Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Building a New Kind of Legal Conference

It is ILTA week here in DC as the litigation technologists, purveyors of software and services, geeks, practitioners and others parade through the immense exhibit hall and attend the conferences sessions and seminars. With this event I am reminded of the need to reexamine our legal conferences and search perhaps to craft a new model. This is nothing against ILTA at all – in many respects it is unique and offers value other conferences do not. But it is inescapable reality that if you were to attend three or perhaps just two of the major legal conferences offered in a year you would encounter the same material, studies, information, with nothing truly “new” or “unique” offered.

I understand that conferences such as ILTA or Legaltech are not necessarily geared towards the purpose of advancing the dialogue of legal transformation but rather report on what has happened or is happening. Groups such as The Sedona Conference and the Futures Conference from the College of Law Practice Management in Denver have the aim of exploring potential for change and looking to prepare or even craft solutions and guidance. The other difference being between many gatherings is that in some “vendors and sales” drives the agenda and even makes such gatherings possible through underwriting and sponsorships while other conferences are self-funded through grants or attendance fees. I will leave it to readers to debate the value of each. Needless to say both serve a purpose just perhaps not the same one.

It is difficult and would leave the end-product too bloated or diluted to look to combine all the best of the annual masses of legal conferences into one big one. But there is room for changing the model of how these conferences are constructed and participated in. I envision an event that is scholastic and academic in approach, bringing into its folds the practitioners, experts and others who have relevant voices for advancing the profession and for changing it (not just something to sell). I am not a revolutionary who seeks change simply to cause havoc and unrest but I am a transformationalist – one who understand the profession is in the midst of fundamental pressure to change – and I want my voice to be heard as to how best to adopt the change and integrate new ideas and models into the process and practice of law.

I believe that the folks who are gathering in DC this week for ILTA would gain much to be active participants in a Sedona event while most Sedona attendees would do well to attend ILTA (and I believe many do). I believe the likes of CIO.com should be embraced in this environment to capture the thoughts and ideas of this profession – as the decisions on ediscovery, discovery technology, legal spend software, time keeping, etc. are moving into the CIO suite – both within firms and in corporations.

Just some ideas. All the boondogglers out there have no fear – many other conferences will remain for your pleasure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Open Content & Legal Education Tranformation

Changing the landscape of how higher education operates is perhaps a bit too humble. Revolutionizing the business of higher education is much more succinct. In reading last months issue of Fast Company the article “How web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education” my first thought was that I would like that title – Edupunk. My second was that this “transformation” should and could be applied to law school.

The legal industry is facing its own transformation. Why allow the transformation to begin with just the practice why not at the inception of the industry – law students. Law school like the law is a stalwart institution that does not change easily. There are many reasons for this that I will not go into now. Nevertheless, it can change and the easiest is for the consumers (law students and prospective law students) to force it – even create it themselves.

Content is like water in many ways – it seeks to be free and will always find a way out of most things that try to contain it. Education is pure content. Books are being digitized. Lectures are being taped and disseminated over the Internet. Learning is happening virtually. But all of this is currently happening in one of two ways in our law schools. One, is on a school-by-school basis – each with its own protocol and agenda for allowing access to content outside its lecture rooms. These are typically extremely primitive and often lack such basics as user-friendly user interfaces and security measures. The second way is by grassroots sharing. What began as sharing hand written outlines amongst peers or study groups to prepare for exams has expanded into the virtual world of virtual workspace, other-internet media, file sharing and even social networking tools.

Law schools charge a premium for their content. Much of it is identical to all other law school. In fact, most first year law students are learning the exact same thing whether they are attending Yale or Quinnipiac. The classes are the staples, the foundation for the remaining two years. So if all content is the same at least for the first year (arguable for all three years) why is it that law schools charge differently and what are they charging for anyway? Obviously it is the professors’ salaries and the facilities in which they lecture. Opening the content of education would erase those costs or most of them anyway.

Then again many make the argument that law school has little to do with the actual practice of law (that is what first year associate-hood is for) and nothing to do with the business of law (that is for some partners and all solos).

Perhaps opening content is not enough – transforming it also necessary. For that see Mr. Paul Lippe.