An Unconference to Inspire Legal

Ari Kaplan speaks with Christian Lang, a former attorney with Davis Polk and Wardwell, who is the new head of strategy at Reynen Court and the founder of the New York Legal Tech Meetup. He is producing the legal technology conference, Inspire.Legal, on February 1, 2019.

Tell us about your background and the genesis of Inspire.Legal.

I am a recovering corporate lawyer. I used to practice M&A at Davis Polk in New York and did a few years of general corporate work in London. I always knew I wanted to move on and do something a little bit different, and zeroed in on the technology space. I left the firm a couple of years ago to pursue a venture in legal tech and have since immersed myself in and really connected to this community. Among other projects, I launched a couple of blogs and a podcast. I also provide advisory services for some startups. The most enriching experience for me in connection with legal technology and innovation has been founding the New York Legal Tech Meetup, which is focused on providing some infrastructure for all of the people out there doing incredible work and to shine a spotlight on them. I have toyed with the idea for some time of producing a larger event and we’ve spent the last two months trying to put together a new conference in New York called Inspire.Legal, which is happening the day after Legalweek. We are planning to have some legal innovation conversations that are a little bit different than your typical legal tech conference.

How is this event going to be different from others that are currently available?

I have always really enjoyed my experiences at legal tech conferences, but for the most part, they are trade shows. That’s the commercial model. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I always find that legal innovation conversations happening at those events are tinted by that. All too often, you’re walking around the expo halls looking at the bright, shiny, flashy widgets and they feel like solutions in search of the right problems. It is a very exciting time in the legal tech market, but I don’t think we’ve gotten anywhere close to finding the right tech tools and innovations to transform the practice of law. For that reason, I have wanted for a long time to bring together some of the incredible thinkers doing great work in the space to have discussions that are laser focused on identifying the problems that exist in the market that are not being met and to help crowdsource and curate an understanding of where we as an industry should direct our attention. The beating heart of this event will be something we’re calling the Legal Problems Forum that will be geared towards generating two pieces of work product. The first will be the Legal Problems Report, which will be a crowdsourced, curated list of what we should be focusing on based on diverse perspectives from different parts of the legal ecosystem. The second will be a Request for Startups List to solve discreet problems where there is an unmet need. We’re working to focus on the problems and set some priorities to create a roadmap of legal innovation for the future.

Are you producing this event alone?

I’m a very social thinker so I rely heavily on the incredible network around me. Institutionally, this event is made possible with the support from Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services and Clifford Chance. And, we found a wonderful space at New York Law School that was made available by the brand new Business of Law Institute, which is also doing some great work to revamp the way we think about the legal industry and practice. All of those partnerships have been absolutely critical to making this happen, in addition to the underlying support of the New York Legal Tech Meetup community.

What is on the Inspire.Legal agenda?

One of the challenges that we are trying to address is that the legal ecosystem is incredibly balkanized. There are people working on similar challenges in different parts of it that would really benefit from more communication, but those communication channels just don’t exist. There is also a lack of dialogue between the lawyers in the trenches and the innovators and technologists who can help solve their problems. We are trying to bring all these people to the table, but it is obviously a huge challenge to run this type of workshopping at scale since we are expecting about 200 people at the event. So, I have recruited about three dozen really interesting thought leaders who have tangible hands-on innovation experience, legal expertise, and a passion for solving some very specific problems to help run this. We are calling them luminaries. We are all going to be in one big room at the very beginning for a welcome session to frame the exercise and give people a sense of the ideation methodology and design thinking, and to help everyone get pointed in the same direction. The remainder of the day will be divided into two pieces. First, we will have some really interesting, deep-dive, moderated discussions called unpanels because there’s not going to be a rigorous speaker-listener divide. They will focus on how to deal with collaboration issues, product innovation, evaluating legal technology, assessing outside counsel, and KPIs, among other topics. We will try to get people’s gears turning and the juices flowing before transitioning to workshopping sessions. Everyone who registered for this conference is teeing up a potential problem for us to deal with and really work through.

Who should attend Inspire.Legal?

We will have everyone from managing partners of law firms, general counsel from large international corporations, representatives from the access to justice community, members of the legal academy, and students. We are trying to get a critical mass of folks from all of the different pieces of the legal ecosystem that we can combine and produce cross-fertilization, but we are really looking for people who are willing to show up and talk about their own experiences.

What do you hope that the attendees will take away from the event?

I hope the biggest takeaway is bringing all of these thought leaders together, getting us attacking common problems through a variety of different lenses, and just experiencing the inspiration that results.
Ari Kaplan: What does the creation of Inspire.Legal indicate about the interest in legal innovation today?
Christian Lang: I think we are on the brink of a really important moment in the arc of legal innovation. People have been talking for a long time about the need to change the way we do business in law. If you look at some of the developments over the past year and the amount of investment, you will see that something special is happening. I find it a very inspiring and am excited to be a member of the legal innovation community right now.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change, and introduce new technology at