In-person experiences missed by both sponsors and ILTA members
Anyone who has been in legal technology for a while will tell you that August equals ILTA - this year is no exception, even though 2020 has been anything but typical. Although ILTA>ON 2020 had to go completely virtual due to the COVID pandemic, the conference still upheld the tradition of providing top-notch educational programming with insightful speakers, modern perspectives, and intriguing strategies for using technology to benefit the practice of law.
ILTA CEO Joy Heath Rush and her team have definitely provided resilient leadership and exceptional vision to successfully produce this conference. At the outset of the conference on Monday, Rush characterized 2020 as an extraordinary year with both tremendous stress and stories of triumph. She emphasized the importance of taking a painful situation, learning from it, and turning it into something positive. The spirit of this message permeated many of the sessions, showing what a positive attitude toward struggle can accomplish.
Recreating the networking and exhibit hall in a virtual world was much harder and those in-person experiences were missed by ILTA members and vendor sponsors alike. The ILTA team tried hard to recreate them with the Solutions Center, watercooler chats and The Hallway Hang and made many encouragements during the conference to encourage greater participation. Overall, the buzz from many vendors was disappointment they did not get more visits from clients and prospects. People said there was still no substitute for in-person contact, and that they hoped in-person ILTA would come back soon.
Nita Sanger, Chief Executive Officer, Idea Innovate Consulting, commented, “I felt that the virtual experience hindered the level of interaction with the various participants. The main value of ILTA has always been the ‘conversations that take place in the hallways of the conference’ where you can sit in a spot and run into various colleagues participating in the event, catch up and connect. However, I will say that the ILTA team did an amazing job given the current circumstances.”
On the upside, many ILTA members said the all-virtual format made it possible for more people from their organizations to attend the conference, sometimes for the first time in years or first time ever, since travel cost and logistics were not a barrier. Many said they were glad to be included in the conversation.
Andrea Markstrom, CIO at Taft, remarked, “Sharing stories with colleagues, learning from each other, and seeing examples of innovative solutions that have been developed and implemented have been extremely valuable. We all miss being together in person, but with the online program, there is even more of an opportunity to ‘see’ each other and network. Also, it is a great opportunity to get more of your team involved with the ILTA experience.”
Also, when delivered online, the online format provided keynote and other session speakers with a more intimate, person-to-person setting than the cavernous ballrooms of previous ILTACONs. Keynoters including Stephen Carver of Cranfield University and best-selling author Jia Jiang were riveting. Both provoked a veritable blizzard of chat messages from the audience as they spoke about courage, overcoming adversity, and the essential values of empowerment and leadership.
The importance of strong communication was a ubiquitous theme resounding in session after session at ILTA>ON. James McKenna, CIO at Fenwick & West and President of ILTA’s Board of Directors, said, “If you’re not communicating while there’s a problem, you’re not doing your job.” He urged legal tech professionals to communicate effectively during a troubleshooting process, explaining that “if you don’t communicate [when troubleshooting a problem], people will assume you’re not working on it.”
Communication and listening were also addressed in a panel discussion entitled “Can’t we all just get along?” Kristi Gedid, Senior Director, Global Legal Operations at Mylan recommended listening to understand versus listening to respond. Wilson Sonsini partner James Yoon said the most difficult challenge can be to get all participants aligned, and to communicate and spell out who is doing what. He noted that law firms need not compete with in-house teams or vendors, and that having a common goal and good communication will lead to the greatest value.
Job security for legal IT professionals was another topic mentioned at ILTA>ON. Rebecca Sattin, CIO of Worldox/World Software Corp. noted that one of the biggest changes she’s seen in recent years is that law firms are phasing out in-house IT people, often opting to 'do without' entirely or use managed service providers instead.
Sattin remarked, “These firms don’t understand that anyone outside the firm is not as invested in the success and needs of their lawyers and staff. It behooves the firm to have at least one IT professional that can at least be a liaison with outside service providers and have some ownership the technology and processes. Especially now that technology and training are the firm's lifeline to stay in business, cutting off internal resources for IT is a choice that bears careful reconsidering, especially during COVID.”
There was much talk of an uncertain future since no one knows whether people will be returning to offices and how long the COVID crisis will last. Judi Flournoy, newly-announced winner of the 2020 ILTA Lifetime Achievement Award and Chief Information Officer at Kelley Drye & Warren said, “We really don’t know what the future holds” and that she now plans for the future in 6-month increments rather than several years ahead. Flournoy noted that the pandemic moved certain things forward in a way that could not have been anticipated, and said that she has seen impressive adapting, adopting and agility that have surprised her.
Evette Pastoriza Clift, Global Director of Technology at Clifford Chance, said she believes the journey has just begun, and that she feels she is in a marathon where the finish line keeps changing. However, she believes her firm is placed well to push through transformational change. Clift said a major breakthrough at Clifford Chance has been the phenomenal attendance at training sessions, one of which attracted 150 attendees. She said people have a new willingness and desire to learn, that lawyers are becoming more self-sufficient and are working with legal assistants in a different way.
Ultimately, the ILTA>ON vibe was uplifting and progressive, not dwelling on negativity and obstacles but instead encouraging newfound transformational momentum to continue. As law firms, corporate legal departments and product/service providers grapple with difficult topics like return to office, data security and privacy, staffing and resource decisions, and more, there is much work to be done. ILTA members and their business partners will be among those who can – and will - make it happen.
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