I left the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) annual conference, #ILTACon 2019 in Orlando, on Thursday morning. Here are my impressions and thoughts.

FIRST, A BIG THANKS. The rich variety and high quality of sessions depend on the dedication of many volunteers. Likewise, the smooth conference operations also depends on volunteer to direct traffic, help first time attendees, and take care of so many other support jobs (including driving golf carts between adjacent properties!). So a big THANKS to all the law firm members who volunteer to make ITLA Con a fabulous event.

NO SURPRISES (AND NONE EXPECTED). I have never expected big surprises at ILTA or other legal tech conferences. Most providers (and, increasingly law firms that offer tech), if they have big announcements, make them in the days or weeks before ILTA. That allows lining up ILTACon meetings to discuss / sell the new development. And that’s the way it should be.

THREE BIG THEMES. The big themes this year were platforms, innovation, and artificial intelligence. And I suspect these will remain themes for some years to come.

1. PLATFORMS. So many legal tech product categories and so many brands within each category, what’s a CIO to do? Right now, the answer is suffer, or perhaps ignore some choices. Platforms that incorporate multiple features and/or allow easily plugging in multiple categories is a promising – and demanded – answer.

A couple of years ago, the document management system vendors made major announcements that had many of us talking about DMS as platform. That conversation continues – and has expanded.

In Orlando, I was involved in several conversation with and about HighQ, acquired just before the conference by Thomson Reuters, as a platform.

And likewise with Reynen Court, which offers a vision of containerizing apps plus cloud computing to simplify building and modifying the tech stack. I heard enthusiasm, skepticism, and confusion. Infrastructure is not my strong suit but it does seem a promising approach to me.

2. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. AI remains a hot topic but I skipped the AI sessions this year. In the exhibit hall, Blue J Legal impressed me. I talked to founder Benjamin Alarie and had a demo. The approach of parsing cases and answering specific questions (in defined domains such as tax or labor + employment) seems unique. At least for the moment. (By the way, since my demo was quick, I asked one KM friend who confirmed my impression about this being unique.)

3. INNOVATION. Many sessions had innovation in their titles. I co-facilitated one, Innovative Thinking Workshop (Innovation Series, Part 2 of 4), with Cheryl Disch and Joshua Fireman. Cheryl gets a special shout-out and thanks for organizing a four-part session; plus, she contributed mightly to this one on both the substance and format.

About 75 members attended. We had 8 tables that worked through a structured set of questions. The big finding is how many different approaches firms are taking to innovation. We had tables report on 3 questions and the answer differed significantly.

We collected the each table’s work product and will aggregate it and make it available. Stay tuned. In the meantime, this landing page has audio, slides, and the question forms we used.

DISRUPTION (NOT?). I attended a session on disruption (link to live blog post below). I resisted the temptation to interrupt to ask “what evidence do you see or have that legal tech is disrupting the legal market?” So many say so much about disruption yet, as Jae S. Um‘s tour de force 10-year analysis of the Am Law 100 showed, the disruption is more to expectations than to the business model (with apologies for my interpretation). See her post, Dataviz and #RealTalk About Big Law’s New Normal.

EXHIBIT HALL. I have observed in prior blog posts and confirmed by walking through the exhibit hall that the legal ecosystem has rapidly diversified. Multiple categories of products exist today that did not exit a decade ago. The big names have big booths and have not changed that much. But I noticed many new providers – and many names I recognize from 30 years ago.

Putting on my marketing hat, I suggest vendors make sure there booth have a prominent tagline to explain what they do. I was surprised not only by how many names I did not recognize, but that I could not figure out what they did absent getting very close to read fine print.

LONG LIVE PERSONAL PRODUCTIVITY and TECH TIPS. I had several conversations centered on tech tips. My favorite, from David Carns of CasePoint, is about managing and reading my Feedly RSS feeds using keyboard shortcuts. Not long after David explained them, I was back in my room and started using them. If you use Feedly and want to pursue this, simply type the question mark in the web UI. I also helped one friend resolve a long-standing iOS challenge.

From these experiences, I have a suggestion for future ILTA conferences: have semi-structured tech tip opportunities. I’m not sure I would build a session around it, though it might work, with tables devoted to different software and apps. But perhaps a seating area near the sessions could be dedicated for drop-by conversations.

THE VENUE. At the risk of a heresy, I can take or leave Disney theme parks and attractions. I was apprehensive that coming to a Disney property would mean tripping over Mickey or Donald. In fact, the venue worked very well. The Swan and Dolphin hotels are adjoining properties, separated by about a 3-minute walk, at the edge of the Epcot theme park. As a convention center, I think Swan & Dolphin beat out other recent venues such as Gaylord National Harbor or a Vegas Casino. It felt much more compact and more easily navigable to me than the other venues.

SAD TO GO. As is true ever year, I was sad to go. So many great people attend and hours per day are limited (even with short nights), that it’s impossible to see all the cool new tech and connect with everyone.

LINKS. For a survey to support the innovation workshop, see my June 2019 post, From the Trenches: Legal Innovation Survey Results.

I live blogged two session: