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Guest article: Rev-Elation time in Nashville

ILTA Rev-Elation, ILTA’s annual conference in Nashville was attended by 2,654 delegates* from law firms, vendors and in-house legal departments. Joanna Goodman highlights some key themes from the year’s biggest legal technology event.

The sheer scale of Rev-Elation brought challenges and benefits. Peggy Wechsler and her team organised over 300 sessions as well as numerous networking opportunities and social activities.
The keynotes and peer learning sessions were carefully chosen to reflect the issues facing the legal IT community and identify key challenges and opportunities going forward. Co-chairs Meredith Williams, director of knowledge management at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz in Memphis, and Kathy Lentini, director of information systems at Brown Rudnick in Boston, led the conference planning committee of volunteers who developed the content – an impressive undertaking.

The difficulty was deciding which sessions and events to attend while meeting leading lights in legal IT from across the globe and exploring the latest trends and offerings in the exhibit hall. Another challenge was navigating the massive Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is the largest non-casino hotel in the US. I got seriously lost several times. However it is a superb venue and the fact that everyone was in one location facilitated impromptu meetings and conversations. It was also not the worst place to spend an extra 24 hours with colleagues and peers who were also delayed by hurricane Irene. Rev-Elation was an enormous success in terms of peer learning and networking. It struck the perfect balance between education and entertainment and it was a privilege to attend.

The keynotes – a concentrated MBA in legal technology
As firms recover from the global downturn, they are looking closely at IT as a strategic ongoing investment. The ILTA/Inside Legal Technology Purchasing Survey offers in-depth insights into firms’ purchasing decisions in the US and Canada. The survey found that while IT spending remained significantly down on pre-2009 levels, budgets remained stable, with executive management committees and the C-suite gaining influence over purchasing decisions.

Rev-Elation’ keynote sessions explored the role of technology in defining and delivering strategic priorities and goals. In some ways they resembled a concentrated MBA , focusing on the value of technology in driving innovation and achievement. Chris Trimble, adjunct professor on the MBA programme at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, presented three models for positioning innovation within an organisation; Tom Koulopoulos focused on using IT’s core competences of IT to drive innovation and achievement – memorably describing the internet as a ‘communal toilet’ of information – not in a derogatory way, but via a classical reference to the ancient library at Ephesus. Motivational speaker Robin Crow played the guitar at 8am (unfortunately it was the morning after ILTA’s County Fair party night) and told us about leading Dark Horse Recording Studios from its small beginnings to become one of the biggest recording studios in Nashville.

Numerous sessions shared ways firms can save costs and gain efficiencies, including low-cost information management, cloud computing – notably Bradford & Barthel’s Google Apps collaboration programme spearheaded by Eric Hunter – and workflow management. Others focused on future challenges and opportunities, notably Law 2020 and emerging technologies.

Apps, iPads and consumerization – from Blackberry to Apple
ILTA’s impressive and user-friendly mobile app provided access to an updated conference programme, a live twitter feed and interactive evaluations and polls. It was downloaded 2,909 times, which means on average, people were using it on more than one device.
Inside Legal provides a breakdown:
•    1,024 iPad installations
•    984 iPhone installations
•    540 Blackberry installations
•    361 Android installations
•    300+ unique visitors to mobile web version

These figures highlight the legal community’s shift from Blackberry to Apple in the past 12 months, flagging up two of Rev-Elation’s hot topics – social media and iPads. Several sessions discussed social media in law firms, but more significantly, social media tools are changing working practices and working relationships within law firms and between law firms and their clients. iPads were everywhere and if you didn’t have one, you could buy one, win one or hire one for the duration of the conference. The preponderance of iPads illustrated the latest buzzword in legal IT – technology consumerization, which was highlighted in several sessions. As Janet Day of Berwin Leighton Paisner observed in one of the Law 2020 sessions, “For the first time, users are asking for devices”.  

Firms are increasingly supporting lawyers’ choice of technology, so while finance and management functions are driving firms’ decisions whether to invest in or upgrade enterprise systems, users are driving the choice of hardware, presumably leaving the IT director in a consultancy/advisory/policy role. Foley & Lardner are following the example set by BP in 2009, giving users individual technology budgets and allowing them to purchase their own devices. Sessions covering ‘60 apps in 60 minutes’ and ‘Using the iPad and other tablets as a PC replacement’ demonstrated that iPads, though desirable, were simply another device to facilitate mobile and remote working – notwithstanding the availability of legal research and trial presentation apps.

KM – from knowledge exchange to knowledge dialogue
KM sessions and products focused on shared technology to facilitate and leverage knowledge flow between law firm departments and practice areas and between firms and their clients. Collaboration is focused on two channels: technology that firms are sharing with their clients and firms contributing information via their clients’ systems. Social media has moved into the mainstream to become major channel for communication and collaboration and there were sessions on how to manage this effectively. As one presenter pointed out, firms have only recently started to take social media seriously.

Extranets have evolved from shared document repositories with editing and collaboration features to include case management and social media tools, including blogs and wikis. More knowledge resources are being offered on a SaaS pay-as-you-go basis, which helps to levels the playing field between large and mid-size firms in terms of technology. Firms are recognising the added value of being able to create bespoke extranets and are increasingly opting for cloud solutions. HighQ Solutions offers the ability to combine different modules to customise extranets to specific cases, topics or practice areas and include different levels of user access. IP-specific First to File’s specially configured user interface reflects and facilitates the patent filing process.

Client knowledge and synergy is paramount to business development and effective shared technology underpins client retention. Business process automation is another tool that can foster collaboration between law firms and clients, particularly as businesses are sharply focused on their legal budgets. Firms utilise the client’s IT system to transform the e-billing process into a two-way communication channel. Lisa Girmscheid, legal project manager at Rockwell Automation explained how Bridgeway’s combined e-billing and matter management system which requires external law firms to submit their bills electronically and provide time recording and additional relevant information, is enabling her team to monitor and review legal billing records and control legal spend. The data from the Bridgeway system is used to create reports that allow the legal team to review its performance and that of its external law firms.

CRM systems are increasingly interfacing with practice management and accounting systems to provide lawyers and business support professionals with instant access to comprehensive client information, including contacts, history, billing and payment records. Aderant’s acquisition of Compulaw and Client Profiles is an example of technology bringing together these resources, as well as the latest round of consolidation in the legal technology sector which includes HP’s ongoing acquisition of Autonomy.

A new game – or just a new season?
Technology journalists and PRs commonly refer to new products and releases as ‘game-changers’, but most products showcased at Revelation were developed in response to shifts in user behaviour, firms’ requirements and client demand, as well as corporate and other new entrants changing the legal services marketplace. The ‘emerging technologies’ referred to in the various sessions are generally already deployed in other sectors. The focus is predominantly on using the right technology in a smart way that adds value.

However, Rev-Elation highlighted the fact that the law firms globally are focusing on IT as a critical success factor and key players in the legal IT sector are adopting a long-term strategic view, investing carefully in developing and deploying technologies, services and behaviours designed to increase market share and open up new markets. The fantastic turn-out at Rev-Elation demonstrated the value of community and the importance of peer learning in achieving these goals.

* About 1000 of the attendees were consultants, media, speakers & vendors, so that's about a 3 : 2 ratio of civilians (law firm & inhouse legal delegates) to professionals …CC