5 Key Takeaways from ILTACON 2021

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With a new hybrid in-person and virtual format, ILTACON may have looked a little different this year — but the quality of the conference remained top-notch. Over 2,000 legal professionals gathered in Las Vegas and on screens to discuss the future of the legal industry. 

Some people found more value in the smaller in-person conference — reporting that the connections they did make were of higher quality and they could have deeper conversations. (Personally, I enjoyed the chat feature during sessions, to see what my fellow attendees were thinking!)

1. The cloud is business standard

Yes, we’ve been touting the importance of the cloud for a while now — and as a cloud-native platform, would you expect anything less? However, ILTACON has shown us that even conservative firms that have been historically slow-moving when it comes to technology — as they are often beholden to highly regulated industries like banking — had their hand forced by the COVID-19 pandemic or changes in available platforms. 

In the session “Building the Law Services Delivery Team of the Future,” Meredith Williams-Range, Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer at Shearman & Sterling, reported that no clients stood in the way of the move to the cloud — not even the big banks. She found most clients did not care that the firm relied on the cloud, they just cared that the process was secure and vetted. She had proactively reached out to auditors to ensure the firm was following best practices — that way, she already had third-party assurance when she met with the few clients that did want to have a discussion around the change. 

The fear now is that when the pandemic ebbs and employees return back to the office, firms will revert back to old ways — a view that was thoroughly discouraged in the session “The Quickening Decade: Fireside Chat with CIOs and CINOs.” We can only hope that firms can see the many advantages of cloud computing on their bottom line. 

2. Staying competitive requires change

The legal landscape is evolving, driven by higher expectations from corporations and more competition for the work from in-house teams, other firms, and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs). Firms have to change and innovate to stay successful. In fact, ILTACON itself is proof that doing business the same way under the same old models won’t work. 

One major opportunity for change is building partnerships. In the session “Redefining the Delivery of Legal Services,” panelists suggested law firms can partner with tech companies and ALSPs to keep the work and deliver the results corporate legal teams are demanding. The bottom line is that the more efficiencies firms can provide — particularly in work that can be automated — the more value they provide their clients. To avoid losing revenue with efficiencies, firms should evaluate each project to determine the best billing model — and consider value-based pricing models. The panel suggested a good place to start finding opportunities to innovate is looking at the work that gets written off, and seeing if there’s a way to make it more efficient.

3. ...and change requires effective change management

Almost every session addressed strategies of change management. How do you get data out of silos to build effective dashboards? How do you ensure compliance with new privacy laws? How do you implement new technology when that one partner is still printing all his emails?

As Dr. Jemison mentioned in her keynote, you don’t necessarily have to change everyone’s minds or hearts, sometimes you just have to change their behavior. 

The critical elements for successful change management seemed to be:

1. Defining the right problem 

  • In the law services session, Williams-Range pointed out, “We’re not here to solve technology problems. We’re here to solve business problems. And technology is usually the last 10% of that problem.” 
  • In a session on CAL vs TAR, the panelists agreed the end user’s goals should drive every decision.
  • The fireside chat with CIOs and CINOs advocated looking to the people on the ground — clients and lawyers — to see what is the actual problem to be solved. 
  • In the session “Data Silos are Killing Your Business,” Steve Magnuson, Business Intelligence Manager at Ballard Spahr, recalled that even though he started a project with the best of intentions, he had to redefine the end product after he got more input from users.  
  • In her keynote, Dr. Jemison advised asking as many questions as necessary before trying to answer anything.

2. Talking to all stakeholders

  • Williams-Range reported: “We interviewed 220 lawyers and shadowed them before we ever engaged in technology. We had to learn how and why they were doing certain things.”
  • In a session on data silos, Amy Wisinski, Sr. Manager, Marketing Data Analytics & Technology, Winston & Strawn advised, “Talk to everybody - you never know what data they have until you talk to them.”
  • The session “The Letters in AI are in “FAIR”, but is AI Fair?” re-emphasized that customer voice in what problems are roadblocks is critical (just look at DISCO’s law review process). 

3. Identifying champions 

  • In the data silos session, Brownie Davis, Managing Architect, Software Engineering at Fish & Richardson, recommended not only talking to everyone, but also knowing the order in which to talk to them. If you know you’ll have problems but you can have a supporter, garner the support first before you move into a difficult area. 

4. Making it a team effort

  • Davis highlighted the importance of a shared vocabulary so the team is on the same page. 
  • Williams-Range emphasized several times in her session that her project required cross-departmental input (along with patience and perseverance), which was key to its eventual success. 

4. Quick wins are powerful

As mentioned by David Wang, Chief Innovation Officer of Wilson Sonsini: “Ideas are cheap. Execution is hard.” Your stakeholders are likely worried about implementing new processes, and the best way to assuage those fears is showing that your plan will work. Nearly every session emphasized the importance of using easily gained successes to increase buy-in and demonstrate the eventual success of the overall project — or, the power to “land and expand” the model, as the CINO chat called it. 

In the data silos session, Davis specifically advocated baking quick wins into the project roadmap to build momentum and eliminate roadblocks. He advised finding the right stakeholder that will be affected by the change, and explaining, “I’m doing this as a one-off to see if this is valuable to you.” Keep focus on a small, solvable business problem (but one that still has an impact for the end user) rather than an ideal, fully realized solution, so you don’t get overwhelmed with an 83-pronged approach. 

5. Don’t forget we’re all human

In her keynote Dr. Mae Jemison asked, “How do we use our humanity to move forward?”

In the data silos session, Wisinski found success from approaching stakeholders with a sense of curiosity and really listening to their responses. Rather than saying, “Do you have this data?” she asked “What data do you have” — i.e. what do you keep in your spreadsheets, what tools do you use to do your job, and what questions do people ask you. This provided a much more complete picture of what data was available that she was able to refine into what was useful to her. 

It’s also important to remember that we’re not perfect, and sometimes good enough is good enough. In the same session, Magnuson said that rather than getting something that is 100% accurate for a project, he found he just needed to provide directionally accurate data. Keeping in mind what the end user wants and needs is key to a successful project.

5 Key Takeaways from ILTACON 2021 infographic

That’s a wrap on ILTACON 2021 — thanks for another great year! Oh, and for what it’s worth, DISCO still throws the best parties

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Erin Russell

Erin Russell is the senior communications manager at DISCO. She has extensive experience covering tech and AI as a journalist and editor, and her bylines include Texas Monthly, Eater, and Austin Business Journal.