Note: My good friend, Michael Robak, from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Law School attended the ReInvent Law NYC conference, and has a guest post of his experiences. I had all kinds of good intentions to make it to the conference this year, but alas, my day job and a Partner Retreat scheduled for the same day got in the way. Thanks to Michael for sharing his experiences with us.

Greg – I am heartened to learn that you had a ticket for Reinvent Law NYC 2014 and were all set to go so you could see it for yourself.  Truly sorry that your work kept you from attending because, in my view, Dan Katz and Renee Newman Knake created another terrific and thought provoking event!
What I found very interesting is that I couldn’t really compare NYC to the Silicon Valley event because even though the subject matter was similar it contained its own unique energy and vibe.  I’m sure there were quite a few people who had been at both or had followed via the “prism of twitter” (which is no way shape or form like actually attending a conference, but that’s my view) and have different views.  The commentary is already beginning to fill up the “blog-o-spheres”, so let me add some more.

Held at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, we were warned of a strict adherence to the fire code’s people limits, so at least two emails warned in the two days before the event.  The event was free but emails let you know that even if you had a ticket reserved you still might not get in because they conference was “oversold”, so best to get there early.

The doors opened at 8 a.m., so I showed up at around 7:20 to find a few people already gathered.  One of those was Monica Bay editor in chief of ALM’s Law Technology News who had just finished putting on one of the best LegalTech and CIO Summit shows I’ve ever attended.  So it gave me a chance to visit and pitch an article idea (we law librarians should be writing for LTN, although I recognize for some of us this doesn’t quite qualify as peer reviewed scholarship, it’s where our writing should be seen).  Also, a shout out to 3 Geek guest blogger, Ryan Mclead, whose presentation was terrific and Ed Walters’ talk at the CIO summit one of his funniest/thought provoking best.
[ed note: after Ryan’s post from yesterday, Michael may want to take back his shout out to Ryan.]

While waiting at that early hour I also had the great good fortune to meet Andrew Weltchek, a practicing solo attorney in New York who knew nothing about the conference but had received an email and was intrigued by some of the presentation titles.  I say good fortune because, since he was not one of the usual suspects, it was wonderful to engage in conversation about the speakers and content in a way that helped me think through why I think there is so much to what Dan and Renee have done with their Reinvent Law lab.

This was such a fantastic venue for its history, but no liquids were allowed in the Great Hall, creating a situation where the coffee break was offered in the very narrow corridor outside the hallway and the coffee placed somewhat in the middle and if, like me, you sat on one particular side of the hall, the coffee and coffee line were between you and the restroom.  Which led to my having to explain to more than one caffeine deprived person that I really wasn’t cutting into the coffee line that I really was just trying to get to the restroom.  I changed seats at each break thereafter to avoid such issues.  Plus it was just cool to see the stage from different parts of the auditorium.

But narrow break space and no wifi aside, there were 40 speakers at the event including Richard Susskind as the end speaker.  There were a lot of great talks, lots of ideas, and I’m writing to you because I’ve already seen push back from some who attended (and some who just followed the conference) on whether this was really a great event, or just more of the same old pablum.
I’m writing to again explain why I think this is the real deal (and what I mean by dealier) but also to tell my brethren law librarians that they need to pay particular attention  to what is happening here because it signifies opportunities amidst all the hype of doomed law libraries.

Let me start with some particular highlights for me and see if I can unite them as a theme within the conference.  This is hardly a comprehensive review but a snapshot of some of the talks and ideas that particularly resonated with me.

First, for me, was Paul Lippe’s talk, Legal by Design.  This idea of the need for thinking about designing service was woven throughout the day, particularly again with Margaret Hagan’s talk later on.  I particularly enjoyed Paul’s describing his own early days of working to re-conceptualize the delivery of legal services with “the cabal” of Susskind, Carr, and Chandler.  And discussing his current work, after re-entering the legal industry a few years ago, in trying to push along what he thought surely should have been accomplished by now.  Paul’s talk is when I first thought talking about “design” meant we are talking fundamentally about law as an information intensive industry much in need of a UX rethink.  The next talk I thoroughly enjoyed was David Howarth’s Law as Engineering.  I’ve had his book on my desk for the last couple of months because it explains well that, again, we are talking about information systems that are subject to design principles.  Or, more correctly, subject to rendering as drawings and schema.  Librarians, of all people, should be able to grasp this concept best of all, particularly those of us who know how (and love) to use Visio to bring clarity to the systems that surround us.

