With mass gatherings off the table for the time being, how can the profession continue to network in large numbers? When legal technology trade shows were canceled, Rocket Matter CEO Larry Port put together a two-day virtual conference offering COVID-centric practice insights and CLE for over 300 registrants — with proceeds going to charity. Joe and Larry talk about the process of putting together the Rocket Aid show and the dos and don’ts of running a large online event that Larry’s learned from this experience.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Logikcull.
Above the Law – Thinking Like a Lawyer
Bringing Lawyers Together Under Lockdown
Intro: Welcome to Thinking Like a Lawyer with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, talking about legal news and pop culture all while thinking like a lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.
Joe Patrice: Hello. Welcome to another edition of Thinking Like a Lawyer. I am Joe Patrice from Above the Law and we are here again in another one of our weekly shows, as you are all familiar, having to deal with the new reality of not having a co-host all the time. The banter section has now become a time for me to blather all by myself and that’s just a little awkward.
But nonetheless, we have a great show for you today. But before we get into that, I have a couple of announcements.
One, I am going to announce a new endeavor that you all should get involved with, which is we are having so many episodes about COVID stuff and so many guests coming who have tangentially related material to talk about, so we are going to start another podcast you should look out for next week called the Above the Law COVID Cast, which will just be a shorter show that just is limited to COVID related material. So keep an eye out for that and we will have some more talk about some things impacting the legal industry from the plague perspective.
And I also want to thank Logikcull for sponsoring. Trying to cut costs? You are not alone. In today’s climate a five-figure e-discovery bill per month is steep. Don’t pay that. Use Logikcull to reduce expense and control your discovery process. Get started today for only $250 per matter and they will waive migration costs from competing platforms. For more information, visit logikcull.com/ltn.
Well, if you were with us last week when we talked to Nicole from Trellis, one of the questions that I brought up towards the end was about whether or not she is participating in any online tradeshows to get the word out, and part of that was because with all of these tradeshows canceled we have had to resort to new ways to get in front of each other and talk about what we are working on.
And so with the interest that was kicked up by that question I thought this was an obvious time to bring on Larry Port, the CEO of Rocket Matter, who just ran a virtual tradeshow basically called Rocket Aid that I was actually a part of.
And so first of all, welcome to the show Larry.
Larry Port: Thanks Joe. It’s great to be here.
Joe Patrice: Well, I guess let’s start with just introduction for people who are listening who don’t know who you are, which I would hope folks do, but Larry, talk a little bit about yourself and Rocket Matter before we get into talking about the show.
Larry Port: Sure. So I am Larry Port. I am the CEO and Founder of Rocket Matter and it’s a web-based practice management and time and billing platform. I started it back in 2008 and so we have been in this ballgame for a while and along the way added payment processing to it, so we have a company called LexCharge.
So really what we are in the business of is helping law firms become more efficient and helping them get paid. But we like to do a lot of fun stuff along the way.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. Well, this is a moment, we were actually just talking before we started recording, this is a real moment for the legal tech industry, because while we like to think lots of law firms have decided to get it and get with the 21st Century, one of the side effects of what’s going on now is that many firms that had thought well, I don’t need that fancy technological solution have now started to work from home and realize that they do need a much better set of tools to practice in the 21st Century.
So a lot of the stuff that you do, practice management, but also the stuff that a lot of folks who went to this Rocket Aid show d, are really important right now.
Larry Port: Yeah. Well, like an analogy that I heard that is a pretty good one is that it’s almost like you have water rushing through a pipe and if there is not like a lot of volume, you are not like aware of like the defects in the pipe or whatever, but you start pushing a lot of water through the pipe, all of a sudden you start seeing defects pretty clearly, there is water spurting out everywhere.
It’s kind of the same way with a lot of law firms. It’s like well, they kind of can get along with the old tools that they were using and this has kind of shown that it’s time to kind of get with the program.
So we are seeing a lot of law firms that are looking to modernize off their old legacy systems, their old servers that limit them to their mobility or where they can practice from, we are starting to see a lot of an acceleration of departure from that and onto cloud platform like ours. So it’s happening in legal, it’s happening across industries.
I mean I just saw in the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft had this like earnings report that was boosted in part because of how many people are using their cloud platform. So I mean it’s just everywhere.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. We are actually utilizing Zoom right now, which I think a lot of lawyers have come to know that particular piece of software lately, because it seems to have replaced a lot.
I have some questions more about that, but I think they fit better into transitioning into talking about the show. So several weeks ago when this first started I think maybe — we were only about a week or so into the lockdown era I think when you called and proposed that you thought we should run a virtual tradeshow and I said that sounds like a lot of fun.
And it’s something that grew out of the fact that many of the other shows that we go to around the year to bring under one roof all the folks who are working on legal technology solutions, bring lawyers who are potential clients in and just have a chance to play with what everyone is working on and learn from each other, those were being canceled as most travel and boondoggles are, and you said well, let’s see if we can handle this virtually, and at the time you brought this up nobody had really thought through how this would work logistically.
So what was it like to manage to pull this thing off logistically?
Larry Port: Well, first of all, I mean you were like a big help with this, because you were one of the first people I reached out to and you are like yeah, that seems to make a lot of sense. And other people that you introduced me to at Breaking Media were like yeah, that does make a lot of sense.
So I think I talked to you early. I think I talked to you like sometime — I was supposed to go to a tradeshow on March 18 and that got canceled and then another one that we were supposed to go to right after that got canceled, and I was thinking like geez, that’s a bummer for us because we get a lot of leads there, but also for all the people that — like we are not leaving our houses anytime soon and — I mean I know like how much fun attorneys have at these shows and meeting each other. It seemed like all right, well, maybe there is something that we could do to facilitate this and maybe we could put on a show.
I mean we have so much content. I have been doing like webinars and e-books since like 2009, so we have all this stuff about like running better practices. So I knew that like I could probably put together a conference with just our own content.
But then I started thinking well, you know, there is all these people that I know from doing this for so long, like Bob Ambrogi or Sharon Nelson and John Simek and Catherine Sanders Reach and like Jared Correia, all these like people that are very well-known in legal technology and I am like why don’t I reach out to them and see what they want to do.
And so the first step was — it really was one of these like let’s jump and learn how to fly on the way down. We didn’t know what platform we were going to use. We just knew that we were going to put it on.
So the first thing we did was we set up an Eventbrite page for registration and one thing I wanted to do was I wanted to make sure that people had skin in the game, because I know historically from doing this enough time that if people register for something and it’s free, you get about a 50% attendance rate. So then I wanted to charge something for it, but I didn’t really feel comfortable keeping any of the money so it seemed to make sense to do this as a fundraiser.
So that’s where the whole idea of the fundraiser aspect came out of. It’s like let’s get people to commit to attending this thing and we can at the same time raise money for people affected by COVID.
So all those were kind of like the elements that like started it, and if you like I can like tell you how we like solved all these problems as they came up in real time, because it was pretty crazy, it was a very intense couple of weeks. We put together the whole thing in like three weeks.
Joe Patrice: It was unreal and I mean my involvement in it was promoting it; I wasn’t involved in any of the logistical organization stuff and that’s really what I wanted to get into with you was, first because this was the first of these and may not be the last and we may have more of these, not necessarily run by you, but more of these in this industry, and not just legal tech, there may be other legal conferences, bar association gatherings and so on that need to operate in a virtual space.
And I thought let’s have a moment where we can like basically talk to Larry about what went right and what went wrong, so that if somebody out there is saying, I have got to put together the Nebraska State Bar Association Conference and I don’t know how to do that, it’s like well, here is a resource. So that’s really what I was hoping to get to.
So yeah, let’s start going through what happened in real time?
Larry Port: Well, I think — okay, so I have — before my software background I do have a film background, so I went to Northwestern Film School and I worked in the industry for a little bit. So I kind of approached the problem like what is this thing that we are putting on. I have never planned a conference before; I was on a committee once for like a CLE conference, but I have never really planned or chaired a conference before.
So I had the kind of like luxury of approaching this with a blank slate and I think if you are thinking about throwing a virtual conference, if that’s even the verb, if you are ever going to host one, the first major thing you have to realize is that you are not just doing a conference and moving it online.
