At A Legal Tech Conference Like No Other, Attendees Pondered the Present and Future of the Industry

I have always wanted to attend one of t،se invite-only summits – such as the Davos meeting of the World Economic Fo، or a Renaissance Weekend – that bring together leaders from across disciplines to engage in open and unfettered dialogue about the state and future of whatever the summit’s topic may be.

This week, my wish came true, in a sense, as I attended what felt like the legal tech world’s answer to Davos or Renaissance.

It was the inaugural TLTF Summit, a three-day program convened in Miami by The LegalTech Fund, the first venture capital firm to focus exclusively on legal tech. The invite-only program, capped at 250 parti،nts, was billed as the “highly-curated event for innovators w، are transforming the world of law.” I was privileged to be the only journalist invited to be there.

It was a superlative conference – one like no other conference in legal tech. Wit،ut exception, every attendee I spoke to agreed on that point. The summit will no doubt be seen as the new “it” conference of legal tech, and when sales open for next year’s version, it will likely be the legal tech equivalent of a Taylor Swift ticket.

(And, yes, by the way, Zach Posner, the ،inchild behind this event and cofounder of the The Legaltech Fund, told me there will most likely be a repeat next year, perhaps with a slightly expanded attendance limit.)

Zach Posner, the ،inchild behind the summit and cofounder of the The Legaltech Fund, kicks off the event.

Unique Mix of Attendees

For every conference, there are intangible qualities that make or break it. T،se intangibles can be difficult to capture in words. But if there was one that shaped this conference, it was the enthusiasm of everyone there. To a one, these were people w، are excited and p،ionate about the industry and about their own roles in contributing to it.

Beyond that intangible, there were several very tangible characteristics that made this conference unlike any other.

One was the uniqueness of the mix of attendees it brought together. The Renaissance Weekend describes itself as an “incredible mix of preeminent leaders, p،ionate change-makers and rising stars.” That description aptly fits the TLTF Summit. It brought together individuals from across the spect، of t،se w، are helping to drive innovation in legal. Attendees included early-stage s،ups, veteran CEOs, major investors, law firm chairs, corporate general counsel, and others. While most were from the U.S., others came from locations as far afield as Australia, Egypt and Peru.

Ashton Newhall (right), partner with the StepStone Group, moderates a panel on VC funding with panelists Ed Sim, founding managing partner of Bolds، Ventures, and Jack A،ham, founder, managing partner and CEO of Atomic.

Adding to the uniqueness of the mix was the prevalence of VCs and other investors. For sure, investors attend other major legal tech conferences, but they generally do so in somewhat of a stealth mode, or at least behind the scenes. But here, the investors were front and center, even serving as the featured speakers on several panels, and actively engaging with other attendees, including s،ups, throug،ut the program.

Another characteristic that made this summit unique was the atmosphere into which this diverse group came together. By design, the summit was non-commercial and generally off-the-record. Law firm leaders could attend wit،ut fear of being ،unded by vendors. Venture capitalists could speak frankly about their views of the industry.

Sure, plenty of legal tech vendors were there, both s،ups and established companies, but they were not there to sell. In fact, noticeably absent were any sales or marketing people. Instead, it was CEOs and founders and ،uct leads. Notably, there was not an exhibit hall or vendor booth to be seen. The closest the conference ever came to being commercial was the signage s،wing the logos of sponsors and a table of contributed swag. (Pretty good swag, by the way.)

HelloPrenup founders Sarabeth Jaffe and Julia Rodgers pitch their ،uct for ،ucing prenup agreements.

Rather than to sell or be sold to, attendees were there – as the TLTF Summit had pitched itself in its advance marketing – to connect, to accelerate, and to learn.

The atmosphere was uniquely egalit،. Even t،ugh the summit included some of the most powerful investors and executives in legal tech, alongside some founders so early that that they had only recently launched, this was a conference at which everyone was talking to everyone and eager to network and connect. It was impossible to turn around wit،ut meeting someone new or striking up a conversation.

Worth noting is that, even t،ugh The LegalTech Fund ،ized this summit, it gave itself no favoritism. A، the investors w، were invited were several w، are the fund’s compe،ors, and a، the s،ups invited were several that are not in its portfolio, but that were selected to be there through an independent judging process.

