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Exclusive report on June's Legal Week Strategic Technology Forum

Peter BirleyThe Legal Week Strategic Technology Forum (website) has been going for a couple of years and has commanded a reputation as the must visit conference on the circuit. As this was my first visit, I was looking forward to an interesting experience. The fact that I was also presenting with a couple of other people on ‘helping the firm win business’ added an extra edge for me.

I have no experience of previous conferences so I don’t know how well attended they were but this event had about 80 people. There did seem to be nearly as many suppliers as delegates. To be fair, the suppliers did have something to say and did contribute constructively to the debate so maybe that was not a bad thing. The lack of law firm representatives was maybe a result of the economy. I was expecting a slightly different balance with more people representing the producing side of the business, but they were mainly missing (apart from on video). There were some client representatives and they were very good value. There was also a splattering of Finance, business development and HR people around to liven up the mix.

Into the content

The conference started with a video from the chief executive and managing partners of Freshfields, Clifford Chance and Linklaters and this video kicked of an interesting debate resulting from a comment that indicated that the larger international firms would not be seriously impacted by the Legal Services Act.
A further debate with general counsel from the Legal Services board made this all the more interesting and my take on all this was that we cant be complacent and should consider all our options and to expect the unexpected.

The theme of the conference was ‘strategic thinking in a challenging market, preparing for the upturn’ and I believe that there was a lot of material to help with that thinking. There was a thread running through centred on client needs and gaining greater understanding of these with more collaboration, knowledge sharing and access. This was supported and enhanced by the clients who wanted more help from their law firms and wanted to see game changes and innovation. They also wanted more review meetings with their law firms but wanted them to listen more rather than trying to sell. One thing for the IT Directors was the thought that they needed to be more involved in client discussions and should impose themselves on that relationship.

The question of R&D came up a couple of times with the view that the partnership model did not support the concept of R&D as practised in other industries and this was a problem that needing tackling particularly if we got into alternative business structures.

Outsourcing never goes away but this time it was more about Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) rather than IT. Law firms struggled with the concept but were being driven that way by the clients who wanted the cost benefits that such a process seemed to offer.

There were a number of focus groups and amongst the presentations and overall I think it was a successful conference. I certainly came home with some thoughts and ideas but of course the main challenge is to remember those in the daily cut and thrust of IT!


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