This week I had an odd sense of deja vu on the Avenues of the Americas. Exactly one month ago, I attended the AALS Annual Meeting at the Midtown Hilton. This week, I attended LegalTech New York at the same venue. Though the rooms were the same, the schedule was just as confusing, and the exhibit booths had the same chatchkas and handouts, there was such a difference in the tenor of the events.
At AALS, there was a dour sense of reckoning among the LawProfs. Whether many wanted to concede it or not, the professoriate realizes that for many, the nature of the legal profession is changing, and that the status quo will have to shift to adapt to that change. I’m sure many law professors did not even know where to begin. There may have been one or two panels on law and technology.
At Legal Tech, there was a vibrant optimism. The majority of those in attendance were from law firms, general counsel offices, and tech vendors. These are the people who, hopefully, will be employing our law students in the near future. And where are they turning their focus? To how technology, and alternate practice methodologies, can improve the practice of law. The focus is on specialization, efficiency, and improving processes.
Now, this is not to say that all lawyers will benefit from technology. Simply giving a JD a shiny gadget doesn’t make her a better lawyer. But when the entire law firm invests in the technology, and develops a systematic plan to incorporate these new innovations, there can be practical change.
An unfortunate stereotype of LegalTech is that the conference consists of a bunch of nerds peddling widgets to lawyers. That isn’t the case. The people wandering the exhibit hall are General Counsels, looking to use tech to cut costs and improve efficiency. And many of the tools being distributed can–if done rightly–do just that.
I am probably one of half a dozen of law professors who attended both conferences (including Dan Katz, Bill Henderson, Oliver Goodenough, and others). What I learn here, I will bring back to the academy, and try to convey on how our students can be better prepared for the digital legal economy of (not tomorrow but) today.