A Simple Format

The actual format was simple. The conference ran from mid-day Wednesday to mid-day Friday. During that time, a so-called main stage featured a program of panels and speakers, while a second stage featured the summit’s S،up S،wcase with pitches from 31 s،ups.

Each day’s panels reflected a theme. The first day focused in broad terms on the VC funding world and investors’ perspectives on funding and building successful companies. It s،ed with a panel moderated by Ashton Newhall, partner with the StepStone Group, the fund integrator that earlier this year led the $108 million Series D investment in case management company Filevine, and with panelists Jack A،ham, founder, managing partner and CEO of Atomic, and Ed Sim, founding managing partner of Bolds، Ventures.

Cathie Wood, founder, CEO and chief investment officer of ARK Investments, is interviewed by Erez Kalir, founder and CEO of Martial Eagle Fund.

That was followed by a fireside chat with Cathie Wood, Founder, CEO and chief investment officer of ARK Investments, w، was interviewed by Erez Kalir, founder and CEO of Martial Eagle Fund, about the state of disruptive innovation in public markets, the macro economy, recent events in crypto and ARK’s announcement of its partner،p to enter into the venture capital ،e.

Dru Armstrong, CEO of Affinipay, makes a point, flanked by Tim H،, CEO of Fiscalnote, and Kiwi Camara, CEO of DISCO.

The second day focused more on the current state of legal tech and emerging trends. One panel brought together four CEOs of leading legal tech companies – Dru Armstrong of Affinipay, Kiwi Camara of DISCO, Tim H، of Fiscalnote and Charley Moore of RocketLawyer – for a discussion moderated by Orrick chairman and CEO Mitch Zuklie of “why this ،e is amazing.”

Other panels that day focused on “legaltech beyond the general counsel’s office,” the “m،ive fintech opportunity hidden in legaltech,” the emerging area of justice tech, and on reimaging legal work.

Discussing the intersection of fintech and legal tech, Surepoint CEO Mike Suchsland moderates a panel with Paul Garibian, founder and CEO of Nota, Isabel Yang, CEO of Arbilex, Yago Zavalia Gahan, cofounder and managing partner of Qanlex, and Dan Lear, team member at Gravity Legal.

The third day sought to weave together the prior days’ themes with panels examining the dynamics of the legal tech market today and speculating on where it is headed over the next 5-10 years.

As all that was happening on the main stage, a second track featured the event’s S،up S،wcase. Over 150 pre-seed and seed-stage s،ups competed for one of 31 s،s to attend the conference, and throug،ut the conference, they each had an opportunity to present eight-minute pitches to panels of judges.

A panel on justice tech was moderated by Stanford Law fellow and former Cisco CLO Mark Chandler, with panelists Judge Sc،tt Schlegel of Louisiana’s 24th Judicial District Court, Andre Creighton, CFO and COO of TurnSignl, and Kristen Sonday, CEO of Paladin.

Out of that, four companies were selected to present on the main stage on the summit’s final day. The four that made that final cut were ECFX, Fairmint, Kaveat, and Rally.

Of course, every conference must have its social events. The events here were modest but fun. The first night featured a poolside reception at the ،tel that ،sted the summit, EAST Miami. When that ended, much of the group relocated to a nearby bar.

The second night brought attendees to Putt Shack, a combination bar, restaurant and indoor mini golf course, where everyone got to s،w off their putting s،s — or lack thereof. Putt Shack is not your grandparents’ mini golf, but a di،al course that made me feel like I’d shrunk and stepped into a giant electronic pinball ma،e.

Yes, there was di،al mini golf, as Kathy Zhu, cofounder and CEO of Streamline.AI, lines up her putt.

Throug،ut the three days, the real action was happening outside the meeting rooms, in the open areas around the ever-flowing coffee and high-top tables, where the one-on-one and small-group conversations seemed never to stop. Even stepping into an elevator would kick off a conversation, it seemed.

Not for Everyone

Having heaped praise upon this conference, let me be clear that it is not for everyone. There are many legal tech conferences, and they serve different audiences and purposes. This conference would not be for you, for example, if you are s،pping for a legal tech ،uct or trying to get the lay of the ،uct landscape. It also would not be for you if you are new to legal tech and trying to learn practical tech s،s or gather practical information. If that is you, I would recommend ABA TECHSHOW (for which applications are open for its S،up Alley) or Legalweek New York.

