Last month I was invited to present on a panel at next month’s LegalTech New York put on by Incisive Media, the owner of American Lawyer Media (ALM).

In that LegalTech is one of the premier legal technology events of the year, I readily accepted. It was an honor to be invited. I was to appear on a panel in the trek on how to use ‘Web 2.0 Technology to Gain a Strategic Advantage for Your Practice.’ The person from Incisive went so far as to say they were really excited to have me on the panel.

A week or 10 days ago the organizers of LegalTech called and for the first time told me that as LexisNexis is the sponsor of the panel, LexisNexis must give final okay on presenters. I took that as formality. I’m known as open commentator on products and services in the legal industry, but criticism of companies has never resulted in my being un-invited from presenting.

This morning I get a call from an Incisive Media employee that they’re very sorry but that the panel I was invited to speak on was full. They ‘didn’t know what to say,’ but were ‘very sorry.’

I responded that it appears that LexisNexis, the sponsor of the panel, did not want me on the panel because of my recent commentary on LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell so bumped me. I doubt they ran out of chairs. Their response was basically ‘can’t comment on that, there’s a lot of politics involved.’

I’m sure my comments have kept me off programs before. And I’m sure it’s happened to others as well.

It’s not a Kevin O’Keefe ego thing. I’ll go to LegalTech and enjoy the camaraderie and the networking. I’ll probably attend the session I was to present at. But there’s a much more important question.

Does LexisNexis, via the position it holds in the legal industry, curtail innovation in the legal industry? Consider these points.

  • LexisNexis is one of, if not the largest, sponsors of legal industry conferences and events.
  • LexisNexis may be one of the largest advertisers in Incisive Media – American Lawyer Media publications and one of the largest sponsors of LegalTech.
  • Any innovator in the legal vertical knows that to openly criticize LexisNexis will result in your being blacklisted from speaking engagements at events sponsored by LexisNexis.
  • Innovators without huge advertising budgets like Martindale-Hubbell require the exposure speaking provides them.
  • Innovation in other industries comes in part from open debate and discussion, often at conferences highlighting the innovators and their ideas.

LexisNexis should begin to realize that criticism from commentators like me is a good thing. You sure don’t learn anything from the guys that say you’re doing everything great.

Before LegalTech 2008, I challenged LegalTech to do more to empower bloggers to blog live from LegalTech. Monica Bay, editor of ALM’s Legal Technology News, commented to my blog post that she was puzzeled by criticsim of ALM in that she viewed the company as a pioneer in legal blogging.

I responded to Monica the same way I still feel.

When I post criticism it is meant to promote discussion and possibly action on innovative items. Generating such discussion improves services, to the benefit of customers and the vendor, which in this case is the ALM.

An open conversation on the Internet involving customers, commentators, and innovative corporations seeking to improve their products and services by the taking part in this conversation is key to an industries growth. With the Web today, marketing is in fact a conversation. And this conversation and debate can be done in a constructive way.

I have an excellent relationship with Monica Bay. And though it’s admittedly the result of Monica’s work, LegalTech is going all out for bloggers this year. Bloggers are getting complimentary passes and reserved space up front in each seminar room.

Shame on LexisNexis here. For chilling some entrepreneurs from bringing needed innovation to the legal industry. And for giving the appearance you are unduly influencing Incisive Media, which as the leading legal press, should be free of your influence.

