Over the last 6 months I’ve attended and spoken at a number of conferences to do with the legal sector. What has become patently clear is that what conferences hope to achieve and what they actually end up delivering are very, very far apart. This is just as much a damning indictment on the legal sector as it is on the conference organisers themselves. I find it very hard to believe that any lawyer can, with hindsight, justify the one or two full days they have taken out of their schedule to listen to a way-too-diverse set of (usually mediocre) presentations that only serve to embolden the egos of the speakers (including me!). This is an industry stuck in the past and, like its legal customers, particularly resistant to change. Apart, that is, from one shining example.
ReInventLaw is a series of conferences run by Michigan State University College of Law, including one held in London last June, in collaboration with the University of Westminster. The contrast between this conference and one I attended shortly afterwards was stark. Imagine this: a room full of a couple of hundred people (average age around 35?), on a Friday afternoon no less, listening to 10 speakers, each with a brief to talk for no more than 10 minutes on some aspect of innovation in law, tweeting vociferously (search for #reinventlaw) and socialising afterwards over a few beers. Each of those speakers, of which I was lucky enough to be one, was selected to speak via crowd-sourcing on the conference website during the preceding months. There were a number of keynote speeches as well, including Richard Susskind (which no doubt was a big factor in keeping bums on seats until the end) and, poor blighters, a number of the law school students who spoke for 6 minutes each, with the added pressure of their slides automatically advancing. What come out of this was an enjoyable, high energy conference that delivered some great and innovative ideas. And that’s a big thing to say about anything in the legal sector, let alone a legal conference.
There is so much scope for every other type of conference (not just legal ones) to learn from the experience of ReInventLaw. At Source, we have our own mini-version of this with our ‘5×10’ events, which have 5 people speaking for 10 minutes each, all presented without slides. Both at these events and the ReInvent Law conferences, the audience enjoy themselves more, they learn some really interesting new things and have much better opportunities to network. Shouldn’t all conferences be more like this?