Telepresence seems like an interesting new technology with potential value for BigLaw. It’s video conferencing on steroids. 

I’ve seen several articles and ads recently. For example, Are You Ready For Your Close-Up? in Business Week (11/6/06) says of telepresence: “videoconference systems intended to make participants forget they’re in different places. The people captured onscreen are life-size — and lifelike: Lips move in perfect sync with the video. There’s eye contact. And no audio lag.”

Here’s how it works: you sit in a conference room and face a bank of large, high-definition flat panel video screens. Multiple cameras and a very high speed connection drives the system so that the – according to ads and articles – you feel as if the people on the screens are in the room with you. It sounds like a new generation of video – but at a high cost (both one-time hardware and on-going fees).

Over they years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of traditional video conferencing. I think there’s a case for telepresence, even at its much higher cost. If telepresence corrects the shortcomings of traditional video conferencing, at least for smaller groups, it could be a hit for inter-office meetings in BigLaw. After all, the cost to fly partners around is quite high, especially for internal meetings. And think of the opportunities to connect more closely with clients if the travel barrier is eliminated.

I make no prediction about its ultimate penetration. Cost seems a likely barrier for a while but I suspect that some big companies and BigLaw will adopt in 2007.

Several vendors supply telepresence systems; see, for example, Cisco or Polycom.