On February 11, the Association of Legal Technologists (ALT) held a conference called ctrl-ALT-del: Networking Rebooted. The ultimate goal of the event was to promote collaboration within the legal tech community via networking and workshops. In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Monica Bay talks to Richard Hellars about the goals of the conference and how ALT worked to achieve these goals through various speakers, workshops, and social events. They also discuss why the conference is important and the role it plays in a changing legal technology landscape.
Rick Hellers is the founder and executive director of the Association of Legal Technologists and the president and CEO of nQueue.
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Law Technology Now
Encouraging Collaboration at the ALT Conference
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Monica Bay: Welcome to another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. I am Monica Bay and today I am talking with Rick Hellers. He is the Executive Director and Founder of ALT.
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Rick, tell us about yourself, your day job and your new work at ALT.
Richard Hellers: Sure. I am the President and CEO of a company called nQueue. We do workflow solutions for law firms around the world. I have got offices on three continents and about 600 law firm clients that we have been working with now for about 15 years.
Prior to that, I spent time managing law firms both in the 80s and the 90s and also a little bit of time building a systems integration company, which I sold in 2002 before building nQueue.
Monica Bay: Wow, I am definitely blown away by all that stuff. Go back to the first one. Tell us a little bit more about what you are currently doing there. I am very interested in that.
Richard Hellers: At nQueue?
Monica Bay: Yes and what does that stand for?
Richard Hellers: nQueue is just the name of the company. We wanted something that would be clever and have people ask us what it was for and what it was about.
Monica Bay: And of course I did just that.
Richard Hellers: Yeah, no real rhyme or reason, we just liked the name and it rolled off our tongue.
Monica Bay: And tell us a little bit more about what you are recently doing or give us a little bit more of what that is now.
Richard Hellers: Sure. So nQueue started originally to change cost recovery. When I was at law firms I had bought both Equitrac and Copitrak, sometimes would buy the other when I was upset with the vendor that I had at the time. It was kind of like Coke and Pepsi. It was, you knew what you were getting, but it made you feel better by changing.
And when we entered the market we wanted to change the landscape of cost recovery. We wanted to take away the hardware and we wanted to do it through software. So we patented our technology and changed the landscape in cost recovery such that today both Copitrak and Equitrac license our patent and license our technology from us. Most of the hardware has gone away and it’s all being done through software at a much lower cost that allows firms to get a lot more information.
Monica Bay: Well, that’s very, very interesting. I have a burning question for you, is it A-L-T or Alt?
Richard Hellers: Well, the Association of Legal Technologists or ALT was created because over the years I continued to feel from my own perspective, but also here from people throughout the legal community that there was something missing with events. There was something missing with conferences. There was something missing with associations. And so in talking to a lot of my colleagues and peers and people that I have worked with over my 35 years in this industry, it became very evident that there was, not only a need for something new, but also an opportunity to create that something new together.
And so around October of last year ALT was formed. We have a Founding Circle, which are made up of a lot of great people and big thought leaders in the legal community, both within law firms, within corporate legal departments, but also within the vendor or as we call Strategic Partner Community. These are people that have been part of seismic changes in technology for years and they have helped law firms embrace technology and get the most out of it and now our Founding Circle is going to help get people within the legal community, most importantly legal technologists, connected together to help solve problems together.
Monica Bay: And you just had the debut of the conference, which you were very, very kind to invite me to come and it was fantastic.
One of the things that struck me and a lot of people were talking about this is you are talking about how there was change, and in quite a sense there was a big change at ILTA and a lot of the people had been at ILTA, but it seems to me that what you just said is just really right, it’s a time for shifting and changing and I was very struck by some of the things that you did in the conference, one of which, which a lot of people were talking about was when you got your lanyards, instead of having who you are or where you are, who you work for, it had two words.
The first name is big, the second name is small and that’s all that was on it. That was fascinating and a lot of people really got into it. Tell us why you decided that and who thought of it?
Richard Hellers: Well, our concept from the beginning has been that everyone is equal. Anyone joining, becoming a part of ALT, we don’t care if you come from the vendor or as we call Strategic Partner Community, from the corporate legal department, from law firms, if you are retired we want you to be a part of it. We want people who have experiences and ideas and a desire to help connect people and problems.
