It wouldn’t have been the same if the run up to ILTACON had focussed on the content of the conference rather than the drama surrounding the organisation, and this year has certainly not disappointed.
On 8 August Legal IT Insider received around six different messages with roughly the same statement ranging from shock to glee: “ILTA’s CEO Dan Liutikas has gone.”
That same day I was forwarded a letter from ILTA president Angela Dowd to partners, informing them that Liutikas had resigned (most people assume he was fired). After hearing nothing back from ILTA or Liutikas in terms of a comment, we published the letter in full on 9 August.
Cue slightly more panicked messages on LinkedIn from someone fairly senior in the organisation: “That ILTA letter has a bluehornet tracking bug in the logo so ILTA can monitor who forwarded it to you.” Followed by: “It’s not for marketing purposes.” Followed by: “I think you should write about why ILTA is spying on its members.”
I’ve spoken to ILTA, and while there is no denying that there is a bluehornet tracking link in the logo, senior management say the suggestion that it is there to spy on members is ludicrous, but more of that in a second.
First a confession. Legal IT Insider has had a non-existent relationship with ILTA for around a year a) because we were the first to reveal that programme director Peggy Weschler had been let go a week before the 2017 conference; b) our site lit up with largely ILTA bashing comments in relation to that revelation; and c) because I thought Dan Liutikas was a total a’hole – he certainly was to me. After a fairly hostile meeting in 2017 with Dan at ILTA Insight London (which we were the key media partner for in the days of Peggy), I was under no illusion that we would have any relationship with the organisation, and that has been the case.
Scroll forward a year, and after a fairly in-depth and constructive conversation this week with likeable ILTA board member Kate Cain and vice president of marketing and comms Patti Moran, I feel we made more progress in half an hour than we did in a year, but there is huge frustration and disappointment among even the stalwartest of ILTA stalwarts that the organisation needs to urgently acknowledge and address, once this, the biggest legal tech week in the calendar, is over.
The ILTA community includes a number of high profile figures who help promote it and who have never missed a conference. Many are not attending this year because of the clamp down on who and what counts as ‘press’. The few of us who do still class as press were told to stay in a hotel down the road. How do I put this as succinctly and politely as I can. What the fuck?
Cain, who is eloquent in the face of difficult questions including the definition of ‘press’, said: “ILTA has a press policy in which bloggers must have blogged at least weekly for last six months, which seems reasonable. In an earlier post someone quoted part of the policy and neglected to mention the policy re bloggers. Some people who applied for press passes hadn’t blogged in a year or were consultants that sold services.”
It is tough to know where the right line is and I have some sympathy. But people like Chris Dale blog regularly and articulately and his edisclosure information project is a huge resource for the eDiscovery community, but he did not make the cut. He is one of the best connected people I know and this will be the first year he hasn’t attended. Perhaps the body does need to crack down on who counts as media but it also needs to exercise some sensible and knowledgeable discretion, and has this year alienated people that it could do with on its side.
If ILTA thinks only bloggers themselves care, they are wrong. One CEO at a vendor opined: “This smacks either of a lack of transparency or extreme commercialisation but the bottom line is that ILTA is becoming a dictatorship.”
Under Liutikas’ tenure, the past year has seen long term ILTA staff let go or leave of their own volition thanks to a change in culture that includes a trend towards commercialisation. But what’s not his fault is that many members believe that there is a lack of transparency within the board structure and decision making process, and it is the board that is now, again, responsible for hiring a new CEO.
Cain told us: “The board is responsible for hiring that senior person and will be involving members of the leadership team.
“There are members who have expressed disagreement with the current board process that was changed two years ago amid enormous debate but it’s not accurate to say members don’t have a say. While it’s true that members don’t vote for individual candidates the process is thorough.”
ILTA is currently advertising for a new CEO but initially on an interim basis. The CEO of one vendor told us: “If I was inclined to apply, why would I for just an interim role? If they want heavy hitters they need to make the role permanent.”
Cain said: “It’s a one year role with the opportunity to extend and/ or transition to permanent based on performance. When we sat and talked to the volunteers and leadership team, the concession was that we’ve got some short term needs – communication and building bridges between different parts of the community – and in a year we want to figure out what we need in four or five years. That is evolutionary and could be two different skillsets. We want to move quickly to find a leader now and give the organisation time to breathe and work out what is the skillset moving forward. People have used the word healing and we certainly need to shore things up.”
What is positive and will resonate with members is that ILTA is looking for a CEO from within the ILTA community.
The fear that ILTA is effectively spying on members is sad and speaks volumes about the lengths that the organisation needs to go to heal its internal rifts.
Bluehornet is a perfectly valid email marketing tool but one senior member of ILTA is adamant that it is being used to monitor members.
Separately another vendor told us: “I’ve had discussions with close friends and business colleagues about the bluehornet tracker being in the letter to partners and no-one can quite put their finger on why it’s there other than maybe marketing purposes if you take a positive view, and the less positive view is that big brother is watching and spying on us.”
Cain gives the latter idea short shrift, commenting: “We fully expected the message to be forwarded and I have no problem with anybody forwarding it. Tracking software is used purely for marketing purposes and Sidley does same with Sidley alerts. It’s absolutely not being used in any shape or form to collect data and anyone who implies that should call me direct because it is wildly unfair to characterise it like that. There is no intention to penalise anyone.”
Questions must arise as to why recipients are not informed about the tracker and how that data is being used.
It’s been a fairly brutal year for ILTA but the conference that kicks off today (19 August) is the best demonstration of all that is good about the organisation and all that it can achieve with the hard labour of volunteers and staff.
The conference is run by a team of more than 30 volunteer leaders and the next few days should be all about them, the content and the networking.
Afterwards, there is an urgent need to heal and fix ILTA through transparency and by giving people a sense of ownership and inclusion.
Let’s see where we get to this time next year.