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ILTA 2013 - The Catalyst: Help yourself to the future

Joanna GoodmanJoanna Goodman reflects on ILTA 2013: keynotes, trade floor and more

ILTA the Catalyst focused on the future -the role of IT as the catalyst for change in the legal sector. The first two keynotes concentrated on the disruptive effect of technology and offered valuable guidance as well as interesting and occasionally far-fetched predictions. The third was more like an MBA interactive session as it focused on leadership as a catalyst for change - as an enabler rather than a disruptor - and the roles and personalities that will successfully lead law firms into the future. 

Technology mastery and identifying the inflection points

Scott Klososky, founding partner of Future Point of View, presented the first keynote, which focused on the power of technology to disrupt and offered some guidance of how to survive in a constantly transforming business environment. He gave examples of businesses that technology has 'killed' - Kodak, Borders etc - and emphasised that survival was about recognising the 'inflection points' at which the direction shifted, for example mobile phones with cameras represented the beginning of the end for Kodak, whereas for Borders the inflection point was not Amazon's runaway success, but the launch of the Kindle.  

Klososky identified two factors whereby competent leaders fail to recognise these inflection points: some refuse to recognise the danger while the business is still making money. But when the business is no longer profitable it may be too late to save it. Timing, although it is crucial, is not always easy to get right. However, Klososky's second factor is more straightforward as it involves technology mastery, which he believes will make the difference between survival and extinction and is particularly relevant for law firms. Klososky offers a six-point model for technology mastery.

  1. Establish three to five technology guideposts that will make you better than your competitors.
  2. Create an adaptive culture that is receptive to change.
  3. Create technology teams that include employees, vendors and contractors working together to achieve technology excellence.
  4. Get the processes right in order to make success repeatable.
  5. Establish metrics and analytics to track and measure progress.
  6. Establish high-beam leadership that combines knowledge and vision.

Klososky drew a distinction between low-beam leaders - who concentrate on planning for the immediate future - and high-beam leaders who focus on the long term, and the impact of potentially transformational technology developments. 


Riding the legal technology tidal wave

The session moved on to bleeding edge technology and its potential to disrupt our lives and interactions in the way that the internet and mobile technology have transformed society thus far. The ideas ranged from Google glass to sub-dermal implants, artificial intelligence and more. The difficulty here was that the key message had been delivered - technology is a tidal wave of market and industry disruption and in order to ride that wave rather than drown, businesses need to attain sufficient technology mastery to enable them to recognise the inflection points and react and adapt in time. Although the second part of the presentation raised some interesting possibilities and was fascinating and to some extent inspiring, it did not address the practical challenges facing legal and legal technology businesses represented at ILTA. 

The second keynote by compelling futurist Rohit Talwar reflected the interim report of the ILTA Future Horizons legal technology survey. Again this began with business and economic observations before shifting into the realm of science fiction with predictions ranging from wearable technology and artificial intelligence to the future of robotics and intimations of immortality. However, like Klososky, Talwar underlined the importance of mastering technology and the value of data analysis, using the medical profession as an example and offered insights into developing the right organisational mindset to thrive on uncertainty and lead and leverage innovation. 

ILTAThe third keynote speaker, Chris deSantis, brought us back to the present with a lesson in leadership. I particularly liked the leadership perspectives from ILTA leading lights which showed the value of storytelling as a learning tool and showcased different effective leadership styles. The session highlighted the importance of technology leadership and experience to a firm's strategic direction, focusing on the importance of the managing partner or CEO having a sufficient understanding of the firm's technology to work with the CIO to achieve the necessary technology mastery to survive and thrive in a constantly transforming business environment. 

Hot topics: mobility and more

I did not attend as many sessions as I would have liked as ILTA represented a rare opportunity to connect face-to-face with international colleagues and contributors. However, it was clear from the few sessions I did attend and reports of others that the legal IT community is approaching the race to the future from several directions. The emerging technologies session identified mobile technology, BYOD - bring your own device - cloud computing and big data as key issues. I was interested in the particular focus on big data. There seems to be a mixed understanding of the meaning, significance and application of big data in the legal sector as well as its potential. 

It was great to meet up with JoAnna Forshee and Jobst Elster of InsideLegal, whose blog is a must-read for coverage of US legal IT events - including ILTA - and more. The ILTA/InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey findings, which were published during the conference, also highlighted mobility as the key focus. Big data was a new addition to the survey, and the responses showed a mixed level of understanding and interest. Social media was another focus area, unsurprisingly revealing LinkedIn as the most popular among respondent firms, perhaps because of its (mostly) professional focus. The survey results can be found here.

