Robots, Clouds and Post-Pandemic Energy: 5 Trends and Takeaways from Legal Technology Conferences This Year
Robots, Clouds and Post-Pandemic Energy: 5 Trends and Takeaways from Legal Technology Conferences This Year
Robots, Clouds and Post-Pandemic Energy: 5 Trends and Takeaways from Legal Technology Conferences This Yearhttps://www.nextpoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Robots-Clouds-Post-Pandemic-Energy-Blog.png1200700Brett BurneyBrett Burneyhttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b929090efe8619afbacb98c7b14a2810?s=96&d=mm&r=g
What’s the buzz in the legal tech world? Nextpoint’s Brett Burney shares his assessment of legal tech conferences so far in 2023, from the major hype to the topics that flew under the radar.
If you’re not an ediscovery nerd or legal tech geek, you may not know that every year there are several conferences focused on technology used in the legal profession. For any lawyer (technologically inclined or not), it’s an excellent way to see new products and compare tools and platforms that you might implement in your practice. It’s also a good opportunity to network and get a sense of what other firms and organizations are using.
When you attend a legal tech conference, your experience and takeaways depend heavily on your particular needs and even the amount of planning you put into the trip. Some of these conferences cater to smaller law firms, while others spotlight speakers from the largest firms. And it’s a good idea to check out the list of exhibitors before you go so you can better target your meetings and demos.
Here are five trends we’ve noticed at legal tech conferences this year – some you may be expecting, and others you might find more surprising.
1. The Energy is Back and Boisterous
Conference attendees are definitely excited to be in-person once again, talking to other humans without the need for a camera, a microphone, and a Zoom account. While there were several legal tech conferences in 2022 that went back to in-person gatherings, there still seemed to be some hesitancy from attendees, which resulted in muted interactions. It seems much of that reluctance is gone in 2023, although it’s not quite all the way back to pre-pandemic “normal.” The energy was clearly seen and felt across the exhibit halls, educational sessions, and even outside the conference spaces in nearby restaurants and social gatherings.
Several observers writing about the conferences mentioned a solid amount of foot traffic and stimulating buzz about several topics, all accompanied by a healthy dose of energy. One comment from Kelly Twigger, the founder of eDiscovery Assistant, observed that perhaps the pandemic gave the legal tech community “a chance to identify the real problems in dealing with ESI and to develop technologies to assist with them,” further commenting that she saw some exciting new solutions to some of the same old problems.
Bob Ambrogi mentioned the ABA TECHSHOW “wasn’t your grandparents’ TECHSHOW,” citing that the “atmosphere was highly energized, the audience was highly enthusiastic, and the overall focus skillfully maintained that balance between practical and cutting edge.” At the same time, Ambrogi was struck by the idea that attendees to the 2023 ABA TECHSHOW could be the third generation within a family to have attended a TECHSHOW since the first conference was held in 1987. That’s how long legal professionals have been exploring ways to better incorporate technology into their law practices.
From my personal perspective, we’re still juggling some of the same topics 30 years later – trying to convince lawyers to digitally manage their knowledge and documents and getting them to move away from fax machines. But it does feel like an exciting time of innovation, much like the introduction of email and the pioneering of the cloud.
2. Let’s Chat about the Robot in the Room
One word upstaged every other topic of conversation at all of these conferences: “ChatGPT.” It was impossible to get away from people discussing the new AI-driven chatbot. Vendors claimed they had the most brilliant integration of generative AI, attendees whipped out their phones to ask ChatGPT questions – one way or another, it made its way into almost every conversation. No doubt it was the hottest topic, but it was difficult for anyone to nail down exactly how ChatGPT could practically help lawyers counsel their clients… but that didn’t stop everyone from trying.
As Craig Ball commented, “This was the year Generative AI ate [the] LegalWeek [Conference], much as e-discovery did years ago. ChatGPT and its brethren were the shiny new things driving every discussion and unlike the overhyped tech of years past, this New New Thing feels legitimately game changing in ways TAR and blockchain were not.”
Some vendors were adamant they had been working on AI tools for years already (which is probably true), but all the planets seemed to align to see this topic break through the fog of technological obscurity. The general consensus was that ChatGPT and all its AI-obsessed brethren are clearly in the developing stages, but that doesn’t give legal professionals a pass to ignore it. We must keep our eyes and ears open to the rapid developments and recognize that this technology will likely become significant in very short order. A common premonition heard ‘round the meeting halls was “AI won’t replace lawyers, but lawyers who are taking advantage of AI will soon replace lawyers who don’t.”
All of the talk about ChatGPT was rightfully accompanied by warnings and admonitions that lawyers should avoid uploading confidential information to the free versions of generative AI tools. The “free” aspect means that information could be used for public training purposes – or who-knows-what-else. So while it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse of this technology, it’s also incumbent on legal professionals to mind their ethical duties.