The analogy that I give is like if you have ever been to a football game live versus a football game on TV, they are two completely different experiences. A professional football game live, that is super organized, like line of scrimmage when seen from like a different angle when you are actually at the field just looks like a total mess. There is junk people everywhere, like there is vendors, there is like — it’s a completely different experience.
When you see it on TV, everything is nice and orderly, you have these two co-hosts who kind of lead you through the process and that’s kind of how I wanted to think about this is that you can’t just assume that what works in a real conference is going to work in an online conference and especially if you are going to be doing 50 minute sessions, like that was one thing that really caught my attention.
I was like okay, we have got to figure out a way to keep people’s attention. There is no way that people are going to sit through two days of back to back 50 minute sessions, it’s not even human to do that. So it was very important for me that we explore this medium, really see what we can do with it. And I was aware that we were the first people out of the gate to do something like this, especially in the COVID era, and I wanted to make sure that we could maybe experiment and fool around and try things so that people could learn from it.
So we did six minute sessions that were prerecorded, that we played live during the conference. There were 30 minute sessions. There were 50 minute sessions too, like the standard ones that we are used to thinking about for CLE. So we experimented with a variety of sessions.
The other thing that I wanted to make sure is that we had networking lounges, because let’s face it, like the big thing that I think a lot of people want from these conferences are the networking lounges. So what we did is we wanted to have a platform that would allow us to have main content, but allow people to also go to networking lounges as well. We also wanted to have sponsors, so we wanted to have an expo hall and we wanted to have booths.
So what we had to then do is survey a variety of like online conference platforms, which was no easy task, because a lot of these platforms were completely swamped with inquiries because of what was happening with coronavirus. So we looked at like maybe six of them and I thought — I really did think about two weeks before the conference is that we were going to use something called Hopin. We heard a lot of good things about it, but when we explored the platform we kept on coming into dead ends that Hopin couldn’t provide that we wanted to be able to provide. I can’t think of examples off the top of my head, but we would come up with all these limitations.
And we also looked at something called runtheworld.today and we looked at about five or six other platforms.
But really what was important to us is that people were able to use the platform and not be surprised by the platform. So we ended up, and I think this is a very important principle, using tools that people were familiar with.
So both the speakers and the attendees used Zoom, so we decided to have Zoom as the primary vehicle for the actual content. Now, that meant though that we had to have like a different platform for the networking lounges and the agenda.
So we built a WordPress website, and I mean this is one of those things that we are able to do because we are web people and we are used to it. So we built a WordPress website pretty quickly, that had the agenda on it, it had networking lounges, and the networking lounges were really just video conferencing links that were powered by something called Jitsi, which is an open source video conferencing tool which I thought was pretty cool because it gave people the ability to test something else out that was other than Zoom.
We built the expo halls and the expo halls had little pages on them for each of the sponsors and you could go to the sponsor and see what offer they had; it had a little video on it. You could video chat with them using UberConference. UberConference is run by Dialpad; they were one of our sponsors.
And so you have this website that had a lot of the ancillary activity around the conference and then you had the Zoom calls.
So then it became, well, how do we make sure that this is a cohesive experience? How do we make sure that people don’t get lost? And that’s where the role of some technology came in and the co-presenters came in.
So I MC’ed the whole conference and I was able to direct people back to the website. We had the speakers go into the networking lounges after the talks, we tried to funnel people towards the expo hall. We also on the website had links at the top of the page like kind of a broadcasting radio icon for the live session so you could always click and join a session.
If you went to the Agenda page, there were big orange buttons say “Join Session” next to whichever one was live. So we really kind of applied some of our user interface goals that we know from running Rocket Matter to make sure that the visitors to the conference were oriented so that they could easily find the sessions that were in progress. They could easily find the expo hall and the networking lounges and really experiment and see the site.
And it ended up working because I know that like some of the people that we had on the conference were not the most tech-savvy people but they were able to participate and steer their way around. I mean, I could go on and on. There were some things that really worked very, very well, like we used a tool called Kahoot.
Joe, have you ever done a Kahoot or participated in one ever?
Joe Patrice: No, this is all brand name.