Help yourself to the future

While the keynotes included interesting suggestions of what the future might bring, the underlying theme of the latest developments in legal IT could be described as 'help yourself to the future'. This reflected Rohit Talwar's succinct and wise closing advice to firms - give yourself permission to shape your future.  

A walk around the exhibit hall revealed a focus on technology self-sufficiency, perhaps driven by a combination of last year's buzzword, BYOD - bring your own device - and the current sharp focus on mobility.  The following represent only a small selection of the vendors I met.

A lot of attention was given to mobile apps, which bring together mobility and technology self-sufficiency - in an intuitive, user-friendly interface - and the iPad does a great job of convincing previously sceptical lawyers of the benefits technology can bring to their working lives. ILTA itself had a superb app, which everyone appreciated. Talwar mentioned law firm apps that are not only useful, but have raised the profile of particular firms, notably Latham & Watkins and RPC.

E-discovery is one element of legal IT that is leveraging nearly all the latest trends - it is one of the few areas where big data analysis, cloud computing and mobile apps all have obvious relevancy. I met up with Shawn Gaines of kCura. Shawn won ILTA's fun run and popular e-discovery vendor kCura is leading the race to get e-discovery mobile via Relativity Binders, a free iPad app which enables Relativity users to download files for online and offline review, including annotation and email features. Work done offline automatically synchronises as soon as the user is back online. 

It is always worth catching up with the Tikit team. Mark Garnish gave me a quick demonstration of the very latest version of Tikit's Template Management System TMS v6. Here, the ability to create and amend templates that support a consistent brand message is encapsulated into a user-friendly content editor task pane - dispensing with the need for a skilled developer or programmer to create macro-based templates. Therefore, marketing and business development departments can help themselves to brand management rather than having to involve the IT function every time they want to add, amend or redesign standard document templates.

Readers of my recent columns will be aware of my interest in what I have described as the Dropbox dilemma - what approach should firms take if a client wishes to share documents or other information using Dropbox or similar file sharing sites? Obviously, highly sensitive data cannot be shared in this way, but lawyers could well be tempted to accede to a client's request rather than wait, even a short time, for the IT department to set up an extranet. However, using public file-sharing sites even for standard legal documents raises risk and security concerns involving accessibility, ownership and location of data, and many firms prohibit their use. Hence a (growing) number of enterprise-level file sharing applications have been established to fill the breach. I saw Workshare's Professional 8 collaboration software which includes secure file transfer and interfaces with iManage, OpenText, SharePoint and NetDocuments. This and other enterprise-level products with an intuitive user interface enable lawyers to collaborate with their colleagues and clients without involving the IT department or an unacceptable level of risk.

This raises an interesting question - if firms are using bespoke systems for highly sensitive data and enterprise-level file sharing applications for routine client and peer collaboration, could this be the beginning of the end for the extranet? Or will extranet providers adapt their systems to fit the mobile, self-sufficient, self-service theme?

Document sharing brings us neatly to document management which is at the heart of legal IT. Here what Talwar termed SoMoClo (Social - Mobile - Cloud) is a key influencer, with more firms considering document management as a service. Key providers include NetDocuments, who also offer a neat iPad app.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of iPads and iPhones, Microsoft remains the platform of choice for nearly all law firms and several new practice management systems are based on MS Dynamics. The SharePoint debate continued, focusing on whether firms are deriving an acceptable return on investment in developing SharePoint based systems. 

CRM is a particular focus for the big players. LexisNexis presented its Legal Software Bill of Rights. Thomson Reuters Elite is adding a CRM module to its practice management offering - also accessible via a useful app. It seems that CRM is experiencing a revival in the legal sector and the CRM space could be one to watch.

This is a personal and therefore limited view of ILTA13. For comprehensive coverage, it is worth checking out 38 Posts Summarizing the ILTA Conference compiled by Frank Strong, communications director at LexisNexis BLSS. I shall be checking his blog regularly now. Here is a link to the article

ILTA's valuable community spirit

ILTA13 was a terrific event in the truly amazing setting of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. I am always impressed by ILTA's brilliant organisation and friendly, inclusive atmosphere. ILTA events bring to mind a recent observation by a legal technology leader that one of the great benefits of working in legal IT - as compared with IT in other industries - is people's willingness to share experiences and offer insights. With its focus on peer learning and networking in contrast to the commercial considerations that underpin some other legal IT events, ILTA embodies this generosity of spirit. 

It was wonderful to catch up with so many contacts and friends - and meet new ones. Thanks are due to Peggy Weschler, Randi Mayes and the rest of the fantastic ILTA team as well as conference vice-presidents Skip Lohmeyer and Rachelle Rennagel, for another superb conference. ILTA14 will be held in Nashville, 25-28 August 2014, and ILTA INSIGHT will be in London on 14 November 2013.


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