WASHINGTON, D.C. — ILTACON 2018 finished last week, and I confess being pleasantly surprised at how the conference went. Legal technology and innovation conferences should not be laden with expectations of game-changing announcements or moves forward, but instead analyzed through the lens of incremental shifts, gut-checking the levels of savviness and whether the collective conversation is advancing.
I saw evidence of that advancement — subtly, as real change often appears. The keynotes, panels, exhibitors, and attendees in general exuded a sense of fluency when speaking about technology and innovation. New topics were no longer strange ones to behold, but threads to be interrogated. Yes, the cloud is coming, but now there are questions about a hybrid migration path. Sure, blockchain is around the corner, but what are the real applications of blockchain in practice, aside from cryptocurrency?
Three observations from ILTACON that are part of the “new normal” include:
- Innovation as a process changed, not a technology bought.
This is well-known in other verticals, as a principle of industrial engineering or business excellence, but it was still a revelation to many in legal. The notion that innovation can take the form of smarter process, as opposed to push-button technology, is an idea that many are embracing. Lisa Bodell, founder and CEO of futurethink and the ILTACON keynote on Aug. 20, did a great job talking about really tactical ways to be disruptive in an organization, most of which included no technology.
Several panels, including the Innovation track, also discussed processes and how to create a programmatic approach to innovation. And this was reinforced by the panel on the second day, including Dan Linna, a visiting professor of law at Northwestern Law, who teaches students about ways to implement principles of continuous improvement into legal practice.
- Innovation, as a movement in the legal industry, is in full swing.
ILTACON reflected a familiarity with innovation as a real concept (and not just associated with too many post-it notes on whiteboards and imaginative thinking), as well as the tactics involved with advancing innovation in an organization. Accepting innovation as both a process and a credible exercise is new for the legal industry, even if it is well-established in finance, technology, healthcare, and manufacturing.
Panels included leveraging technology for innovation, starting an innovation initiative at a law firm, and innovation case studies. ILTACON reflected a genuine interest to dig into innovation and the number of real examples as reference points demonstrated substantive change beyond buzzwords.
- As innovation and technology movements are maturing in legal, they are also revealing new constraints and concerns.
Two concerns are chief among the many — the business model in the legal profession and information security. ILTACON highlighted both, as represented in programming and in the responses from the event’s Twittersphere.
Some have referenced the business model, equivocating and reducing it to the dreaded billable hour, as a barrier to innovation. As John Fernandez, Global Chief Innovation Officer at Dentons, noted in the second keynote: “We have a business model that rewards inefficiencies and discourages any innovation that is inconsistent with that model.”
ILTACON served as a forum to that continuing debate and gave voice to varying proposed solutions to breaking that barrier. In a panel on alternative legal services providers, a debate broke out around whether state bar rules would liberalize their rules around law firm partnerships and profit-sharing, enabling managed service providers to be registered as practicing law firms. Separately, in an ediscovery panel (start at 32:08), Jay Leib of NexLP proclaimed that law firms will participate in an arms race where they advertise their AI models, and the future of the law business is monetizing bespoke AI models.
Another concern accompanying the legal industry’s steps forward is information security and data privacy. In one of the most buzzworthy sessions, Marcus Weinberger, a 15-year-old ethical hacker, revealed a glimpse of how simple techniques can pose a serious security threat to anyone. Weinberger used a WiFi Pineapple to spoof common WiFi networks and, using tools commonly available on Google and GitHub, intercepted dozens of devices belonging to ILTACON attendees.
Other noteworthy threads were weaved within the conference, including a greater focus on diversity as a necessary asset to innovate, and a new generation of startups that are taking the baton from the now-established players — the new entrants of yesterday — that have blazed new trails over the past five to ten years.
In sum, this year’s ILTACON was a testament that innovation in the legal industry continues to challenge the norm and make unmistakable — if incremental — progress.
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