Larry Port: All right, so Kahoot is awesome and I would highly encourage people to use this especially in like an online virtual CLE setting. So all it is, is like this like online game show that everybody gets to participate in and it’s like really funny and they have music and little podium.
So — but what’s interesting about it is that you do your presentations, so like I did this with Dave Maxfield when we did something on running a lean law firm, and like let’s say that we were talking about cycle time. So cycle time is the amount of time it takes from the time you start a case to the time you end a case.
So then we ran a Kahoot and we got everybody participate, and the question is, what is cycle time, A, B, C or D? We had presented what cycle time was three minutes prior and like 40% of the people got it wrong.
So I think one of the major takeaways is that unless you make this thing really interactive, like people are going to just put it on as background music and like vacuum the house.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, well, there is something to be said for — the flip-side of that is I had a conversation in one of the networking rooms, the one titled The Hotel Bar. I had a conversation there —
Larry Port: You liked that one. You were always in that one.
Joe Patrice: Well, that seemed like the most obvious one for me to headquarter myself in. Anyway, so I had a conversation in there where somebody said that they were trying to get practitioners to join and that one of the common refrains of practitioners on why they couldn’t do it was, oh, you know, I don’t have two days like to commit.
And he said, well, but that’s the value, you can just get it, and if you can’t pay attention to one session, you don’t pay attention to that one, but the next one you’re there for, and you can just jump in and out, and it’s for the cost, it’s not like flying to some place where you feel like you have to go to every session because you’ve dumped so much money into it. With this was modestly priced, so if you really are only interested in like six or seven panels, go ahead and just pay attention to those six or seven.
So the flip-side of your people might not have paid attention to everything is that it might have been used by some of us as a way to coax in folks who were afraid that they couldn’t even bother to be involved in something that’s two whole days, because it’s not two whole days, it’s a bunch of small events throughout two days.
Larry Port: Well, yeah — no, I 100% agree with you and I think if I were going to do it again, I would try and maybe make that point a little bit more salient because I kind of assume that people might pop in and out of sessions. Like, we had one on running like Macs in your law firm and we had Victor Medina and Mark Metzger do it, who always do an amazing job, but clearly that’s not for everyone.
If you are like not thinking about running a Mac, there is no reason you should be attending this conference, and I put it around lunch that people wanted to kind of like, I mean, lunch is relative, right, because East, time zones, but I put that there so people could pop in-pop out, but people are like, why do I need to be in this session?
So I think presenting option out is an important thing, but I will say though that there is something about like forcing people to take part in quizzes when they are doing online classes is very important because we’ve started to use Kahoot internally for our teams. And so we two podcasts, I do The Lean Law Firm Podcast, I do the The 10 Minute Law Firm Podcast, and so during the meeting, I was talking about these two podcasts, then we did a Kahoot. I said how many podcasts do we do? 1, 2, 3 or 4? And like half people got it wrong.
So I think it’s like, I don’t know, I think it’s very good, it’s more fun, it’s more interactive. I do think and I wrote a whole blog piece on like what works and what doesn’t, I think having an MC is important.
So I was making a football analogy before but this one might be a little bit more appropriate. It’s kind of like imagine the Olympics so you have this like big sprawling event that’s like impossible to get your head around, but you have Bob Costas sitting there in the chair kind of directing your attention to this and that and linking all the events together.
I think you need that kind of person in the — as like kind of an MC and ideally the MC is like somebody like you or me who can be conversational, who can like say funny things when — we are not always very funny, but you know, I mean —
Joe Patrice: Right, occasionally.
Larry Port: Relaxed and conversational, not like okay, now we are going to go here and do this. I think it’s got to be lively. So — but having that kind of like linked person is pretty critical, I think in these.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. So are you — obviously you’re probably not doing a giant trade show again, but are you taking some of the lessons from this and utilizing them in other venues, well even if it’s small pitch meetings or whatever it is, are you using some of these lessons of this platform works, this platform doesn’t in your day-to-day business now?
Larry Port: Yeah, because not everything was 100% like not everything like worked the way we thought. We experimented with a platform called Toasty, and not to throw a toasty under the bus, but it just really did not work.
