EDRM’s signature bespoke events.”

 

Here’s a link to the description and instructions that EDRM provided for its avatar conference back in December 2020. Also see the news release announcing it. It was the best conference I attended all year. (The picture above is my avatar. Nice resemblance, isn’t it?)

 

 

But since December of last year, no one, to my knowledge in the legal ecosystem, seemed to want to try it. Too nerdy. Too experimental. The attendees will think it’s too complicated to download and navigate. If the more sophisticated legal tech conferences aren’t willing to do it, surely bar associations wouldn’t be interested. Nor could they succeed with it.

 

Think again. The Monroe County Bar Association, based in Rochester, New York, recently held its annual small firm and solo conference over two afternoons. The meeting was not only held virtually but used the ERDM avatar campus. With the help of Mary Mack and Kaylee Walstead of EDRM and the leadership of Monroe Country Bar Association executive director Kevin Ryan, this first of its kind bar association event was, by all accounts, a rousing success.

 

Would lawyers and legal professionals’ be reluctant to accept and embrace this kind of approach?

 

I had a chance to talk to Ryan about the conference mainly because I was interested in the reaction of local attorneys to the setup. I also was curious whether the naysayers were right. Would lawyers and legal professionals’ be reluctant to accept and embrace this kind of approach?

 

Ryan couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about how the conference went. He thought that it was much close to an in-person event than the standard zoom based confab. It was, in his words, as close to life-like as you can get in the virtual world. He stressed to me that the attendees, primarily small firm and solo lawyers loved it.

 

Some things Ryan liked in particular: the ability to move around, bump into people, and talk. He said the platform provided a way for attendees to get away from the Conference sessions themselves yet still be connected. Ryan also liked that the break out sessions were much more interactive and engaging than they would have been on Zoom. He told me plenary sessions went well too. Attendees could see the presenter avatar on stage or direct their attention to the slides or even to other attendees around the room.

 

Ryan also told me, much to my surprise, that he got almost no push back from his constituents. That was a little surprising only because you have to download some special software and then learn how to navigate the campus. Lawyers aren’t particularly well known for spending the time to learn new things. And Ryan noted that many of the attendees were not particularly computer literate. In fact, those he thought would have been the least likely to master the platform had no trouble.

 

There was no grumbling or complaining from any attendees either before or after the conference.

 

He pointed out that Niki Black, the Director of Business and Community Relations at MyCase and member of the Association, recommended and shepherded the use of the software. Wisely, Black did a training session some 30 minutes before the conference, which Ryan said helped a lot. The attendees mastered the platform really quickly. He heard no grumbling or complaining from any attendees either before or after the conference. For a good description of the Conferance, itself and how it went, see Black’s recent post.

 

Ryan did say if he had it to do over, he would have done a little more advanced training. He would have, for example, taken steps to ensure attendees successfully downloaded the software. He would have tried to better insure participants tested the system in advance. What few glitches the Association had –and he stressed there were not many—stemmed from issues associated with the downloading process.

 

Ryan and I both agreed that the platform might not work for a hybrid conference—it’s really not set up for that. But for webinars and remote meetings, it could be helpful if and when the pandemic subsides. He noted correctly that for national and state organizations with diverse geographical members, the avatar platform would be ideal. It would allow attendees to have a life like conference experience without the cost, time, and burden of travel. It would be a good way to engage more people who might not otherwise be willing to attend at a relatively low cost. He specifically singled out state bar associations as candidates for this kind of conference.

 

After all, if a local bar association and its members are willing to embrace avatars, it’s likely that everyone can

 

I think Ryan is right. It’s a virtual platform more organizations should embrace without fear or hesitation. I mean, after all, if a local bar association and its members are willing to embrace avatars, it’s likely that everyone can.

 

By the way, thanks to the Association for hosting Bob Ambrogi’s weekly Legaltech Week Journalist’s Roundtable. The Roundtable was held on the campus in avatar form on the last afternoon. The panelists included Bob, Joe Patrice, Zach Warren, and Victoria Hudgins from Legaltech News, media consultant Molly McDonough, Niki Black, and last (and probably least) me. All appearing as avatars.

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Those with loaded guns and those that dig. You dig”.

Blondie to Tuco in the 1966 movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 

The increased number and sophistication of litigation analytical programs calls to mind the above line from one of my favorite movies, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In the movie, the line sums up the obvious advantage a character holding a loaded gun (Blondie, played by Clint Eastwood) over a character with an unloaded one (Tuco, played by Eli Wallach). To paraphrase Blondie, there will soon be two types of litigators in this world: those who use litigation analytics and those who, well…dig. For those who use analytics, its a good time to be a litigator.

