This week saw the 30th anniversary of LegalTech West Coast, the legal technology conference that wrapped up earlier this week in San Francisco. More than an anniversary, it might also have been a turning point, marking a new level of energy and importance for this sometimes overlooked sibling of LegalTech New York.

I did not attend but I wish I had. From several who did attend, I have heard that this was the best LegalTech West Coast (LTWC) in years. Attendance was up. Programming was more compelling. Exhibitors were more plentiful and diverse.

I have to confess that I had come to view LTWC as of increasingly lesser importance in the tiny universe of legal technology trade shows and conferences. Every year, it seemed, I had been hearing from both vendors and attendees who questioned its value and whether they would return. Their concerns ranged from insufficient traffic and engagement in the exhibit hall to programming that was not consistently on par with the New York event.

This year, I am hearing just the opposite. From both vendors and attendees, I have heard that this was the best LTWC in years — that there was a level of activity and vitality unlike anything they’d seen in recent LTWCs and one that may signal a new direction for LTWC.

“Yes, there definitely was a charged interest in the show,” said LegalTech veteran Monica Bay, the recently retired editor-in-chief of Law Technology News who is now a fellow at CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics.

What explains the change? Certainly one reason has to do with its move to San Francisco this year after always having been held in Los Angeles. When the move was announced last year, Henry Dicker, the ALM vice president who runs LegalTech, said it was a natural step “as it moves us closer to the most innovative technology companies in the Bay Area, the epicenter of high-tech businesses.”

[Note: Earlier in my career I worked for ALM, the company that produces LegalTech, as well as with Henry Dicker.]

This week, I asked Dicker how he thought the move turned out:

LTWC was never just a southern California event and it did and still does attract attendance from all of North America and beyond. That being said, SOCAL was and is a key market for our legal industry so it was a tough decision and one not taken lightly by ALM. However, it is clear that the Bay and Silicon Valley is considered a community on the cutting edge of technology so the idea of bringing our LT event to the capital of emerging, disruptive and incubated technology was a simple one for us.

Undoubtedly, another factor in the energy at this year’s show was the involvement of CodeX. Last January, ALM announced a partnership with CodeX to provide “compelling new educational content” at the LegalTech shows in both New York and San Francisco.

At LTWC, that partnership resulted in three “Legal Disruption Lightning Rounds” in which legal-technology start-ups had five minutes each to present their product or service to a panel of judges. The “Shark Tank” like programs drew standing-room-only attendance. You can read more about them on Legaltech News and in Monica Bay’s CodeX blog post.

Dicker also saw this as one of the highlights of this year’s show. “Our continued relationship with CODEX is bringing attention to developers of emerging and disruptive technology products by underwriting the CODEX Innovation Pavilion and providing a platform for these technologies to be showcased both practically and theoretically.”

He also cited the LTN Innovation Awards and strong keynote presentations as other highlights. (See the Thomson Reuters Legal Current blog for a recap of the keynote.)

I said last year that I believe we are in a time of unprecedented innovation in legal technology. Given that, it becomes increasingly essential that legal-technology conferences highlight not only what is mainstream, but also what is cutting edge.

I am glad to see that the folks behind LegalTech have recognized this. By moving to San Francisco and by partnering with CodeX, it appears that they are creating a conference that bridges the worlds of established technology and innovation — and thereby making the conference more relevant and vital.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Did you attend LTWC? What was your impression? How did it compare to prior years? All comments welcome.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.