Today’s LegalGeek London conference was a pretty total immersive experience. 2000 attendees jostle in a converted brewery, dispersing themselves around three stages and a number of common areas serving beer, coffee and food. These, together, have really become too small and it must be really difficult to find an even larger but equally edgy venue. Speakers came and went at eight minute intervals. The effect was a bit like the Dr Who opening sequence: you were falling through the universe with flashing lights on all sides. Even in the sessions in the various stages, you could not escape the background hum of networking, selling and hustling. With such profusion and diversity, it is difficult to find common themes. But, for me, one was to be found in the concept of CX and its difference from DX.
CX stands for the primary of customer experience and represents a challenge to the conventional paradigm of the primary of the lawyer-client relationship. DX very much represents the old order. It was a document exchange program developed by the Law Society between firms and other legal destinations temporarily divided by mid-1970s postal strikes. DX challenged the Post Office but reinforced the notion of conventional legal firms which continued to communicate with each other and other legal destinations like the courts and the Law Society.
One element of this central perception is that the technology is actually secondary. This is despite the fact that the technology is clearly at the very least a catalyst. But the most important issue is the challenge to the traditionally narrow view of the legal professional relationship. This point was emphasised throughout the day. At the extreme, the idea extended to an emphasis on the need for collaboration. It was even suggested that there should be more collaboration between providers – anathema to the lawyer-client model. It led to the rather airy fairy idea that law firms get better results from collaboration with each other than competition. You may buy this: I am not sure that firms are much interested in this kind of move. Much more convincing were the multiple presentations by collaborative lawyer partnerships with their external counsel and technology providers. This was emphasised by a session made up largely of dual presentations.
Underlying many of the sessions was a healthy recognition of the practical and the value of using existing resources rather than fancy new fangled solutions (probably to the despair of LegalGeek’s conference sponsors). General counsel talked very practically of how they had, in practice, to maximise their existing resources. As a consequence, they were starting to arrange their department’s work so that they could better get data on exactly what they were spending time and money. They could then prioritise their responses which were sometimes as simple as building up FAQs that would deflect time-consuming queries. Related to this was a move noted by a number of speakers to use existing standard products better – like Slack for internal communication and building up an open library of advice. Nothing terribly radical about this except that it represents a real change of previous behaviour.
The potentially radical element comes by implication with lawyers being under pressure to be judged by their outputs rather than by listing their inputs. This was a conference for those in the commercial sector (we get access to justice on Friday). So, the outputs were things like stores opened or contracts completed. The inputs were the billable hours that have hitherto provided the justification for fees.
Nevertheless, there was still the excitement of a lot of new products presenting themselves in their eight minute slots or in booths with a lot of people saying that data is the new oil; and the heady smell of money to be dug out by the technological equivalent of nodding donkeys. But, overall, the conference felt a bit more grounded and balanced than it had In the two previous years that I have attended. Some of the wilder edges had gone; the pounding rock music was toned down; the iconic LegalGeek camper van parked elsewhere; the energy diminished a bit.
All this suggested that the legal start ups are growing up. That didn’t stop the excitement of the last session when the venture capitalists set out their stall. But it all felt a bit more mature than in the previous years: we may have passed the time of peak hype. If so, it will be interesting to see how LegalGeek positions itself next year.