And so the name tag or the lanyard with the name tag, we spent a lot of time wanting to do it different and we spoke to a lot of people who gave us ideas, but also told us what they didn’t think worked at other events. And so trying to hold true to our core value of everyone being equal, we thought let’s just put people’s names and let’s use that to get conversations started.
And when the first time our group came together at our Sunday evening event, it was interesting to watch because everyone spoke to everyone. There wasn’t this quick look at the name and oh, I don’t want to talk to that person because they are a vendor, or I don’t want to talk to that person because they are with a small firm. Everyone spoke to each other. Everyone wanted to get to know each other. And you have to work a little harder at it when all you know is a person’s name, you have to work a little harder at it.
Monica Bay: I think the size of it was positive too, and you had an amazing group for a first time, it was 141 people there. I thought that was very, very good for being able to get people to talk like you were saying. I think that was really important. How did that help you in getting your goals?
Richard Hellers: Well, so our Founding Circle had been working together now since October to put the event together, select the speakers, arrange the topics and the tracks, and then to reach out to some of their colleagues and some of the folks that they have worked with over the years and invite them to our first event.
So our Founding Circle has been instrumental in making ALT a success already, and those include people such as Cathy Reilly, Kelli Kohout, Judi Flournoy, Michael Kraft, Ray Zwiefelhofer, Sally Gonzalez, Beau Mersereau, Jeff Brandt; we have got just a fantastic group of people who want to create something for the next generation, want to create something so that people can feel like they have a safe place to go and learn about the difficulties that this job is all about in the legal community and being a legal technologist. And so they worked very hard to make ALT something different, make it unique, but also create an environment for people to learn and leverage past experiences.
Monica Bay: I would definitely agree with you on that.
And speaking of the speakers, I was particularly interested in Margaret Hagan, who is at Stanford and she is the Director of the Stanford Legal Design Lab. I had seen her in some other things, because I am also at Stanford, and it was just amazing to see her work. What stunned on me was, I mean I have gone to so many conferences and usually the first person is doing the keynote and it’s just something less of an hour. She started at 8:15 and ran till 10, and then when the group broke into their two different tracks, she stayed from 10:30 to noon. I have never seen a speaker do a whole half day like she did and it was just so good. I would love your ideas about how they felt.
Richard Hellers: So again, we wanted to do something different. We didn’t want a few experts presenting information to the rest of the audience. We wanted to create interactive sessions, we wanted workshops, we wanted brainstorming. We wanted people to think through ideas and to figure out the solutions or the potential solutions. And so, introducing Legal Design Thinking enabled us to do that. It’s a different approach. It’s a different way of looking at the problem. It’s a different way of trying to sort out the solution.
And so Margaret Hagan as our keynote introduced Legal Design Thinking and then had a series of workshops to take our members through the process. And so time stood still, time moved very fast because everyone was involved, whereas most events you are involved, but you are involved in listening and there’s no interaction.
At the end of each of our sessions we also wanted to ensure that the audience shared their own findings, their own experiences through the workshop with the entire audience. So we had activities to conclude each event or each session so that each table shared what their conclusions were and what their thoughts were. And finally, we are working now on white papers to bring together the great work that the audience and our members did while together in Scottsdale, Arizona this February.
Monica Bay: I was curious as to, you built it into two different areas and it looked like there was a smaller amount in one of them and a little bit larger in the other, what was your goal for those two and can you tell our listeners about what they were, for the two types?
Richard Hellers: Sure. So we didn’t want to have so many choices that people struggled with how to spend their time. We wanted them to be pretty clear on what they wanted to achieve and we thought that having two tracks enabled us to do that.
The first track was DevOps or Implementing Technology and the second was the Changing Legal Landscape. I think if I am not mistaken we had about 65% choose Track 2, the Changing Legal Landscape and then the balance in the DevOps section.
We wanted some level of technology, which is where DevOps came into play and starting to automate the back end and the architecture and the plumbing and being able to take advantage of newer tools to make the challenges of managing complex systems a bit easier.
So a little bit of predictive analysis of what might be your next ticket and what might break and enabling firms to rapidly deploy new technology and get feedback from their stakeholders or users, but still be in a position to roll back very quickly in the event that they found something catastrophic. So moving forward faster with the deployment of technology is what our DevOps track was all about and leveraging the techniques and tools centering around it.