  • During my many years at LN, you (Kevin) and I weren’t always in agreement in our many discussions, public and private, but I know we both enjoyed the repartee. I was the face of one of the divisions for many years (one of the few LN executives actually visible in the legal community) and I understood that criticism comes with the territory. Not sure LN has the same understanding or tolerance now. After all, this is the company that continues to try the “buy product A from us or we refuse to sell you product B or C” tactic. Without question LN at times overestimates its influence – few clients, prospects or innovative competitors spend much time each day worrying about what LN is doing. And while there are often switching costs, there are alternatives and substitutes for all that LN offers.
    In the instant example, as a sponsor LN has the right to deny you a bully pulpit where you may (or may not) bash their products or policies. Stacking panels with friends and family happens every day and I have no problem with it. What they may overlook is that you already have a bully pulpit, and while including you on a panel isn’t going to “buy” your silence or secure your public endorsement of their policies/products, excluding you from the panel certainly won’t win them any PR points and certainly doesn’t reflect a willingness to engage in constructive dialog.
    I left LN a couple years ago but because LN and I have some unfinished “business” I am generally mute. (I could earn a helluva living counseling clients in their LN negotiations or alternatively help LN articulate its message to the legal marketing community of which I’m a visible participant.) But I’ll break my self-imposed silence to say this: The LN client development group (which includes Martindale) has some bright people with some bright ideas, some that even this community would consider highly innovative. The brand is not dead by a long shot! But its ability to act is constrained by its parent company’s constant cost-cutting, endless hand-wringing caused by years of unsophisticated execution by its sales leaders and an inward-facing culture rather than a customer-focused culture.
    My advice to LN leaders — make capital investment in the client development business (at lower margin expectations) priority one, and open the kimono and make engaging marketplace thought leaders in their forum, not yours, priority two.
    My advice to Kevin — keep pushing the buttons, but recognize that there’s a way to do so constructively so everyone gains, and a way to do so that comes off as a vendetta, where the message is lost because of the style of delivery.

  • Points are well taken Tim.
    MH does have a strong brand and some fine people. Agree wholeheartedly that LN’s reducing expected returns to relieve undue pressure on management could result in good long term gains. It’s not realistic to expect the profit margins a directory used to realize when every firm in the free world felt pressuredto be in it.
    I’m open to a dialogue with LN MH, but to have a conference you sponsor invite presenters and then tell conference employees to later bump a presenter who’s already accepted is low class and speaks the world of the LN organization today.
    LN appears inept at handling the Web 2.0 world when it comes to PR and social media. This is another example. Twitter discusssion among lawyers and legal professionals on this issue went all against LN. Rather than get involved as any innovative company would today, LN ignored the discussion.
    This at a time when LN MH wants firms to buy into its Web 2.0 client development. Seems nuts.

  • Kevin.. welcome to the world of constructive criticism and lexis..
    my experience of lexis is simple – re- hash their press releases and they are happy
    write or say something with an independent viewpoint .. that (gosh) might even criticize them and then they act like a 5 year old
    eg: it is automatically assumed you hate them
    I’m told by many colleagues and contacts in the legal library, KM and legal publishing world that lexis mnagement think i hate them and have some sort of mafia vendetta against them. True i’m not a fan of their corporate culture and the way they deal with their clients .. but happy to admit they have decent products.
    What i don’t understand is why such a huge organisation is afraid of dealing with independent media or individuals who don’t praise them at the drop of a hat
    my personal view is that until a few of us started publishing online a few years ago – and opening some of the doors that illustrate how all the major legal publishers operate.. there was zero reporting on the legal publishing industry – now there is a modicum of reporting they seem to be unable to deal with the reality that many other industries have to deal with – eg the finance industry.
    I have been publishing LLN/eu for almost 7 years and not once has any level of mangement at west or lexis offered to speak with me..or returned calls. I gave up about 3 years ago trying to contact them.
    It’s a shame really .. but there you go
    Sean Hocking

  • LegalTech Dirtied by Lexis Lucre (Update)

    You know something is for real when some corporation uses its cash to drag it down into the gutter.

  • Seems to me that LexisNexis are in desperate need of some PR people with a bit of experience in the Web 2.0 arena. Not just web 2.0, but people who realise that the world is a whole lot more transparent these days and they can’t control every message.
    Honestly, after the Martindale Hubbell incident did they really think that uninviting a prominent blogger from a conference was the best response? It’s only providing more fuel for the fire, as well as making them appear petty.
    I believe they have missed an opportunity to engage with you in a constructive manner, as well as putting Incisive Media in a very awkward position.
    I expect Timothy is right, and there are people in LexisNexis shaking their heads over this decision.