My #ILTACON2021 Meant “Evolution”

by Kristen Sonday


For an organization and membership that’s had to iterate multiple times leading up to ILTACON2021, the theme of “evolution” took center stage in ILTA’s first hybrid conference. From keynotes to conference sessions to events, legal teams everywhere are reinventing how they engage with both legal work and each other in light of COVID-19. At ILTACON this year, firm leaders, technologists, and tech companies were front and center sharing best practices about how to not just keep up, but also thrive.

In particular, two conference sessions stood out to me about how to successfully position tech and professional development solutions that improve the way we now do business. In the first, Advocating for Legal Tech Budget by Speaking the Language of the Modern Legal Chief Financial Officer, Kenneth Jones, Chief Technologist for Tanenbaum Keale, joined CFOs Daniel Lasman of Fish & Richardson and Ed Aguero of Cole, Scott & Kissane to discuss how individuals within a firm can best present new tech solutions to firm leadership. They raised three insightful considerations that, while important prior to COVID, are now even more (technologically) relevant: understanding return on investment, maximizing competitive advantage, and balancing opportunity cost.

First, the group stressed how essential it is to not only understand a tech solution’s value proposition and garner support for the project internally (preferably across departments), but also to articulate the value in the firm’s specific business terms to maximize its potential for approval. Presenters should highlight the specific pain point a tech tool can solve, explore implementation and ongoing costs, and project expected returns to help push a new tool through approval processes and increase the effectiveness with which it’s adopted.

Second, teams should emphasize how a tech solution will increase the firm’s competitive advantage, especially in areas or departments that might be under-resourced, or in other departments looking for more creative and cutting-edge alternatives. Lastly, opportunity cost was a big driver of tech adoption for the panelists: what is the cost of doing nothing? How critical will this solution be to different parts of the firm’s business? As firms have shifted online, tech priorities have changed in response, so those pitching new technology solutions need to understand the firm’s internal priorities and existing capabilities.

In addition to evolving tech innovation within organizations, another standout session focused on evolving an organization’s staff. In The Future of Talent Development, Desiree Moore, Partner and Director of Professional Development at K&L Gates, and Betsy Nelson of Real Estate Counsel and Adjunct Law School Professor, led a conversation about how they’re approaching ‘whole person development’ in an increasingly complex landscape. While many worry about how remote work might affect professional growth, Moore pointed out that being virtual has actually allowed for greater inter-office connection and mentorship. For example, she highlighted a fantastic new initiative called “Access Club;” a series of interviews with firm leaders about their work and leadership style in a way that’s made them more accessible to others. She also regularly encourages employees to connect with folks in other offices regarding common interests as a way to build community and seek out new mentors. Similarly, Nelson stressed the importance of speaking more intentionally, more regularly, about who each employee is outside of work to connect on a more personal level (and hey, the kids, partners, and pets in the background have humanized us all!).

While the sessions were instructive, the conversations outside of the conference halls were equally as inspiring. ILTA truly brings together a unique combination of top legal technologists, firm leaders and decision-makers, and technology solution providers to have authentic exchanges about how to maximize the impact of their collaboration. From mornings in the exhibit hall to group lunches to company happy hours to industry events, being able to spend more one-on-one time with industry leaders and understand what’s on their mind in a more intimate setting was a powerful way to explore ILTA’s community this year.