While AI tools like ChatGPT have the potential to be helpful aids in legal research, their current iterations demonstrate major flaws. For example, if you ask for cases relating to a certain topic, you may receive the name of a case paired with the wrong year and a wholly inaccurate description of the events of the case. More safeguards against misinformation are needed before we can truly rely on AI.
3. Comfortably Flying Through Clouds
Another huge concept floating around the background of the conferences was barely even mentioned – cloud computing. It was as if it were taken for granted that every vendor was already in the cloud, so no one even bothered to raise the question.
This struck me as the “big topic no one was even discussing” because for so many years, we were providing panels to help lawyers understand the basics of cloud computing, breaking down inaccurate beliefs that the cloud is less secure or less reliable, and helping lawyers understand the proper precautions to take when storing confidential information in the cloud.
But this year, I saw none of those panels – perhaps because the pandemic did what we could not do: convince lawyers that the cloud is secure and adaptable, and is the future. Firms that were holding out on moving to the cloud were forced to adopt some form of cloud technology to accommodate remote work during the pandemic.
The good news is that law firm IT departments already had much of the infrastructure in place to seamlessly make that switch, and we saw record numbers of firms finally embrace Microsoft Office 365 and implement cloud-based practice management systems, document management systems, and even document review platforms such as Nextpoint.
At these conferences, vendors didn’t feel the need to justify their cloud-based existence as they had in the past – it has become the accepted norm. It only took a pandemic, but it appears that the legal profession has finally embraced the cloud for the delivery of legal services.
About 16 years ago, I met Rakesh “Rocky” Madhava, the founder and CEO of Nextpoint, at a legal tech conference. He was rambling on about something called “the cloud” and how it was going to revolutionize how lawyers worked. He was ahead of his time when it came to embracing the possibilities of the cloud – but now, it seems that the rest of the industry has finally caught up to his astute and future-sighted vision.
4. The Legal Tech Name Game
All of these conferences and get-togethers are opportunities for companies in the space to make important announcements. While that certainly includes new products and features, it’s also an opportunity for companies to announce or formalize mergers and acquisitions… and there havebeen a lot.
Maybe we can credit the pandemic again for all the acquisitions and re-branding, or maybe it’s simply that the legal technology sector is healthy and profitable and moving forward. Regardless of the excitement, the flipside is the danger of confusion from customers who don’t closely follow all the legal tech headlines. Most attorneys only attend these conferences to look for products when they need them, and that’s when they can get confused. Plus, changes in ownership and branding can lead to changes in satisfaction for the attorneys who use the technology.
In some instances, it may be a smaller company that was acquired by a larger entity, which raises questions about how current customers will be supported. Ideally, mergers and acquisitions work to combine the best components of two different products. Unfortunately, in practice, they sometimes result in one of the players being shuttered and largely forgotten, with its customers feeling cast to the wayside.
In other scenarios, several companies band together and rebrand under an umbrella name, which just leaves customers confused as to whom they’re talking with. Some of this is simply the maturing of the legal technology market, which is a good thing – it’s just a challenge to navigate the initial changes and confusion with customers.
5. The Practicality of Frugality and Normality
After hearing about all the hype around AI and ChatGPT, you might be surprised to learn that conference attendees were largely focused on finding practical tools to implement in their firms and organizations. In other words, tried and true solutions often took precedence over the shiny new toy.
For example, the Startup Alley pitch competition at the ABA TECHSHOW was chock-full of products that incorporated some sort of AI, but the winner was a less flashy – and seemingly AI-free – software platform. It was wonderful to see all the creative ways folks were utilizing AI and automation, but the standing-room-only crowd voted “Universal Migrator” as the winner.
Universal Migrator standardizes the migration of data from one legal technology platform to another. If your firm needs to switch from one document management system to another, Universal Migrator will minimize the time and effort involved in conducting a secure and accurate migration.
AI has the potential to solve problems that we don’t even know exist yet. But solutions like Universal Migrator are ready to address the challenges attorneys are facing today. And while the future of AI is both exciting and significant, most legal professionals want to invest in technology that will deliver an immediate impact.
I also had the honor of presenting a hands-on session at the ABA TECHSHOW titled “Trial Pad, Adobe and Other Technology Solutions in the Courtroom” along with Tara Cheever from LIT SOFTWARE. We had a full room and answered all kinds of practical questions from the audience on how to use their existing tools to present information. We discussed the presentation tools that come with Nextpoint’s Theater mode, and we showed attendees how to incorporate the iPad into their practice and presentations. Individuals were focused specifically on learning takeaways that they could implement into their practice immediately.
The upside of all this is that the state of legal technology is energized and thriving. The downside is that it seems that practical needs get mowed over by the hot-new-thing-in-the-moment – which today is ChatGPT. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s great to see excitement around technological advancements. But it’s something to keep in mind for legal professionals who tend to get overwhelmed when they can’t understand the “new thing” or the latest headlines. There are endless practical technologies that can simplify and streamline legal processes today – just go to a legal tech conference and see for yourself.
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