LegalTech NY 2009 in review

I’m back from New York. And as of this morning I’m nearly caught up after wading through a flurry of activity surrounding LegalTech NY 2009. Personally I had a great trip because I made some wonderful new friends, discovered a number of new and relevant companies and their technology, and just plain enjoyed the NYC scene. Results for others may have varied — details below.

The Good, The Bad, and the Not So Aesthetically Pleasing

  • A keynote at LegalTech NY 2009
    A keynote at LegalTech NY 2009

    Most of the presenters were reasonably well prepared and open to discussing any and all issues with members of the audience. (One panel I attended stood out for running out of material half way through their time slot, but that was the exception rather than the rule.) The best presenter by far was DC-based Federal Magistrate Judge John Facciola. He was simply an exceptional speaker — I couldn’t multi-task on my laptop or iPhone (who needs wifi when there’s 3G, baby!) while he was talking for fear of missing the subtleties of his facial expressions and jokes. He made an important point about the future of the legal profession: competency in information technology is now crucial for trial attorneys and those managing discovery at any level. He told a number of vivid, relevant stories, but the one that really stood out for me was about a case which appeared before him involving two technology companies. Despite the obvious need for it,  there was no eDiscovery in this case because counsel on both sides were uncomfortable with it and thus were willing to commit malpractice by overlooking it. Crazy, but indicative of a long standing resistance to technology Judge Facciola regularly encounters with “old-school” lawyers.

  • Both presentations and exhibitors at the conference were primarily oriented around selling eDiscovery software and services. I expected this, and in fact this was a good arrangement for someone in my line of business. However, it bears noting that law firms are only part of the legal technology equation, and for a variety of reasons corporate legal departments are more influential users when it comes to legal tech. It would have been nice also to see a broader array of legal tech offerings, for example the CLM (contract lifecycle management) space was underrepresented.
  • Most of the exhibitors used admirable restraint in resisting the temptation to promote their particular solution while on stage. However I can’t resist the temptation to point out that one panelist, who coincidentally is employed by the very vendor that was sponsoring his panel (vendor name suppressed to avoid unjustly promoting them), must have exhorted the audience 20 times in 45 minutes with the imperative that everyone must have / needs / faces dire consequences unless they adopt “an integrated solution” to eDiscovery document collection and review — which is what his company was selling.
  • The conference infrastructure was adequate but not overwhelmingly impressive by Silicon Valley standards. Seating was particularly crowded in keynotes, free food was nearly non-existent (surprising, given that sponsored buffets present a high visibility promotional opportunity for vendors), coffee was hard to find. But the lack of free wifi was an ongoing source of conversation amongst “wired” attendees. Apparently wifi was available for a fee if one found a certain booth somewhere on the premises. (I used 3G instead; one fellow I met actually picked up a wireless broadband card at a mobile telco store across the street to avoid paying for internet access at the event). I understand it’s mid-town Manhattan, so the ordinary hotel lobby bar (garnering a steady 2 out of 5 rating at Yelp) is selling $10 glasses of beer. And I appreciate a comprehensive revenue model as much as or more than the next fellow. But this branded the conference as not quite having its finger on today’s digital pulse, at least not by comparison to what we are accustomed to out on the left-coast.
  • Kudos to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Port Authority for New York’s marvelous, amazingly effective transit system. It’s far from a free ride, but incredibly practical. Of special note is the relatively new Air Train connecting JFK airport to the Long Island Railroad which continues on to midtown (Penn Station) only a short distance from the conference site. The transfer point was staffed with bizarrely friendly Port Authority employees helping poor lost tourists trying to figure out how to purchase ride cards and use them to activate turnstiles — very entertaining and even touching, considering how big and bad NYC’s reputation (still) is.
  • Special thanks to my old buddy Kenneth Adams for inviting me to stay with his family in their beautiful home in Garden City, Long Island (also a short walk from an L.I.R.R. station). Ken is not only a master the undisputed master of contract drafting, but also cooks a mean Neopolitan style pizza.

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