Tony McKenna talks priorities as president of ILTA PLUS his ILTACON 2023 key takeaways 

We talk to Tony McKenna about the significance of his appointment as the first ILTA president from outside of North America and his key takeaways from the conference in August, including what was top of the agenda at the closed G100 session. 

Tony McKenna officially took over as president of the International Legal Technology Association on 31 August, having been announced as the president elect in May. McKenna, who is director of information technology at Howard Kennedy, is the first ILTA president from outside of North America, which is important as the organisation looks to grow its presence outside of the United States. 

McKenna is working alongside executive vice president Julie Brown, director of practice technology at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, who is newly elected. Also new to the board are treasurer Paul Wittekind, director of knowledge and legal process solutions at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman; director at large Gary Berger, who is director of information security at Ogletree Deakins; and director at large Jason Dirkx, who is director of practice innovation and technology solutions at Paul Hastings.  

The appointments come after ILTA, which is led by CEO Joy Heath Rush, brought in a free ballot system for board member elections, in a move away from the more closed selection process run previously by ILTA’s talent counsel.  

Speaking to Legal IT Insider about his election, McKenna said: “This is the first time the president has been a person from outside of North America and that helps from an international perspective. We do work in Europe and South America and other jurisdictions but the core of the work that ILTA does is in North America, and that’s something that we’re keen to tackle now.” 

McKenna says that one of his top priorities is to begin building curated content for members globally, and he told Legal IT Insider: “We’ve got through the difficult years of Covid, and post-Covid, and one of the services that we can provide is curated content, where we have an opportunity to get experts to write really good factual pieces for our members.” He added: “One of the things we’re challenged by as leaders across the legal industry is that Gartner is too general and has no idea of our applications portfolio, so we need to curate content that lends itself to our market.” 

Reflecting on some of the challenges facing the industry brings us round to the key themes to come out of ILTA’s annual conference in August, including the G100 session for global IT leaders, which is a closed shop.  

McKenna said: “The G100 and G200 days were both really well received. For the G100, top of the discussion list was the integration of large language models into applications. That is on everyone’s list and the question is how our business partners are doing that with the protection of data sovereignty around your firm’s data.” 

The other thing on everyone’s list is Microsoft and how their pricing is shifting. McKenna said: “We’re used to E5 and E3 licensing, which give you very understandable costs over three years. But Teams Premium and Copilot are going to be priced outside of that and if you have Copilot, it’s the same as your enterprise agreement cost.” He adds: “It’s pitched in a way that you almost can’t afford not to have it. But how do we convince CFOs and CEOs that this is an uplift that we have to pay for when the uplift in software costs is already hurting everyone?” 

A further topic of conversation among IT leaders was around the type of person that law firms now need to hire to build large language model applications, although here McKenna observes: “At my firm we see vendors as the key. They are investing in new technology and are good at it – it’s their business. So we think we should let them do it.” 

It’s interesting to note that a lot of firms are setting up AI governance forums that include the likes of the head of risk and head of marketing to explore new technologies. McKenna says: “There is a plethora of new technology out there and we need to decide where we put our dollars.”  

More generally McKenna observes that the education sessions at ILTA were really well attended, particularly those that focus on project and change management. The Microsoft company update was one of the best attended and McKenna says: “They are investing in legal and professional services and are working super closely with ILTA.” 

The exhibition hall was another success and McKenna says: “It was just vast. To see that amount of business partners fully engaged with colleagues was fabulous to see and we had over 20 startup businesses, so it was really cool to give those emerging technology providers that platform.” 

On a more personal note, McKenna says that the fun run organised by legal industry analyst Ari Kaplan was a highlight of the conference. McKenna says: “Ari made a speech about a friend of his who had passed away and said isn’t it a privilege that we can get up and run. For me that really represented the spirit of ILTA; this really is a wonderful sector to work in.”