Now, here is where the “dealier” part comes in; the next presentation that grabbed me wasn’t so much of a talk as it was a real time presentation of all the folks in the room who have gotten venture capital backing for startups in the legal space.  Josh Kubicki’s presentation had him asking all the members of the audience who had been funded as a legal start up to come up on stage.  People started pouring on stage to provide stark evidence of the $458 million that has been bet on such startups.  Now, as was said throughout the day, a lot of these will fail.  But, as Kyle Westaway said in his opening talk, you have to be smart enough to know whether to pivot or persevere, i.e., your idea didn’t work, should you pivot and go elsewhere or tweak and correct and persevere.  The other talk that particularly reinforced this “dealier” aspect was David Perla’s.  David is the co-founder of Panagea3 and his talk asked whether we were at the stage of a number of new legal industry business forms or something just before.  He took a number of the startups (many of whose founders were in the room) and described a taxonomy of “new life forms” which will most likely lead to newer and better forms of business after a time of evolution.  I highly recommend watching all the videos but his is particularly interesting for the way he describes the “pre-Cambrian” life forms.

One of the ventures he described in the legal research space was Judicata which had been presented earlier in the day by Itai Gurari.  What I thought was useful from Itai’s presentation was his showing a picture of Thomas Edison’s first phone and identifying how John West developed the topic and key number system at roughly the same time.  There was no new legal research analog for the iphone Itai then showed. 

The other talks that particularly drew me in were:  the “T shaped” lawyer talk by Amani Smathers, in which she took a look at how IBM developed human capital and identified similar skill sets needed for the 21st century lawyer.  Her idea was the long downward part of the T was the deep lawyer domain knowledge but the skill set placed in the top of the T were a mix of tech and business skills.  Also, the previously mentioned Margaret Hagan talk on using design to create smarter and better access to justice for the consumer and, of course,  Richard Susskind’s talk.  His talk was really worth the day long wait since he neatly, I think, identified the stages that have happened and are happening on the way to 2038 when law should, in his view, finally look fundamentally different.  Or, rather, should be expressed along the lines he began writing about back in 1988.

I think I can sum up my highlights by saying the practice of law is information intensive and governed by a series of identifiable rules, business processes, and work flows.  Many, if not most, of the legal startups are looking at the delivery of legal services and identifying the processes that occur, the artifacts that fall out of those processes and asking why does it have to be that way? is this the best we can do to deliver the services of an information intensive industry?  So, to think in Paul Lippe’s terms of Legal by Design, as law librarians, as an information professionals, we should be at the center of this movement that seeks to explain the business of law as a developed repository of information and a delivery of information, on behalf of the client seeking a trusted advisor to assist with the nature of their law problem.  Law librarians can help explain, guide, and provide an integrative view of the legal system in the service of rethinking how best to deliver service.  Really, it is about information governance, a term entering its second or third year as a proper buzzword at LegalTech. 

Basically Ediscovery has opened the lid on how poorly organization’s information systems handle the ebb and flow of information, the connections between people and knowledge, within organizations.  So I don’t use the term as described at LegalTech.  Instead, I would seek to co-opt this term, “Information governance”, for law librarians.  I would say we are in the best position to help with this discussion because we can bring clarity to this information intensive industry and its rules and business processes and work flows.  With clarity there stands a chance for lawyers (and others) to make a good living and provide greater access to justice…. In my humble opinion.   My thoughts here are still a work in progress but, to paraphrase Dana Carvey’s grumpy old man, “dang nab it” we librarians ought to be in the thick of all this reinvention.  Thanks for letting me get the word out.  And, as I say, check out the videos, much better than relying on a Twitter feed.