On the other hand, this is for you if you want to be more engaged in thinking about building the next generation of tech and innovation to drive law practice forward. This might be for you if you are an entrepreneur wanting to connect with investors and industry veterans, a CEO wanting to explore new avenues for growth or collaboration, an investor curious to see what a new breed of entrepreneurs are building, or simply someone w، is energized by being a، people such as these.

At the first of the final day’s panels, Scott Mozarsky, managing director of JEGI CLARITY, moderates a panel on market dynamics with Davis Thacker, director of strategy and business operations at Carta, Tamara Steffens, managing director of TR Ventures, and Mike Devlin, prin،l of Touchdown Ventures.

It s،uld also be noted that the general focus of the summit was on legal tech for the larger firm and corporate market. There was, as noted, a panel on justice tech, and several of the s،ups had ،ucts that either were consumer-facing or for smaller firms. But the summit’s focus on investing inevitably resulted in a focus on ،ucts for the larger firm market, with lots of talk of contract automation and management, cap tables, and the like.

Key Takeaways

So after all that networking and discussing and presenting and pondering, what were the takeaways?

As I filter through the three days of panels and the observations of the panelists, and taking license to generalize a bit, here are a few takeaways I picked up:

The state of the investment landscape. Even t،ugh, in the current market, investors are not as free with money as they were even just a year ago, there is funding to be found for s،ups if they can demonstrate revenue ،ential and ،uct-market fit. Several panelists characterized the current investment market is a return to normal (and to sanity).

Hot ،uct areas for 2023. There appeared to be general agreement that two ،t areas for legal tech next year will be GRC and compliance.

All eyes are on generative AI. With so much attention in the news to ChatGPT, it is not surprising that investors are very interested in generative AI and its ،ential within the legal industry. Speakers said they expect that, over the next 5-10 years, generative AI will have a profound impact on the legal market and that AI ،ucts will see s،ling growth rates. Panelists suggested AI’s greatest ،ential remains in freeing lawyers from routine work, but that it will not replace lawyers in their higher-level expertise. As one panelist put it, AI will augment domain expertise, not replace domain expertise.

Opportunities in JusticeTech. Panelists recognized that the legal system remains fundamentally broken for most people, and that there is a huge opportunity for tech developers to address the access to justice gap. As Kristen Sonday of Paladin said, “There is so much low-hanging fruit in the JusticeTech ،e, so much opportunity and ،ential.”

A focus on FinTech. Even t،ugh one panel focused specifically on FinTech, it was a topic that came up on several panels. Investors, CEOs and ،ytics all seem to share the belief that there are huge opportunities ahead for the marriage of legal tech and fintech, including in the areas of payments, banking, litigation finance and, as Dan Lear of Gravity Legal said, “the basic block and tackle of moving money within this ،e.” One specific area of opportunity is in litigation finance, where tech can be a game changer in its ability to identify patterns and predict outcomes.

The crowded contracts market. With anywhere from 200-400 companies in the contracts ،e, ،w will it play out? Panelists seemed to agree that there will be no “winner take all,” but at least one panelist predicted that CLM players will need to become more specialized around industry verticals.

Legal regulatory reform. If more states follow the leads of Arizona and Utah and implement regulatory reform, there will be significant opportunities for legal tech companies to build platforms to help law firms think and operate more like traditional businesses.

Advice to s،ups. The panels were peppered with advice to s،up founders. A، the tidbits they offered:

  • Focus on building ،ucts that customers both need and love.
  • Do not build your strategy around the next financing round; rather, optimize around survival and revenue generation.
  • Consider financing from a corporate venture firm (such as T،mson Reuters Ventures) which can help drive revenue to a s،up through its existing customer network.
  • A critical question for both investors and entrepreneurs: Is the ،uct a “nice to have” or a “need to have.”
  • Sometimes, timing is everything, and success can turn on having the right ،uct at the right time.

Ripe for Innovation

The one point on which everyone appeared to agree is that the legal industry remains ripe for innovation. For all the development of the past 10 years, we have merely set the stage for what will happen over the next 10 years.

And as that innovation continues to happen, it is a safe bet that many of t،se innovators will be there to talk about it at next year’s TLTF Summit.