But the idea of the platform is pretty awesome and so we’re taking that and running with it. So the idea of Toasty is that everybody is in a main room and then you kind of have some icebreaking questions and then people were split up into subgroups and then in the subgroups they have conversational items that they talk about and then when everybody is reunited in the main session, then there can be discussion around that.
So platform was very difficult to get the work, couldn’t make it work, but we started experimenting with Zoom breakout rooms and we did this on day two at Rocket Aid, and it worked really well.
So Zoom has this feature called Breakout Rooms where you can — it’s actually an amazing user interface. You can specify how many — how large these rooms are, like they have three, four, five people in them. And so what we did was broke people out into like four or five person rooms and the thing was what was your biggest takeaway from Rocket Aid and then everybody resumed and joined the conference again and we discussed.
So I’ve been doing this with my staff. So in weird ways it’s almost like we’re having like better all team meetings now than we did when we were all here in-person, because not only do we do a Kahoot and make it fun, but we also are during these breakout rooms where people are like randomly assigned. So you have like an engineer talking to somebody from marketing or whatever and they are like, and we have them talking about like, oh, this, that.
So these breakout rooms are like really valuable tools I think that the Zoom platform has that I want to encourage people to do.
Also, one thing that we played around with that I thought was to a great effect is that, I wanted to start the conference really strong, because I put all this work into it. I didn’t want to just like turn on the Webcam and crank.
So when people were waiting to join the conference, because one thing that you know if you put on webinars is people show up like 10 minutes early, some people show up three minutes late. So like when you really start the webinar is always a question.
So what we did was I got clips on YouTube that just make people happy. So I got like We Are The World, I got Live Aid, so I got stuff that was like kind of alluded to big charity functions and stuff like that. And so, I would play these video clips before the conference began, like starting 15 minutes before, and so you join the conference and immediately you were looking at something that like kind of put you in a good mood and then we started the conference with the Star Wars crawl, playing off the Rocket Aid theme, and the next day we did like the disco scene from ‘Airplane’ and we did the Johnny B. Goode scene from ‘Back To The Future’.
So like it’s kind of you got to think about it like what can we do to kind of like jazz people before it gets started, and I think anytime I just do a regular hour-long webinar from now on, I am going to do that, because it’s — it just sets the right tone.
Joe Patrice: Yeah — no, that’s interesting. And I want to go back to the part where you were talking about the breakout rooms and having team meetings that are better than the in-person team meetings. While the application I could think of that is I remember as a young attorney sitting in the all group meeting for the big firm, it’s like 40 people all sitting there talking about what they’re working on and it was always difficult to follow what was happening, because it was just too big.
And I think like randomly assigning smaller groups of check-in, put a partner in each one to just make sure everybody is on the same page and feeling all right, like that could be really interesting, in a cross-practice area too. Yeah, that’s —
Larry Port: I think it’s — yeah, because what ends up happening is, is that if you just like — even if you do say, okay, split up into groups on your own, the engineers — like in my case, the engineers all sit together, the support people all sit together, like I like it when it’s cross-functional and you have these like different personality types.
I am thinking back, there is a couple other things that I probably should point out, especially for like the people planning like Nebraska State Bar Association Virtual Conference or what have you, right?
Joe Patrice: Not that we know that they are doing anything, like that was just pulled completely out of thin air.
Larry Port: I know.
Joe Patrice: I was imagining some poor Nebraska lawyer right now is going, wait a minute, am I missing a conference?
Larry Port: Wait a second, exactly. I watched like ‘Election’ last night, which was directed by Alexander Payne and like all his movies take place in Nebraska, so like, I mean if we — we could just make the second half of this podcast about Nebraska.
So the one thing I thought was like, we had incredible speakers and that’s like a major deal. So you can easily have like uninteresting speakers, but I think it’s like number one, is that we were very blessed to have — and the fact that it was a fundraiser, everybody was happy to participate because they were doing their thing, but — I mean we had people up and down, left and right if — you can email me [email protected] and I can send you the speaker list, but we had all the people that you would see at a major legal technology conference speaking.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Larry Port: The other thing is also is like, in order — I think it’s important to finally say this and maybe I’m jaded because I am a vendor. I think a lot of legal conferences especially like ABA TECHSHOW historically has not been welcoming to vendors speaking. I know that’s changed in recent years but for a long time there was a prohibition against exhibitors speaking, and think about like if you want to have a session on understanding cloud software, you could have somebody who has done a bit of research on it or you could have someone like me who is like built with his own hands cloud architecture.
