Today, I attended Virtual LegalTech’s (VLT) March conference, produced by ALM Integrated Media Companies. I am not affiliated with VLT in any way, and am not receiving any sort of remuneration from VLT for writing this article. Instead, after attending, I felt compelled to let my readers know about my experience.
Self-described as a “trade show,” VLT provides presentations, vendor booths, online networking, chatting, blogs and more in a virtual environment that is designed to replicate a live conference or trade show without ever leaving your computer. Going into the conference, I must admit that I was skeptical that VLT would be able to deliver – with any degree of realism – the live conference or trade show environment. What I experienced, however, was that VLT not only replicated it – it surpassed the live conference environment in many respects.
Problem 1 – Scheduling Conflicts
If you have ever attended a major law conference with multiple course sessions – e.g., an annual meeting for your state bar or large law association – one difficulty you undoubtedly encountered was scheduling conflicts. You want to attend a meeting on new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but you also need to brush up on new court decisions affecting employment law. These courses are offered at the same time, so you cannot attend both. In a live conference setting, you have no recourse unless there is someone else who can attend one show while you attend another (which increases attendance costs significantly), or you have to rely on the availability of a recording of the session (which does not always happen).
The conference format offered by VLT solves this problem. Today, I was able to attend live webinars that were CLE eligible, while also attending on-demand, recorded sessions that I had missed or which conflicted in some way with the CLE courses I was taking.
Problem 2 – You Walk Out; You Miss Out
In a live conference setting, if you walk out in the middle of a session to go to the bathroom, re-fill your coffee cup, or go play some golf, you miss out on the information that is given during your absence. At VLT’s conference, because sessions were recorded webinars, I was able to start and stop the sessions to attend to other matters that came up as my day unfolded. In one instance, I accidentally exited the session instead of pausing it. When I re-entered the session, the system prompted me to “resume” rather than “restart” the session, so I was able to quickly and easily pick up where I had exited. This was a welcome feature, indeed.
Problem 3 – The Exhibit Halls
I hate crowds of people. In every live conference or trade show I have ever attended, there is an almost overwhelming array of vendors jammed into noisy, over-crowded exhibition halls or auditoriums. In almost every instance, visitors are given a woefully inadequate map that fails to adequately show one where the vendors of interest are located. Even when the directions are clear, one must still traverse the floors to find the vendor’s booth, and are generally pummeled by other visitors and over-eager vendors peddling the “next greatest thing” that is going to save you or your law practice.
VLT offered two virtual “Exhibit Halls.” When I visited these halls, I found myself in an interactive and dynamic setting that allows me to visit vendors’ “booths” quickly and easily without the hassles I mentioned above.
Below is a screen shot showing just a couple of vendor booths at one of VLT’s halls. In actuality, there were many more vendors with booths to chose from, which could not be captured adequately with just a screen shot. Instead, this is intended to give you merely a glimpse of what the virtual environment looked like:
Problem 4 – Cost Of Live Conferences
Attending a live conference or trade show is expensive. To begin with, you have to pay the registration fee. Then, there are travel and hotel costs. Even if these costs are manageable, one also must consider time away from practice, resulting decreases in billable time and the overall decrease in office productivity often caused by the “cat’s away, so the mice play” factor.
For these reasons, I know many lawyers that rarely take time off to attend conferences from which they would benefit greatly. Unfortunately, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, one must not spend so much time chopping wood that he or she forgets to sharpen the axe.
The VLT conference was free to register and attend; its costs were paid for by the vendors and other advertisers at the conference. I did not need to book a hotel or purchase airfare. I did not even need to get in my car. I was able to attend the entire conference from my home office (which I did in my PJs as a matter of fact), my own favorite coffee at hand, and dogs at my feet. There is no live conference that can replicate that!
Virtual Law Conferences May Not Suit Everyone
There were aspects of the VLT-type conference that one might not find as effective as a live conference. For instance, some people simply do not learn as well in an online setting as they do in a live classroom setting. If you are that type of person, then you may not have enjoyed the VLT conference format as much as I did.
In addition, there were minor tech “glitches” in how the VLT conference functioned. My main complaint here is that there was this incredibly annoying drop down window with “announcements” that popped just about every time you navigated anywhere within the conference. I found this window to be intrusive, and strongly encourage VLT’s powers-that-be to consider some other way of getting this information to attendees. I did not even see a ready way to stop this drop down menu other than “x-ing” out of it.
Aside from this complaint, I was tremendously impressed with the VLT conference. In my opinion, VLT is a shining example of what any law conference or legal trade show could be – regardless of the size of the conference or show – if our industry embraced technology more broadly and rapidly. I hope to attend future conferences, which includes an upcoming LegalTech Los Angeles Conference May 17-18, 2011 or the . Furthermore, I encourage you to consider attending future conferences.