This past week, LIT SOFTWARE visited Legalweek (formerly known as Legaltech). We had read and heard some exciting reporting that the format had been updated to serve the needs of information gatherers from all parts of the legal industry, and we hoped that is what we would see.
First, a little background. In 2010 LIT SOFTWARE had just launched TrialPad, and we were the first legal specific app available on the iPad, which was also brand new. We decided to exhibit at Legaltech in January 2011 as a sort of product launch. And, while we generated plenty of excitement there and thereafter, we still concluded that exhibiting at Legaltech in the future wasn't for us.
Why? Because it wasn't for our users. While Legaltech had billed itself as a sort of Consumer Electronics Show of the legal field - it was in reality pretty narrowly targeted to very large firms looking to spend lots of their clients’ dollars. eDiscovery dominated the show, as did big vendors with deep pockets. They dominated it not just in large booth sizes, but also in sponsorships, sponsored talks, and year round advertising dollars to American Legal Media, the host of Legaltech and the largest presence in print and online information for lawyers and legal professionals.
So, when we heard that 2017 might be a pivot year for Legaltech, now rebranded Legalweek, with something-for-everyone offerings, we decided to have a look for ourselves. We arrived with two questions: Has Legalweek changed significantly enough for us to now recommend it to our users? Would it be worth it for LIT SOFTWARE to exhibit there again? Here's our take:
While it may not seem like a good thing, Legalweek offered no free attendance options. That meant that even just a visit to the exhibit hall would cost you (up to $115 for same day admission). An admission cost for everyone may have narrowed the number of attendees. It was a certainly less crowded than we've ever seen it. However, those in attendance had some skin in the game, and were probably better motivated to engage with exhibitors. Overall, it was a good move.
Despite tracks focused on small law, Legal CIO, etc., those tracks just didn't live up to the marketing for small to medium sized firms. Overall, Legalweek was still very much a big law conference.
Pay to play speakers dilute the quality of the content, which is not helpful to attendees looking for new and different content and products. The big sponsors of the Legalweek are often advertisers in ALM publications, at times featured in ALM articles, and usually have a big booth in the exhibit hall, so arguably attendees already know what they have to say, and what they have to offer. When they also pay to provide speaking content, hand out product flyers and put their brands on the sessions, the conference experience becomes monochromatic.
Paying to speak is disingenuous to the attendees at any conference who see the panelists as experts. The Exhibit Hall is the place for companies to show, tell, and sell their products and services, but the sessions should be comprised of invited industry thought leaders chosen without regard to their history of advertising, sponsorship, or exhibit hall status.
Even though there is a clear move toward an even playing field for vendors and attendees of various legal backgrounds, Legalweek still isn't even close to reaching its goal. It is still a very expensive proposition to attend, or to exhibit or sponsor, and the focus remains on what ALM, big companies, and big firms seem to find fascinating: governance, security, artificial intelligence, etc. Most small to medium firms we've spoken with don't focus on any of those things. So, for now you still have to breathe the rarified air of big law to get a good value from Legalweek.
ONE LAST THING
The big sponsors of ALM and most legal shows aren't just big. They are enormous and they dominate the market. They can afford to sponsor everything, and they do. They also help maintain a high dollar barrier to entry high for small companies and startups entering the marketing space. CES had a great alternative to this called Eureka Park, and the ABA TECHSHOW seems to be forming something similar. Offering something for startups and small shops adds to the diversity of the products available to be viewed, and helps to better legal technology as a whole.