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21st Century Legal Conferences: The Future of the Profession

Nicole BlackJust as the legal profession needs to change with the times, so too do legal conferences. Even though many studies and books have been released in recent years on how people best absorb information, the format of most legal conferences have changed very little. Most take place in cavernous rooms with horrible acoustics and no Wi-Fi and consist of multiple, back-to-back, hour-long panels where each panelist sits behind a table and provides their own mini-presentation in monotone, replete with PowerPoints straight out of the 1990s consisting of text-heavy, bullet-point-laden slides. In other words, they are the perfect antidote to insomnia. 

This despite the fact that study after study shows that people learn better from engaging, interactive speakers whose presentations supplement and enhance their talks rather than serving as verbatim transcripts. Conference organizers often stick to the same format of hour-long sessions even though it’s been shown that by breaking the sessions up into different lengths, attendees remain more engaged and receptive to the information being discussed.

Part of the blame lies on the antiquated rules of most jurisdictions which severely limit the topics which qualify for CLE credits and include rigid requirements about required session lengths. But stagnancy is also to blame, since many conference organizers fall into the rut of doing things as they’ve always been done.

The good news is that there are new conferences emerging where the organizers are less concerned with the dictates of CLE accreditation and are more concerned with educating attendees and exploring interesting, timely issues. In recent months there have been a few conferences that fit the bill.

First, there’s the inaugural LegalLean conference that was held on February 21st in Toronto. I was asked to speak at this conference but unfortunately had a conflict. I wish I could have been there! Conference organizers included Jason Moyse and Aron Solomon, who author the always interesting legal technology blog series at Techvibes. The conference focused on the vision of leaner, more efficient law firms grounded in technological innovation. The speakers discussed how technology has affected the practice of law and how lawyers can use technology to reduce costs and deliver more efficient, effective legal services, among other things. You can view videos of the talks here.

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Another interesting conference was held earlier this month in New York City on March 18th: Above the Law’s Converge Conference. This conference focused on a range of challenges facing the legal industry, including privacy, reputation, communications strategies, and emerging technical trends. There was an interesting range of topics and speakers, although the conference consisted mostly of panels, as opposed to individual speakers. Even so, the topics covered were forward-thinking, with an eye toward preparing lawyers with the tools to face the challenges of practicing law in the 21st century.

Finally, another interesting conference scheduled to occur on April 30th at Stanford Law school is the FutureLaw conference. This will be another panel-driven conference, but will cover a number of timely topics including using technology to innovate in the delivery of legal services, how technology can improve access to justice, and how regulatory responses to legal service delivery innovation is transforming the profession. If thinking about the effect of technology on the legal profession is your thing, then this conference might be just what you’re looking for. 

In fact, if you’re in the market for innovative discussions about the future of the legal profession and how it will be shaped by the forces of the 21st century legal landscape, then keep these conferences in mind. You don’t have to attend the same old legal seminars you’ve always gone to. Instead, why not consider a conference that you’ll actually enjoy? Even if these particular conferences don’t appeal to you, there are lots of other outside-the-box legal conferences cropping up. Do your research and choose carefully; find a conference that you’ll actually enjoy so you can make the most of your CLE dollars and learn something useful in the process!

Nicole Black is the Legal technology Evangelist at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 

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