Legalweek is one of the preeminent legal tech shows. For years it primarily was directed to the ediscovery community; while there is still a heavy emphasis on ediscovery, the Show has branched out signigificaly in recent years. Put on by the legal media Goliath, ALM, it occupies 4 full days of programming, mammoth exhibit halls and, of course, numerous vendor parties.
As it began to wind down on cold Thursday afternoon, I took a break and sat down in the Plaza Hotel lobby bar to reflect. The Plaza of course is a grand dame of New York hotels featured in movies as diverse as North by Northwest and Home Alone 2. It’s a great place to sit, reflect, people watch, have a glass of wine and write.
So what are my thoughts about this years Show?
1. The number of exhibitors was markedly down. That’s no surprise since space is expensive and the perceived ROI is not all that great anymore. Bob Ambrogi recently raised this issue and wondered about the future of big legal tech (and other conferences). My take is that reduced interest in exhibit space is a trend we will continue to see. And there will likely be fewer live presentations as shows go for name over live: bigger name speakers will be more likely to present if they can do it via livestream and the difference to the audience is not that great. (I mean, in many presentations we watch the presenter on a screen anyway. He or she just happens to be in the same room somewhere). Does this mean the end of big conferences? No. Big conferences are really just an excuse to network and there was a hell of a lot of networking going on this year at Legalweek as always. Exhibit halls and presentations have for some time if not always been just excuses to justifying the cost for what are really networking opportunities.
Big conferences are really just an excuse to network
2. The hot topics this year? Gotta be data and litigation analytics. Numerous presentations and talks as heavyweights like Thompson Reuter’s and LexisNexis went at each other in what is becoming a super competitive market. And they don’t mind calling each other out which frankly is vaguely off putting. Other players like FastCase continue to plug along building relationships and providing value added commentary and advice.
EDiscovery is still king
3. Ediscovery is still king. Most of the big players were in attendance. But I think there is a subtle shift from offering ediscovery services and advice to developing products that users can intuitively operate and run. A prime example is Casepoint which announced a new platform that allows the user to do more with the documents. After watching the demo, I actually got the itch to return to litigation just to use the tool to prepare for a document intense deposition. The point of the Casepoint product is that the software does more and more of the work.
The tune may have changed but the words are the same
4. The tune may have changed but the lyrics remain the same. Big law will crash. The model is not sustainable. These guys better get with it or they’re doomed. I’ve heard the same thing for years at this and other shows yet each year US law firms keep making money hand over fist mainly by using a tried, true and simply business model: bill more hours at the highest rate possible and make more money. Until clients demand change, lawyers and law firms would really be pretty stupid to change such a lucrative business model. But in house legal often doesn’t demand much more than that their law firms profess to be innovative irrespective of whether they actually are or are trying to be. Why? In house legal has the same legal education, often worked for law firms using the same business model, hold the same values and view the world the same way as their outside brethren. In fact, many of them even worked for the same firms that they now routinely hire with little thought about whether another firm might do as good if not better job for a lower price.. Lawyers are neither dumb nor have some innate disability or psychological trait that prevents them from being innovative: but they do know how their bread is buttered. Don’t expect change unless and until the clients say enough.
Three interesting products: Zero, LoopUp Windtalker
5. Despite reduced number of exhibitors and the typical presence of the standard behemouths in the legal tech space, there were a few new and interesting products. (One way to spot these is when you walk up to the booth the CEO of the company greets you and shakes your hand btw). Here’s three I found tucked away on the exhibit floor or elsewhere and which will be the subject of another post: Zero, which offers an email management system that includes a mobile feature allowing predictive filing from mobile devices, LoopUp which takes some of the more irritating features of conference calls away (For a laugh see the uTube video entitled a Conference Call in Real Life) and replaces them with a seamless and intuitive system, and Windtalker which allows for the encryption and protection of information within documents. (Subject of a Bob Ambrogi post late last year. All of these products are directed at specific problems and pain points and are easy to use. None of them purport to solve gigantic problems like world peace or big legal profession issues but are instead directed toward day to day needs and problems. Which is why they will be successful.
And yes, it did snow while I was here, making this year similar to others. The difference this year was that in addition to snow it was cold. I mean really cold. But in some respects that is a metaphor for the 2019 Show: not much different but small changes and progress, an inch by inch movement of the profession toward more efficiencies and better models.