Last week I attended the first-ever North American edition of the Legal Geek conference, led by Jimmy Vestbirk. Legal Geek is a startup community with over 5,000 members. It held “the world’s first LawTech startup conference in October 2016” in London, which attracted 1,000 attendees in its second year(2017).
The conference took place in ultra-hip Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City. I grew up in Queens, an adjacent borough. In both my childhood and then living in Manhattan after college, both these boroughs were lumped together, along with the other two not Manhattan, into the pejorative “outer boroughs.” Brooklyn over the last decade has shed that image; today, it attracts hipsters, families, and young professionals equally. Once down-trodden neighborhoods have sprung to life. That includes Downtown Brooklyn, host to Legal Geek.
Of course, one needs hip spaces in a hip neighborhood. The conference space was cavernous. Chairs were organized in tight rows facing a raised stage featuring a giant digital screen and the colorful Legal Geek logo. And many in the audience and on-stage wore the requisite black.
The venue only counts for so much. What really brought the conference to life was the energy of the 60 speakers, the program format, and most of all, the audience. Each of the 60 speakers had 5 to 10 minutes to present in TED-style format. Even without audience participation in the sessions, everyone could feel the energy of the attendees, both during the sessions and the ample networking breaks.
The first hour, “Headline Sessions”, set the stage with presenters focused on the big picture of changes in the legal market. The second hour showcased how in-house counsel innovate. The third session was about “making, designing, and doing.” And the final two mainly featured start-up founders explaining their companies’ products or services.
I live blogged all talks in two of the sessions (the big picture and making + designing). Saying which sessions I liked most risks “choosing one’s favorite child” but here goes… In Headline Session, I liked Lucy Dillon’s talk most. She is CKO of Reed Smith and she explained how the firm motivated associates to contribute to the firms’ innovation initiatives. I choose this session because it provides a concrete example of how to motivate dispersed ideation and involvement, which is not easy to achieve.
In the design session, I liked Josh Kubicki’s talk most. He is a co-founder of Bold Duck Studio. He talked about what his firm does: help law firm practice groups develop strategies. I make this my choice because it recognizes the critical role that practices play in large law firms. Few firms can move in unison, as an institution. Practices drive most change in law firms and that’s where I think most innovation will come from long term.
Among the start-up sessions, I like Noah Waisberg’s presentation the most. Noah is co-founder and CEO of Kira Systems. What made his session stand out was the use of visual aids, balloons to be precise. Visuals alone, however, do not make a session great. He also had a clear story line that was more about the value of machine learning for contract analytics generally than his own product.
— ronfriedmann (@ronfriedmann) June 25, 2019
I attend conferences not just for the programs, but also to network during breaks. I find that I often learn more in one-on-one or small group discussions than I do from the podium. (Perhaps because I read too much!) True to any conference involving tech and start-ups, Legal Geek afforded excellent networking. Unlike some of my other usual conference haunts, this one brought together a wide cross section of market players, including entrepreneurs, consultants, academics, law firm managers, in-house counsel, and venture capitalists.
The day was a lot of fun and a great use of time. I do, however, have some suggestions for future improvements. The rapid-fire Ted-style talks impart great energy but also seriously limit how in-depth any speaker can go. Also, a full day of them is hard for me to digest. So I would like to see some longer presentations. And more audience participation during sessions.
I also thought the start-up presentations were not the best use of time. Though the company reps did not sell from the podium, they did describe the products or services. But for how I take-in information, I would prefer to ingest that information via the web or a demo at a stand (booth). Moreover, when a conference assembles so much brain power among both the speakers and the audience, that type of one-to-many communication seems a waste of intellect. I’d rather see both a deeper dive and more dialogue.
It was a day well spent and I look forward to future editions.