 

Three recent announcements in the field show just how sophisticated litigation analytical programs are getting. And how the litigation world– for those who use them–will be revolutionized. In general, litigation analytical programs allow litigators to access data and information that it would previously take them hours and hours of expensive digging to obtain. Which meant that it was often cost prohibitive. In many situations, the information simply couldn’t be found or accessed. All too often, the lawyer or legal professional didn’t know where to look.

 

Context Attorney Analytics

 

First, on March 1, LexisNexis announced the launch of Context Attorney Analytics. This product is the fifth module of its litigation analytics Context platform (the platform includes similar programs entitled Judge Analytics, Attorney Analytics, Court Analytics, Expert Analytics, and Company Analytics). Context Attorney Analytics tracks records of more than one million attorneys. It can then connect their argument activity with actual written judicial opinions. This, in turn, can enable attorneys to build their own arguments by anticipating and neutralizing opposing counsel’s arguments based on the legal language they’ve previously used in similar cases. It can also show how those arguments fared.

 

And from this, it quickly allows you to see the strategy your opposing lawyer employed, helping you to formulate your strategy better. Not to mention the fact that the program can be used by in house counsel to help decide who to hire. It can even help law firms better review the quality of potential lateral hires.

 

Clearbrief

 

Secondly, a company called Clearbrief has a product that it says will analyze briefs and other documents to identify how well what the writer says is supported by what the author cites. It works with citations to the law but perhaps more importantly with evidence and discovery materials.

 

The advantages to this product are apparent: it reduces the research time needed to vet a citation either for your use or to attack what the other side is saying. And since it can be used with evidence, it could be invaluable at trial, in depositions, or at mediation. Clearbrief recently announced seed funding from heavyweights Mark Britton, Bryan Garner, and Bill Neukom. (For more information about Clearbrief, see Bob Ambrogi’s recent post).

 

WeSearch

 

Finally and perhaps most exciting is Casetext’s new product called WeSearch. This product is basically like a Google search for lawyers. It allows you to upload a group of documents and then use natural language inquires to search that group of records and the facts in those documents. One of my former partners asked me one time why we can’t have a legal search tool that allows you to ask the kind of simple questions we can ask Goggle. Well, now we have one.

 

According to the WeSearch website: “Traditional tools, whether in e-discovery, file management, or case management, all leave you at the mercy of keyword search. Unless you can remember the exact wording in a document, it is difficult to find what you need quickly. With WeSearch, you can finally escape the prison of the keyword. By leveraging a breakthrough in artificial intelligence called a transformer-based neural net, WeSearch matches your queries by concept rather than by literal keyword.”

 

 

Can you imagine how a good trial lawyer could use these tools at trial?

 

 

Can you imagine how a good trial lawyer could use these tools at trial? In preparing closing arguments? Can you imagine the time that could be saved?

 

Litigation analytical tools give litigators the ability to access information and make informed strategic decisions, but they also let the most knowledgeable lawyer undertake the search. They allow the senior lawyer, the one in charge of the case and strategy and the one who knows the case the best, to do his or her own data search. The lawyer can use the type of inquiry and follow up inquiries that he or she knows best fits their overall vision of the case.

 

It’s no longer cost prohibitive to have a senior lawyer do these kinds of searches. Much better than trying to explain what you are looking for to a young lawyer who doesn’t have the experience you do, hasn’t derived the strategy, and perhaps doesn’t see it very well. Particularly where the senior partner doesn’t take the time to explain it well.

 

 

And yet, too many litigators just continue to dig…

 

 

All this information and potential. Yet too many litigators are content just to dig like they always have. A recent survey from Niki Black, Legal Tech Evangelist at MyCase, revealed that only 21% of those surveyed felt litigation analytics software was the most valuable AI software for lawyers right now. The most useful tool the respondents cited: legal research. The survey results show that many lawyers still think of AI legal software as just for research. And some lawyers seem to think the software is too complicated to use when its not. Most is very intuitive. And more and more state court material is becoming accessible.

 

Yet, we have these intuitive tools that let you see into the other side’s strategy. They allow you to look into what a judge is thinking, assess the quality of citations and ask natural language questions to massive data sets. You can gauge the experience and ability of the other side’s lawyer. You can determine how a judge has previously ruled and what citations he or she has used to support the rulings. From this, you can analyze the judge’s thought process and what is important to him or her. You can assess the timeline of your case to manage client expectations and even determine the most likely time to make settlement overtures. All this and more.

