Legal Innovation & Tech Fest Melbourne 2016

Legal innovation and technology conferences are multiplying exponentially given the rapid evolution of the legal services industry, and a desire to take advantage of the business opportunities that arise from such transformation.

However, the quality of such conferences cannot always be guaranteed. There are a few trusted operators in the industry, Janders Dean being one of them, and another is the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA).

The inaugural Legal Innovation & Tech Fest held in Melbourne earlier this week was organised by ILTA, in conjunction with the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia. The unique selling proposition of this particular meeting of minds was that no vendors would be allowed to speak, and all content would be delivered exclusively by lawyers, in-house counsel, CIOs and respected innovation and strategy leaders.

I didn’t have the opportunity to travel to Melbourne this week due to other commitments, so I engaged my usual #HashtagAttendee mode for the duration of Tech Fest at ‘#LGTF16‘.

If I were to have a beef with Tech Fest, it would only be about that very popular conference format they had adopted, whereby attendees are forced to pick between various streams taking place at the same time. It’s bad enough when you are in attendance, and forced to choose between equally fascinating topics.

The multiple stream conference format also makes being a #HashtagAttendee particularly confusing, and the compilation of a coherent Twitter narrative difficult …

The agenda of Tech Fest was well-rounded, robust, and reaffirmed the challenges faced by the legal industry. The major themes were in line with the current issues of lawyers and law firms in a global economy that’s realigning, as a consequence of a new, technological industrial revolution:

  • fostering an innovation culture;
  • creating a collaborative and digital workplace;
  • using big data and data analytics to own business and your clients;
  • encouraging technology adoption by lawyers using intuitive designs, and positive user experiences; and
  • automation, machine learning, and the growing use of AI tools.

I curated a selection of tweets below which give a good insight into the themes of Tech Fest, and the thinking of attendees. However, before I get to those tweets I am going to release my inner crank, and make a few observations about our current innovation and disruption ‘culture’.

‘Disruption’ appears to have become one of the most overused buzzwords in the legal industry, and in business generally. So much so, it’s practically becoming meaningless.

I don’t think you are allowed to do a presentation at a conference these days without throwing in a dozen ‘disruptions’ and ‘innovations’. However, I am starting to get the feeling that being a ‘disruptor’ or an ‘innovator’ is like being ‘cool’ – the more loudly you insist you are one, the less likely is that to be the reality …

Suddenly, everyone wants to be the ‘new’ Uber, or the Uber of their industry, and everything is being ‘Uberised’. Well, Uber was and still is a disruptor in many ways (although Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term ‘disruptive innovation’ in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, questions whether Uber qualifies as true innovative disruption), but by trying to copy, or replicate Uber, you are certainly not ‘inventing’, you are copying … doing that, the best you can hope for is to become the Galaxy to someone’s iPhone.

As for ‘innovation’ in the legal industry, there is certainly a lot of talk, but far less walk. I would venture to say the biggest problem is that firms are focused on efficiency and productivity, because that is what is expect of them by clients, and profits, because that is what expected of them by the partners.

While the outcome of genuine innovation can align well with the efficiency, productivity, and profit demands, the process of innovation does not – incubating innovation, an inherently creative rather than just purely logical process, will generally take time, a perilous journey through many mistakes, and will cost a pretty penny on account of both the time and effort involved.

True disruption cannot exist without genuine innovation, but genuine innovation demands genuine commitment – a commitment, very few are willing to make, or fund. That’s why most genuine innovation still comes from the ‘outside’, from unique individuals, or collectives of such individuals, with self-belief, vision, and perseverance.

That’s not to say of course that incremental improvements to processes achieved through various business methodologies, such as Lean Six Sigma, which many law firms do reasonably well these days, can’t be described as ‘innovative,’ but they are certainly unlikely to be groundbreaking disruptive innovations, in the pure sense of that term.

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this subject, so whether you agree with me, or not (and especially if you disagree), please leave your comment below!

And here are those tweets I promised …

Day One

Day Two

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