I have had more than a week to recover from ILTA 2013 in Las Vegas and I am slowly starting to return to normal. But, that is the problem. I don’t want to return to normal. I desperately want to maintain the heady state of learning and collaboration that we establish every year for four short days in some ridiculously hot location in late August. I’ve attended ILTA for the last three years and every year it manages to recharge my batteries and get me excited about what I’m trying to do at my firm. That enthusiasm usually lasts for a few short weeks before I’m slowly drug back into the muddy reality of “This is what [high level partner] thinks is important, so that’s what we’re going to keep doing for the foreseeable future.” First my shoes get stuck, and then the walls close in, and soon I’m standing nose to gypsum with just enough room to pull my head back an inch so I can gently bang my forehead repeatedly against the wall in front of me. (Yes, writing blog posts is much cheaper than therapy.)
I am not above a little hyperbole to make a point, but I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. Something wonderful happens at that conference and it’s not strictly the learning sessions, or the vendor parties, and it’s most certainly not the food. It’s the people.
That may sound like a touchy-feely, sentimental, Up With People, BS statement, until you understand that I am not in any way, shape, or form a people person. I have friends and I like many people. I can easily talk with anyone about any particular thing, but I don’t easily do small talk. I’m not very good at meeting new people. And I struggle with most conversations that begin “So, what do you do?” The thing about ILTA is that I have very few of those conversations. Strangers at ILTA begin conversations with phrases like, “We’ve been trying to do this. Do you have any thoughts?” Or, if they overhear your conversation with someone else, they’ll speak up and say, “You know, we built/bought something that does that…” The focus of most interactions and conversations at ILTA are centered around solving problems. Conversations at ILTA end with, “I’m so-and-so, what’s your name? And what do you do?” Then you exchange cards and walk away. Until you see them in the corridor the next day and introduce them to someone you just met who has a similar problem to the one they’re trying to solve.
There is an openness to this community. One that, by necessity, admits to its own vulnerability. There is very little pretense or braggadocio. The strength of every success story I heard this year was built upon the foundation of the failures that came before.
When we return to the “real” world, those administrative and bureaucratic walls that too quickly close in around us, also make it very difficult to share our stories, or to ask for help, or even to openly admit our failures. For four short days in the desert we have no walls and we are free to learn and collaborate with our peers without the constraints of politics or bureaucracy. It may be that that kind of communication and collaboration can only exist for short periods of time among acquaintances and strangers. It may be that such a thing can not possibly exist on an ongoing basis within the confines and constraints of a law firm environment. But if I truly believed that, there would be no reason to keep banging against those walls.
They’ll come down. If not this year, maybe after ILTA 2014.