Legal Geek knocks it out of the park with 2017 conference

In what he described as a ‘movement not an event’, Jimmy Vestbirk yesterday (18 October) delivered a hugely successful Legal Geek conference to 1200 delegates, bringing together an international gathering of legal tech startups, visionaries and vendors.
On the main stage, speakers delivered quick fire talks that in many cases were confined to 10 minutes, with a ‘no robot slides’ rule much to the amusement of the audience, many of whom were born around or after 1990.
Sessions ran on stage all day starting with a women-in-lawtech panel discussion among female leaders including Tikit’s CEO Katherine Ainley and Obelisk founder Dana Denis-Smith; ending with a series of presentations around incubators and bringing new ideas to market that included Dan Jansen, CEO of NextLaw Labs; Shruti Ajitsaria, head of Allen & Overy’s tech incubator Fuse, and Tom Wilson, investment manager at Seedcamp, among others.
In ‘startup alley’, around 40 companies including Juro and Legatics gave demos on laptops (“no 80s style pop-ups allowed”) alongside Avvoka, ClauseMatch, Libryo, Clocktimiser and many more.  Juro – an AI-backed contract management platform – was crowned winner of the Legal Geek startup award after pitching against seven competitor startups. F-LEX – an on-demand paralegal service co-founded by Vestbirk – came runner up.
The three conference sponsors – Thomson Reuters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and The Law Society of England and Wales had a significant presence at the event, where The Law Society announced its strategic partnership with startup crowdfunding platform Seedrs to encourage members to invest in new technology.
Grumbles (there were very few) included that the Women in Tech panel was chaired by a man, even if that man happens to be Barry Matthews, director of legal affairs & third-party sales at ITV, who is a huge and very public champion of diversity.
One well-known female delegate shared that she would have preferred it if the panel, which in addition to Ainley and Denis-Smith also included Somya Kaushik, executive project procurement at EsqMe and Christina Blacklaws, director of innovation at Cripps, had traded their kick-ass leadership stories over slightly safe work-life balance and unconscious bias discussions.
Mostly, there was fairly unadulterated praise and much of the value of the event was in the networking, where, FYI, CIOs were notably and perhaps surprisingly absent.
Speaking to Legal IT Insider, Jansen said: “I think the story from yesterday was that legal tech has hit critical mass, with enough companies, money and incumbent attention to start showing more impact.”
As the recent influx of legal tech companies begin to mature, we can expect something of a market shakedown, with Jansen adding: “In the next year or two, the story will be about some of these companies winning and some losing and how the legal industry deals with break-out successes and start-up failures will be fascinating to watch.  Failure is very normal and expected in early stage product development, but somewhat new to the legal vertical.”
The presence of the likes of Jansen gave the event a gravitas that Vestbirk should be proud of but overall, it was the energy of the event that captured the imagination. One of the headline speakers was Matthew Ryder, deputy mayor of London for social integration, social mobility and community engagement, who in a clear indication that we haven’t got to the top of the Legaltech startup growth trajectory yet, and in a reflection of the wider enthusiasm in the room, said: “The message from the Greater London Authority is that for those of you who have good business ideas in law, we’re really keen to hear from you.
“Compared to fintech and regtech it’s fair to say that lawtech is in a nascent stage. We’re keen to incubate and develop and give you the support you need to make your business grow.”
We’ll bring you a few of the many presentation highlights in an updated version of this article. Also stand by for details of our chat with the Singapore Academy of Law, which is trying to attract UK startups as a gateway to Asia.