Some Design Notes on FutureLaw 2013

§ March 4th, 2013 § Filed under Conference, Firm Opinion § 1 Comment

After a few months work under the watchful eye of my robot superiors billing hours, I’m happy to announce that we’ve largely finalized the run of show for the conference that Robot, Robot & Hwang will be curating at Stanford Law on April 26th with the Stanford Center on Legal Informatics.

FutureLaw 2013, as it is now being called — features a host of sessions I’m thrilled to be able to bring together.  You can see the latest updated schedule here.

Also: registration has officially opened, and you can pick up a pass here. Worth acting soon — registration has been humming along, and the price will rise on April 1st. We also have a limited number of comp passes for friends of the firm that we’re happy to distribute, just drop a line to

For those who are interested (and because our offices have been getting some questions from the public), I thought I would post up here some general remarks on the design of the upcoming conference, what the goals of the event are, and how the selection of topics came together into the resulting five panels and two keynotes that will be the day’s content on April 26th. More after the jump.

Conference planning is fun largely because it’s a chance to bring together communities of people who wouldn’t usually get a chance to meet. It’s particularly fun because you can then get those same people to talk about things they might not usually have a chance to nerd out about with others. This one was particularly the case with FutureLaw’s spiritual predecessor — the 2011 New and Emerging Legal Infrastructures Conference (NELIC) run by the firm — which laid down a template that we wanted to adapt and improve upon. Our task with FutureLaw was to update this to capture all the huge changes that have happened in the past two years. And a ton has happened.

FutureLaw has stuck to three design principles —

  • Curation: FutureLaw will cut out the usual product sales pitches and weak, simplistic sound bytes of the usual legal technology trade shows. Instead, we’re opting to bring together relatively small panels (usually no more than three panelists per session) to dive deep into the substantive questions posed by the latest developments in legal technology. Accordingly, we’ve arranged for ample whitespace for those conversations to continue between speakers and the audience.
  • Bring Makers: Moreover, the conference actively aims to bring the makers. We’re making a point of bringing speakers who are contributing to the space as researchers, technologists, entrepreneurs and investors, not just commenting or speculating on where things are going. We’re also making an effort for the audience to be much of the same.
  • Forward Looking Content: FutureLaw will give center stage to developments that aren’t already being widely covered in the wide world of “legal technology” writ large. When the topic is mentioned, technologies like e-discovery and alternative dispute resolution invariably arise. People have talked these spaces to death for years, there are pre-existing conferences for them, and — truth be told — the conversations are usually kind of boring. Our curatorial posture was more forward-looking: what are the technologies and challenges that are less recognized and more nascent that will ground the next decade of innovation in the space? Or, more generally: what awesome things are people working on that should be shared more widely?

That speaks to format. Content will be more of a distinct shift from the 2010 NELIC. Whereas NELIC focused on the more passive question of what is happening, FutureLaw will focus on where does the community goes from here.

I think that is increasingly the critical question. There’s clearly a ton of energy in the space: people are deploying code, companies are growing, and investors are investing. But change doesn’t just happen magically because these many component activities are in the mix. The community around legal technology will have to bump up against (and overcome) numerous institutional and market challenges if it wants to have as outsized an impact on the legal system as many of the communities represented at FutureLaw presuppose.

This is both a thicket of technological problems — i.e. what problems are the most interesting/tractable/impactful — but also a thicket of business questions — i.e. what does the community need in order to continue growing. The training curriculum for contributors to the legal technology space, and the  pipeline that will put their skills into action, for instance, remains an open question as the companies in the community grow and the demand rises for human talent. These sorts of common infrastructure are what needs to be put into place if legal technology is to avoid being a mere curiosity in the legal industry and the law at large. As an ecosystem, robustness will depend on factors beyond the ability for any one company or individual to control.

That’s where the discussion part of FutureLaw ends, and the scheming part of it begins. The community so often has precious little time to plan and talk about the big picture problems on the horizon, much less share ideas and experiences about what will work and what doesn’t against these structural challenges. The outcome of this may take the form of explicit collaboration, inspiration about what needs to be built, or simply talking through the problems at hand.

Those are how the panels have been developed: each is designed to be a kind of jumping off point for this flavor of discussion. Each session takes a slice at a distinct cluster of questions on the systemwide level of the legal technology community, and focuses discussion on what comes next.

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