by George Beaton, partner in Beaton Capital www.beatonglobal.com + @grbeaton_law

Team Insider were unable to make the Clio Cloud Conference in Chicago last week (due, in the editor’s case, to a bad attack of being crocked) but fortunately George Beaton was there to cover the event for us…

The Clio Cloud Conference closed last week in Chicago after two energy-packed days. Some 400 delegates from mainly smaller law firms across the United States oozed enthusiasm in every session. Numbers were up from 200 in 2013. Clio brought 40 staffers, compared to 20 last year. And session numbers were triple. All a tribute to the near-cult status that Clio is very successfully engendering.

It was a striking – and telling – contrast for an observer. I had earlier in my trip to North America participated in another city in a meeting of large law firm leaders (LLFL). Clio 50% women to the eye; LLFL <10%. Clio average age perhaps 35 years; LLFL well over 45 years. Clio >90% Macs; LLFL two Macs and a few tablets. Clio had vibrant, at times defeating, audience participation. In the LLFL meeting the chair had almost forcibly to draw out audience comments and questions.

Of the kaleidoscope of impressions and insights, here are seven I gathered for Legal IT Insider.

1. Small firms are way out ahead of larger firms in finding ways to build their practices through social media, using blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. Is this because of the general differences in the client bases, individuals and SMBs versus corporations? To a degree right now, the answer is probably yes. Or are there other reasons? Some explanations advanced for this difference include a smaller firm being a close-knit community, and therefore less concerned about controls around reputation risk.

2. Blogging is an excellent form of CLE. It was argued that the listening, reflection and word-smithing involved in writing regular, thought-provoking, and useful posts are the reasons why blogging is good CLE and should be recognised as such. I agree. In BRW, an Australian business e-zine, my 2013 post Why Professionals Should Blog received more hits than any other. QED?

3. Moving to ‘virtual offices’, even for 20+ lawyer firms, is trending. In one Clio session a show of hands suggested a quarter of firms have gone virtual and another quarter are considering doing so. In this sense ‘virtual’ means work from anywhere, any time, with no fixed office abode. Enablers of going virtual include cloud-located document management, storage, communication, and practice management systems.

4. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”, Roy Scheider’s utterance in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws caught on as the unmetaphor for thinking smarter, not bigger. It captured the opportunity of business model transformation by moving to variable, or mixed fixed and variable, cost lawyers and was explored in several sessions.

5. ‘What should be declared obsolete in all law firms?’ was a clarion call that echoed around the coffee breaks. Emphatic answers included photocopiers, fax machines, dictaphones, Blackberries, and offices for individuals. Even paper was suggested – at least with tongues in cheeks.

6. “Clients want a fence at the top of the cliff, not an ambulance at the bottom” was used by Richard Susskind in his electrifying keynote address. I think this is makes apt comparison with medical profession, i.e. preventative medicine is far more desirable and cost-beneficial than the curative forms of medical practice. This will require a paradigm shift in the law, including new ways of measuring and rewarding lawyers’ contributions. Let alone the implications for law schools.

7. Business model transformation was the prevailing mood as Clio staff and the delegate army of Mac-, iPad- and iPhone6-carrying warriors reflected on another event. This statement by Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, circulated on Twitter and email: “People have dreamed of replacing credit cards for years. But they have all failed….Why is this? It’s because…most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centred on their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience. We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best. So we’ve created an entirely new payment process and we call it Apple Pay.” It seemed to me Clio and their merry band of users and developers are doing just that.