The new Association of Legal Technologists (ALT) debuted its inaugural conference, called ctrl ALT del: Networking Rebooted in Scottsdale, Arizona earlier this month. Attendees — from law firms of all sizes, corporate law departments, technology providers, insurance companies, startups, and others — listened to speakers, interacted with hands-on collaboration, and networked with others at the three-day conference that was quite different in organization, execution, and tone than other legal industry or even legal tech forums.
After the dust settled, Justice Ecosystem asked 6 questions of Richard Hellers, the founder and executive director of ALT and president and CEO of nQueue.
1) What inspired the team into launch ALT’s “Networking Reboot.”
Richard Hellers: Most legal conferences are built around the dissemination to the rest of the attendees of best practices from “expert speakers” with experience. In today’s fast-changing legal industry, those tried-and-true best practices should be hotly debated and challenged.We wanted to create a legal technology event that was different from what anyone else was doing and to foster networking and problem-solving by allowing everyone to work together as equal members.
2) What were your goals for the inaugural event? Your favorite part of the conference? What would you add or change to the next conference?
Richard Hellers: We wanted to introduce design thinking, a methodology for building new approaches to the delivery of legal services. One of the key tenants is to build a product and get it into the hands of the key stakeholders as quickly as possible, while seeking continuous feedback. Margaret Hagan [of Stanford University] is an expert in legal design thinking; her keynote was less of a presentation and more of a workshop.
We saw active participation of our 141 attendees with everyone having the ability to share their opinions and have their voices heard. Theories were debated, ideas were explored and lots of sharing took place in active workshops. Going forward, we will continue to leverage Design Thinking and create the environment that debates “best practices” while ensuring that everyone’s voices are heard. We’d also like to keep adding Tracks and growing our membership. It’s about continuous improvement!
3)What is the biggest challenge to your constituents?
Richard Hellers:Aided by new technology, the legal industry is changing faster than ever before. Legal operations, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), self-service legal, and the globalization of law — these are concepts none of us were thinking about not too long ago.Whatever we thought, it’s likely not true anymore!
We believe that the role of law firms technologists has changed significantly over the past several years and will continue to change rapidly. The need for us to help each other by networking, collaborating and working intelligently to solve each other’s problems has never been more important. For Big Law, addressing growth, profitability and continued relevancy as clients look for value and results are crucial.
4) Why did the team decide to only have names, and not positions or organizations, for the attendees’ name badges?
Richard Hellers: We wanted to stimulate conversation with everyone. Having only a name created an environment of equals. It broke down all the traditional barriers between strategic partners and those within law firms. It fostered our goal of allowing everyone to have an equal seat at the table and to engage in active discussions.
5) What are the key goals for ALT?
Richard Hellers: Be a member-driven organization that serves its members, rather than the organization. Connect people with problems, while allowing everyone to leverage the vast amount of knowledge within our community. The vendor community (or strategic partners as we call them) has been ignored and isolated, while being asked to fund events in a “pay for play” environment and then often left out of the critical discussions.
Strategic partners add enormous value to the community. They have a wealth of information and are not tied down by old thinking. They are rewarded for innovating; they spend a lot of time with different players in the legal industry and many have spent time working for law firms.
6) Where to you want ALT to been in 5 or 10 years?
Richard Hellers: We want ALT to be a safe place for members to develop their careers, forge deep relationships with each other and continually explore new tools and technology. We will continue to host events throughout the world that bring together legal technologists who are focused on workshops rather than lectures. A mentoring program is also being established.
We are developing a certification process, a vendor code of conduct, and a working laboratory where new technologies can be incubated and application integrations validated. Additionally, we are exploring deeper relationships with universities and with consumers of legal services to enable a full 360-degree conversation about the business of law.
Note: ALT invited Monica Bay to the conference and paid her airfare and hotel.