We often hear that lawyers are fearful of innovation. We often hear that lawyers are luddites when it comes to technology. We often hear that lawyers are horrible at business. We often hear that lawyers are miserable in their work.
So what happens when you gather 2,000 legal professionals who embrace innovation? What happens when you spend two days with 2,000 legal professionals who get technology? What happens when you assemble 2,000 legal professionals who are savvy about business and seeking to get even better? What happens when you are with 2,000 legal professionals who are energized by the practice of law and want to thrive at it?
What happens is the Clio Cloud Conference.
Last week in San Diego was the seventh of these conferences, presented by the practice-management company Clio. I’ve been at all seven. The first was an intimate affair of fewer than 200 attendees, but with an energy and vibe unlike any legal tech conference I’d attended. This year, ten times larger, the intimacy was lost, but somehow not that energy and vibe.
In the week since the conference, I have struggled to put my finger on what it is about this conference that feels so different, that creates that unique energy. The word I keep coming back to is “cult.”
Yes, the word cult can carry a negative connotation, suggesting blind adherence to a religion or orthodoxy. But it can also mean, according to Merriam-Webster, a great devotion to an idea or movement, such as the cult of physical fitness. Wikipedia says cults often form around “novel beliefs and practices.”
Within the stilted environment of the legal profession, the ideas that prevailed at this conference were, indeed, “novel beliefs and practices.” Within the context of a profession known for its resistance to change, having 2,000 people together at one time who share a great devotion to such ideas made it feel a bit like a cult.
But, let me be clear: this is no blind adherence. These are professionals whose eyes are wide open to the future of legal practice and to the potential for their own firms. It is a cult in the most positive sense – a devotion to the idea of being better in their practices and for their clients — a devotion to innovation.
In past years, I have been unabashed in my praise for this conference. After attending in 2014, I called it one of the best legal technology conferences I had ever been to. After the 2015 conference, I said that it was déjà vu all over again. I felt the same in 2016, 2017 and 2018, writing that it had “cemented its standing as a must-attend legal technology conference.”
This year was no different, even with its largest attendance by far and a move to San Diego, after two years in New Orleans and four in Chicago.
As I have said before, this is not a conference only for Clio users. While many attendees are Clio customers, and while there is programming designed for them, 30% are not Clio customers, and there is as much or more for them. This is a conference about practicing law, and about how to do it better and smarter.
But among all the attendees, regardless of whether they were Clio customers and whatever their day jobs, there was a palpable feeling of a shared interest in improving the practice of law and a shared understanding of the role of technology and business skills in making that happen.
One tweet I saw during the conference encapsulated this in a very simple way.
— Lisa Feldstein (@lisafeldstein) October 21, 2019
That’s it. These folks get tech, they speak the language of innovation.
In his opening keynote, Clio’s cofounder and CEO Jack Newton reaffirmed what he has described before as his company’s mission: To transform the practice of law, for good. “We want to make this our permanent dent in the universe,” Newton said, paraphrasing Steve Jobs’ famous quote.
The double meaning of that mission statement is intentional, aimed at both transforming law for the better and forever. The sense you get at this conference is that those who attend subscribe to that mission wholeheartedly for their own lives and practices.
I could tell you lots of details about the conference. I could tell you about the stellar line-up of speakers who delivered keynotes at this conference – Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist; Daniel Pink, New York Times bestselling author; Shaka Senghor, bestselling author of, Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison; and Deanna Van Buren, cofounder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces.
I could tell you about the two days of diverse programming, with presentations on client service, inclusion and diversity, productivity and profitability, management, social media, branding and marketing, and lots about technology.
I could tell you about the parties — all-out affairs with food and drink and music, one night at the Prado, a classic Spanish-style building in the center of San Diego’s Balboa Park, the next night at the Beach House, a sand-between-your-toes club located right on Mission Beach, complete with complimentary Clio-branded flip-flops.
I could tell you about the new additions this year, including my favorite, the podcast alley, where I recorded interviews for my LawNext podcast alongside a row of podcasters that included the Zaviehlaw Podcast, Clio’s own Matters podcast, and an array of hosts from the Legal Talk Network.
But again this year, as in every prior year, the not-so-secret ingredient that defines this conference is the people it attracts to attend it. At this conference, there is an undeniable energy, a unique vibe. The theme this year was Thrive and that may be the perfect word to sum up the atmosphere.
In their devotion to improving the practice of law, in their devotion to thriving in their own practices, the people at the Clio Cloud Conference make it feel almost like a cult. But it is a cult in a purely positive sense, a cult that is sorely needed in law, a cult of innovation.