 

And yet, too many litigators just continue to dig…

 

Photo Attribution: Don Merwin via flickr (photo not altered)

 

 

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Malcolm X

 

Last week, the Future Trials Working Group of the New York Commission to Reimagine the Future of Courts rendered a comprehensive Report. And it’s chock full of sound analysis and imagining about where Courts, at least in New York, may be going. The Report identifies the critical issues and challenges evolving technology poses for our court systems. (A tip of the hat to my friend Matt Cairns for sending me the Report

 

The Commission itself was formed in June 2020 by New York Chief Judge Janet DiFore. It mission was to make recommendations to improve the quality and delivery of legal services in New York. The Future Trials Group was one of 6 groups established by the Commission.

Continue Reading New York’s Vision of the Future of Courts

If you’re looking for a post about legal tech and innovation like those which usually appear here, you will be sorely disappointed. This post has nothing to do with legal tech, tech in general, or innovation. No gentle reader, this post is about something else entirely. It’s about a celebration and hope for the future.

 

If you’re wondering why I’m straying from the usual fare, it’s because I can. As then-candidate Ronald Reagan once said when a debate moderator tried to silence him, “I paid for this mike.” Got to hand it to Ronnie, regardless of what you thought of his politics (I don’t agree with them), he did have a way with words. And yes, I know I’m dating myself. I really don’t care. (Here’s the video of that moment btw). Continue Reading This Is NOT About LegalTech…

It makes perfect sense for business people to lead practice groups, law firms and even corporate legal departments. But lawyers are held back by hubris and an antiquated business structure.
 
 
Kate Tompkins is the Practice Group Leader of Latrobe GPM’s Intellectual Property Group. And she is not a practicing lawyer; she doesn’t even have a JD.
 
Marlene Gebauer and Greg Lambert recently interviewed Tompkins on their Geek In Review Podcast. If you don’t subscribe to this podcast, I strongly recommend it. It’s always interesting and enlightening.

Continue Reading Can a Non-JD Professional Head a Practice Group? A Law Firm? The (Gasp) GC Office?

According to a recent article by Gregg Wirth in Thompson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, the notion of the fancy traditional downtown office of law firms is fundamentally changing. And with it ultimately, in my view, the nature of the profession. Three immediate factors are driving this change: partners are embracing remote work, the trickle-down effect on the use of technology, and a new emphasis on cutting costs. All three of these factors will change how lawyers view tech and working from a central.

 

Continue Reading Law Firms Reduce Office Space: Three Reasons It’s Important

The traditional law firm. Composed of partners: the firm owners who toiled in the associate vineyards for several years and who were ultimately rewarded with the brass ring. A partnership, a piece of the ownership of the firm. A piece of security that tied you to the firm and your partners. On the other side were the associates—those who worked hard toward partnership and the security it brought.
 

Continue Reading Non Equity Partnerships and the Changing Law Firm Culture

As we all are doing more and more online, it pays to make sure our online image is the best it can be. Most pros would suggest getting a webcam or an HD camera instead of using the standard camera that comes with your laptop or computer. But these can be hard to find and, get a good one, expensive.

But I recently came across a good and inexpensive substitute. It’s called iGlasses, and it’s downloadable software that will work with your Mac’s existing camera.

Continue Reading Don’t Have a Webcam or HD Camera? Try iGlasses

LAS VEGAS, January 4, 2021 —LAWCLERK, the leading online marketplace for freelance lawyers, announced the rollout of a subscription based program to boost the working relationship between busy attorneys and a nationwide network of talented freelance lawyers. 

 

I continue to be amazed by how many legal product and service providers don’t seem to grasp the need for simple, intuitive products and services. Products and services that address real pain points of their customers in the legal space. Those who supply consumer products and services get this. And let’s face it, there is a world of difference between how many in legal tech seem to think versus how those in consumer tech view the world.

Continue Reading Legal Product and Service Providers: Think Differently

It’s early January, which for me means CES, the giant consumer electronics show.  (CES used to Stand for Consumer Electronics Show but now it’s just CES). CES calls itself the world’s largest and most important tech event, where the entire technology ecosystem gathers to conduct business, launch products, build brands, and network

 

Each year I go to CES and come back energized and optimistic. Each year I try to summarize what I learned and how those lessons might apply to legal.

Continue Reading Lessons For Legal: 2021 CES