Joe Patrice: Right.
Larry Port: So there is a motivation for having vendor speaking. I think in a virtual conference the problem is, is that there are no pens and stuffed animals to hand out in the expo hall. All there is, is like may be an offer. So people are not going to really visit that booth. There is no bar there, there’s no candy, there’s no pens.
So having the sponsors speak, I think is important, and having the speakers then be able to go into a networking lounge, that just gives it like if you’re trying to entice sponsors to participate in a virtual conference, that is going to go a long way to the Bar Associations that are considering things like this.
You don’t want people schilling from the podium. I mean, that’s inexcusable no matter what, but I think in order to give people representation, put them on panels or do what you need to do to get them in front of your audience.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. I mean, it’s always been of fine line, but I’ve said this for last couple years that the weird ways in which conferences are freaked out about giving a platform to the vendors is problematic, because at a certain point there is some level of knowledge that only the vendors can really adequately explain, and we kind of handicap ourselves as far as how we run these conferences when we don’t — when we make blanket bars against vendors speaking from the podium.
Larry Port: Yeah, I mean, and also I don’t know that it necessarily happens in other industries, like when I talk to friends that are in like advertising or this or that, they tend to be like haan, ah, that’s interesting, like that’s something that they are not that familiar with is that concept.
So — but yeah, we had Alvin, I am going to butcher his last name, so I am not even going to try to say it, but the CTO basically from NetDocuments. He gave a talk on cybersecurity and who better to talk about cybersecurity, and then the guys from Dialpad talked all about like modern telephony products.
So you get value out of it.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Larry Port: I mean, I think so, at least from my perspective.
Joe Patrice: Go on.
Larry Port: Well, the other thing I would say is, like I did see another blog post that, so there is a business conference that I go to, called Business of Software, and they had a virtual conference by accident, I think. It wasn’t like because of COVID, like they just did it for some reason before and they had a bunch of things that they rode up, and they are big believers in shorter conferences. I mean, we did — when we go from, I think we went from like 10 in the morning to 4 p.m., like I think a lot of people are looking at shorter conferences, shorter sessions, you see a lot of articles about people getting burn out from Zoom. So, I mean, I think that needs to be considered as well. I would look at taking more breaks in the next conference than I did in the current one we just did.
Joe Patrice: Interesting.
Larry Port: Yeah.
Joe Patrice: Well, I mean, we have been going on and we could probably go on even longer, but we should probably wrap up for folks. But I think this was a super-valuable download and kind of a debriefing actually for both of us because we haven’t talked a ton about what happened even though we both were there, how it played out and how things went, but it was a great conference and it was something we all needed to do both because we needed to do it for its successes and also to work out how we’re going to function as a group of legal people who like to get together for the future.
Larry Port: Oh, yeah, absolutely, and without a question we will do this again.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Larry Port: But, I mean Joe, the one thing I would say is that if I’ve had people reach out to me from different Bar Associations and if people do want to talk to me about my experience, we have a blog post on the Rocket Matter blog about it and also they can e-mail me [email protected] because it was a really worthwhile and satisfying thing to do and I’d be happy to share whatever lessons I have.
Joe Patrice: Now that’s great. Thank you for joining us today and thank all of you for listening today. You should be subscribed to the podcast, you should give it reviews, not just the little stars, you should write something. You should be reading Above the Law, following me on Twitter @JosephPatrice. You should be listening to the other shows of the Legal Talk Network. You should listen to ‘The Jabot’ that Kathryn Rubino hosts. You should also listen to our new Above the Law COVID Cast coming next week, because we will have some more content that like this kind of touches upon stuff that the legal profession needs to know about dealing with Coronavirus outbreak, and thanks to Logikcull for sponsoring the show, and with that, we will talk to you soon.
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