The International Legal Technology Association, or ILTA as it is commonly referred to, is no stranger to holding giant technology conferences. Each August, it puts on an annual four-day show that draws over 3400 attendees and some 150 exhibitors and sponsors. This summer’s Show will be in Nashville from August 11-15. The Show offers a wide range of content for every legal tech issue as well as a widely diverse group of sponsors and exhibitors.

A Focus on GenAI and Cybersecurity

As a result, I was a little surprised when I heard ILTA planned a separate conference that would focus on two issues and two issues only: GenAI and cybersecurity. The conference, labeled “Evolve” was held April 29-May 1 in Charlotte North Carolina.

As might appear obvious, the content was centered around these two issues, and the exhibitors and participating exhibitors and sponsors all offered products and services related to these subjects. 

The result was an intimate and focused conference with some 330 attendees and some 27 sponsors.

I recently talked with Dawn Hudgins, ILTA’s Senior Vice President Service Delivery about the Conference and why ILTA was interested in doing it.  Hudgins told me ILTA believed coming “out of COVID, we realized that there could be topics in our future that demand front-stage attention. And so finding a place to talk about those two things was important.” Hudgins and ILTA recognized that given the rapid evolution (“evolve”, get it?) with these two subjects, it was important to offer timely and focused attention.

I was not sure how this kind of smaller conference would go over and almost didn’t attend. But I’m glad I did. The pace was slower and seemed far less frantic than at larger conferences. Networking discussion seemed more substantive and less about higher pressure sales. It was nice to have conversations with attendees and vendors versus constant promotion.

The content was focused and on point

The content was focused and on point. There were no overlapping sessions on similar topics. You either went to a cyber security session or a GenAI session. Two tracks, not 10. Also, the audiences were smaller at the sessions than you might see at some of the bigger shows, encouraging more give and take. The content focusing on real issues instead of time-worn lectures. Exhibitors didn’t hound media for interviews and demos; instead, we chatted about things we wanted to talk about at booths that were not jammed tightly together.

Advantages of Smaller Conferences: Flexibility and Timeliness

Clearly, an advantage of smaller conferences is that they take less time to plan and facilitate. Large shows require months of planning. Content needs to be determined well in advance. That’s a problem when you have the development of something like GenAI that is constantly morphing. You can list and plan content closer to the actual date with a smaller conference.

As a result, you can be ready to add topics as they come up and create more timely content. According to Hudgins, “We may not even know what [future topics]are yet. And we may not be able to identify them until they happen. And that might sound kind of strange, but I never thought we would be talking about the world working from home or what signatures go into all DocuSign or whatever happens to be like.”

A focused conference also ensures that attendees are there because of a specific interest in the subject matter, which generates more conversations and learning

It’s also easier to manage things like security and logistics. (By the way, ILTa did a great job handling security and driving home a clear and no nonsense message that harassment of any kind would not be tolerated. Kudos). A focused conference also ensures that attendees are there because of a specific interest in the subject matter, which generates more conversations and learning. As Hudgins noted, “With a smaller conference too, you don’t need as much space. So that helps be a little more flexible.”

The Future of Smaller Legal Tech Conferences

I had to wonder whether we will see more smaller conferences like Evolve in the future.

Hudgins thinks so: “I can’t imagine it not being. But I don’t know where the future is. And I don’t want to say, you know, in 2027, it may be that the two hottest topics are something we don’t even know about right now.”

Evolve was a great conference because it was smaller and focused and was not a “really big shew,” as the late Ed Sullivan used to say. (I know, I’m dating myself. I can’t help it”). Hudgins summed it up well, “So everything just aligned. It worked out really well.” I’ll say.

Will smaller conferences replace the big shows? I doubt it. Big shows are needed for revenue and to maximize visibility. But smaller conferences like Evolve may become a component of organization offerings in the future. Says Hudgins, “We kind of recognized the need not to have all of our eggs in one basket as well. It was just a nice outing, and having something focused like that was good.”

And that’s a good thing.