Bob Ambrogi channeled his inner Yogi Berra last week in a column entitled “déjà vu All Over Again“. In it, he recounts how a week before the ILTACON18 Conference, that organization announced that CEO Dan Liutikas was resigning effective Aug. 31 and will not attend the conference. Two years ago at this same time, longtime ILTA Executive Director Randi Mayes announced her retirement. She was replaced by Dan, who last year at this time, announced that he was replacing Peggy Wechsler who, as Director of Programs and Strategic Relationships was the primary organizer and well known and widely admired public face of, the annual conference.
Dan’s tenure had been rocky, beginning with his stormy relationship with Peggy and the ill-advised, IMO, timing of letting her go a week before the opening of the conference she had spent all year planning. Especially since she had previously said, albeit informally, she was considering retirement at the end of 2017. That type of handling of a long time and valued employee set the tone for his tenure.
The reaction of a good portion of the membership was best captured in an open letter sent by Rick Hellers President & CEO of nQueue and a founding member of ILTA. Hellers eventually left ILTA to launch of a new organization named the Association of Legal Technologists (ALT) but before that his letter to the ILTA Board made several points:
- Will ILTA remain peer-to-peer or continue to move towards a hierarchical approach?
- Will the organization focus more on its members or on its revenue?
- Will it emphasize education or will it continue to scratch the backs of the largest law firms?
- Will ILTA’s leadership once again walk the walk and refocus on its Statement of Purpose and Core Values?
He concluded by saying, “ILTA’s trend toward commercialism has been obvious. Educational sessions at ILTACON used to be mostly about solving specific problems and led by those who have done so. Now they are often panels led by unprepared “big names” from big firms who simply pontificate.”
“Simply put, we are concerned that ILTA has lost its way.”
I had been around ILTA since the late 80’s when it was still VSLUG, a WANG VS system users group. I was living in San Diego and had met Browning Marean, who asked me to go to meetings with him. It was everything a user group should be: fun, educational and focused on solving users problems. They incorporated the group around 1985 as I recall and by 1992 many users had expanded well beyond WANG systems, leading to a name change to LawNet. Several years later they became ILTA.
That original user group was a support group for VS users but it evolved into a strong peer to peer network. Even today the organization’s statement of purpose: “ILTA provides the premier environment for peer connections, education and collective intelligence to leverage the strategic advantages of technology in the legal profession.” But as Dan stated that purpose seems to have been lost.
Beyond internal organizational uncertainty, here’s another good example of lack of clear institutional focus: the curious ILTA attitude towards bloggers. This year a number of prominent bloggers who had been long time supporters of the group and its conference were surprised to find that their application for a press pass to attend and report on the show were denied.
Two stood out to me. First was Craig Ball, who called ILTACON the “best conference ever”. In 2013 ! Second was Chris Dale, who was allowed a pass for himself but not his longtime videographer, who we all know better as his son Charlie. That combined with the fact the “press corps” were not given rooms in the Gaylord made the prospect of lugging video equipment in and out of the hotel every day part of what Chris described to me as ” …. an indicator of a changed climate, and the last straw.” He (and Charlie) will not be there.
Why the cold shoulder for these long time supporters of ILTACON? Well it seems to now qualify for a press pass (which includes bloggers) you must ” … work for a publication, news service, broadcast outlet or news site that is regularly issued and published primarily for the dissemination of news, and operates independently from any commercial, political, government or special interest. Only media whose primary responsibility is the coverage of the legal, legal technology, technology industry, workforce tech issues, and related news will be considered for credentials.”
So only a writer for an entity that primarily disseminates news, has no commercial interest and covers primarily legal can qualify? Which means if I were, say, the technology columnist for a regularly published newspaper like the New Orleans Advocate or the Boston Globe, I wouldn’t qualify. Not exclusively legal.
Which explains why ACEDS, a non-profit membership organization for eDiscovery certification testing doesn’t qualify (disclaimer: my wife is their blogger and she was turned down) But wait, a technology writer for the ABA Journal does qualify? Both are non-profit membership organizations.
CORRECTION: On 8/16, Mary Mack informed me that “ACEDS is a for profit LLC, part of the BARBRI Group family of companies.” So despite their exclusively legal technology focus and membership, their blogger is excluded because ACEDS has a commercial interest.
And non-commercial? Craig and Chris’s staff don’t qualify but Kevin O’Keefe does? I could have sworn when Kevin says he provides “Strategy, professional design, platform, coaching, SEO, marketing and free ongoing support.”, he was describing a business. Now granted, Kevin has LexBlog, which IS a major legal news network. Of bloggers.
So maybe it’s just plain ole bloggers that ILTA doesn’t like. But really, I thought the point of blogging was that blogs gave independent viewpoints and were NOT part of major news network. I mean if you look at the ABA Top 100 Legal Blogs, only ATL, Law Sites and maybe 3 Geeks and A Law Blog (oops, no, I was just told they were turned down as well) and the SCOTUS blog, although the last isn’t really a news organization, would qualify. So two, maybe 3, of the ABA Blawg 100 Hall of Fame make the cut.
And in this year’s ABA top 50 blogs? I’d say BigLaw Business qualifies altho Bloomberg covers much more than just legal technology but OK let’s give them that one. One.
I don’t think ILTA knows what a blog is and why they were started and just how many there are in our space. Or more importantly, how influential they are and how much good press they provide. You know. Like a member benefit. At no cost to them. But using the ABA definition of “journalists” shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what a blog is. Not to mention following the lead of an organization that has seen their market share of lawyer members cut in half over the last several decades as current and prospective members complain of lack of meaningful content, overly expensive meetings and unwieldy technology.
Or maybe they do know and just don’t care. Maybe they don’t want to give out free passes and just want to make money on every admission fee possible. After all, they have 25,000 members. The problem is they only get about 1800 to attend. Less than 10% of their membership. Seems like they could use a Jenny Jones Social Media makeover from someone like Kevin O’Keefe instead of concentrating on what Rick Hellers called “… The overall trend towards commercialization…” while simultaneously alienating some of their greatest friends in the extensive legal social media space.
Like me. Because right now instead of going to ILTACON18 I’ll be going to a Maryland CRAB Fest. The Conference Really Against Bloggers. Oh and here’s a news flash. Those publications and news outlets. They’re dying on the vine and being replaced by, you guessed it, bloggers.