The Changing Legal Landscape was where a lot of the moon shot thinking came into play. We are all struggling in the legal community today with things that are only new to us just recently, terms like legal operations or artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain, GDPR, globalization of law, self-service legal, those are all things that none of us were talking about not very long ago. And today, we are not only talking about it, but we are having to embrace them and deal with them and sort through the problems associated with these new technologies and new concepts.
So our track of the Changing Legal Landscape did exactly that, it dove into what we call the big thorny problems, problems that people have been struggling with how to embrace for years but now they have to.
And so the sessions where people got together and figured out some paths forward was just — it was revolutionary, it was eye-opening. It excited people because they felt involved and they all learned.
Monica Bay: Yeah, I had the same exact reaction to that too. We are going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.
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Monica Bay: And we are back. Another thing as I looked at the whole experience and what we were doing is, I found it interesting that there were very little times where you could go like in the pool or something like that. The way that the day was set up was it started late at night on Sunday, when everyone arrived, a full day the next day and then it was done on the third day, where people could leave at about 2:30, so that most people could get home.
I thought that was really interesting because you fed people on every single one; breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have a feeling that that was very carefully designed and I would like you to share what you thought about how you kept everybody in the same place all the time. That was pretty amazing.
Richard Hellers: Yeah. I mean, we chose the venue very specifically and carefully because it has lots of history with legal technologists. We put the agenda together, again, based upon our Founding Circle’s tenure in the industry and having probably been to a collective couple of thousand events, and trying to put together the agenda in such a way that spoke to the positives and eliminated some of the negatives.
So first off, we didn’t have an exhibit hall, and in fact, our Strategic Partners, we asked to send people that worked with clients and worked with development and worked with other than selling. So a lot of our strategic partners were there to contribute and there to learn. We had a no selling rule. We are developing a code of conduct and one of that was if you are a Strategic Partner, come and sell the relationship, but don’t sell your company or your products. That allowed people to embrace things.
Monica Bay: But they did have a small number of people that I would say, maybe six or seven, sitting and having a little table there, was that something that they were asking for or how did that get put in?
Richard Hellers: All of our Strategic Partners were provided a table, what we called their home base, so if there was a little side discussion they wanted to have, they could use their table for that. If they wanted to lay out literature, they could do that, but it wasn’t ever manned in terms of a typical vendor hall and that was by design.
We started on Sunday night because we thought that it allowed people to travel in on Sunday, if that’s what they chose to do. Some came in on Saturday. We wanted to go all day Monday and partially on Tuesday, so enabling people still to leave on Tuesday and get back to their office and maybe even catch up and perform some work.
And so for a two-day event, we took people out of the office only one day and that was by design.
Monica Bay: I thought that was smart.
Richard Hellers: Yeah. No, thank you. We wanted to keep people together during the event, because another cornerstone of our values is, it’s all about networking. It’s all about creating those relationships. It’s all about getting to know someone so that later when you are struggling with something or maybe had a great success, a breakthrough in some new technology, you can pick up the phone and call this person that you spent two days with and either share your enthusiasm, excitement about the problem you solved, or boy, ask for help, have a shoulder to cry on, someone to commiserate with.
The problems that technologists in the legal community face today are bigger than they have ever been and there are often no second chances. Technologists today have to deliver immense value to their firm and yet the penalty for failure or mistakes is higher than ever before. And so we wanted people to get to know each other. We wanted to create that environment where true networking could take place.
Monica Bay: I think that was brilliant and with all the different things I think that it was so effective on that, especially on a first one.
Rick, I could talk to you forever but we are running out of time. Do you have anything else you wanted to talk about before we close?
Richard Hellers: Well, I would simply say continue to keep an eye out for what ALT is doing. We have some exciting programs that are being developed and finalized and will be released soon. We will be more than just a one event a year organization; we will be a home for people to connect people with problems, so that together we can achieve some fantastic things together.
So please continue to take a look at what we are doing and we want everyone to contribute. So if you want to join, please join ALT and begin contributing.
Monica Bay: And if our listeners want to reach you or to join, et cetera, how do they reach you?
Richard Hellers: Sure. So our website is HYPERLINK “http://www.altnets.org” altnets.org, is the best source of information and it’s being refreshed quite frequently. You can also join ALT through that website and contact our Founding Circle members and other people who can share more of the excitement with you.
Monica Bay: Well, I want to thank you so much and thank you very, very much for your time. And I also want to thank ALT for inviting me to the conference and covering my hotel and airfare. I really appreciated that.
This has been an edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network.
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