ALM charges sponsors to speak at educational sessions at LegalTech Show now known as Legal Week. Maybe not for all of them, but at least for the one in which I was asked to participate.

That may be standard practice for some conferences. In fact, we were told the $7,500 fee we would pay to have me moderate along with related fanfare that would reach about one hundred people was less than other shows charge.

I’m an old trial lawyer at heart. I like to know people’s motives when they’re presenting something. Why wouldn’t audience members of a pay for play conference feel the same way?

Imagine if someone at LegalWeek got up to introduce me and said Kevin O’Keefe knows a fair amount about this blogging/social media topic, but the real reason we picked him was that his money was good. Crass? But true.

Don’t get me wrong I like that ALM puts this show on every year. I am not sure who else would. It brings people from around the world interested in legal tech together in one place. And ALM can’t do it without sponsorship money.

The biggest reason I go to conferences is for the camaraderie. I like catching up with colleagues face to face and I enjoy spending time with customers and prospective customers. Relationships come first in business.

Educational sessions, though tough to find time for, can be excellent when led by people with a passion for a niche, people exploring new areas as part of their learning (take Fastcase’s Ed Walters “Law of Robots” at ClioCon) and entrepreneurs plowing new ground who share their experiences and know how with customers and entrepreneurs to be.

I’ve been going to ALM’s LegalTech Show for more than a decade. I have to believe ALM’s emphasis is on exhibitors and getting people to walk the exhibition halls. More money there than in educational sessions.

But educational sessions can be a big draw if they are exciting and led by people incredibly passionate about what they do.

Asking someone to sponsor a session, to find a few people as panelists and put up a sponsor’s table out front can be all it takes to suck the passion out of a speaker.

And what about the woman or man who has some kick ass idea or technology they’ve been working on out of their garage who’s funding their startup on credit cards? I did it and would have choked if I heard it may cost $7,500 to present at the “most important legal technology event of the year.”

ALM, if it wants its show to continue, should look for ways to up its game on educational sessions. It would’t be hard. Otherwise people and organizations will put on their own off site sessions in venues across the street from the Hilton.

And yes, we did turn down the opportunity to have me speak at LegalTech. As always I am happy to get together anytime. Just look me up — with $7,500 in my pocket I can buy a round of drinks.

  • Kevin, this is spot on. Perhaps even more challenging than the pay to play of the moderators — which means that smaller, newer, more disruptive technologies will not be able to afford to buy a panel — is that the panel participants are then all clients of the paid moderator. Is that really the best for the audience who are paying $1200/ticket for the content? The Exhibit Hall is free, as are the keynotes. Legaltech/Legalweek is a great opportunity to see many colleagues (like yourself) in one place, and I love that. But if ALM is not careful, the whole show will go bust as those pay to play spots dry up. I’ll join you for those drinks! See you next week.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kelly and let’s do have a drink – if nothing else to commiserate the Packers not being in next week’s game.

    • Mike Quartararo

      Actually, they are now charging $45 for access to just the exhibit hall hall and the keynotes. Folks I know we’re solidly annoyed.

  • Titus Rahiri

    Very interesting and very true! I have
    recently had the same disappointing experience with ALM/Legal Week who a few months ago invited me as a speaker at their Corporate Counsel Forum in Hong Kong next month. In return, they asked if I would assist with speaker selection and topics (including a panel on LegalTech and RegTech) – which I willingly did. We are a start-up in the legal space helping GC’s do ‘more for less’ , so I welcomed the contra-deal arrangement. However, 2 weeks ago (after confirming my recommended speakers and topics in the conference programme) ALM turned around and said as a ‘legal service provider’ I must pay USD$15k to speak (the same rate charged to international law firms)! I have politely declined with disappointment. I’ll be keen for drinks in future when Stateside – and I may organise parallel Asia Pacific drinks.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Titus. That is pretty wild you doing all the work for ALM and only after you do so, you are told that you need to pay $15,000. I guess I asked early enough after I was contacted and told I would be perfect for a panel on using the net for business development. I had been bumped from a panel by ALM years ago as a sponsor didn’t like me — so I knew to ask how much.

      I would welcome drinks one of these days. Looks like Korum is doing some interesting things in innovating the delivery of legal services.

  • Pay to play has always astounded me. I’m not sure if I am more gobsmacked by the chutzpah of event organizers at asking for the money or the willingness of companies to pay it. The same holds true for many of the “Best …” awards lawyers seem particularly susceptible at being hoodwinked into buying.

    While ALM may pad its revenue column by charging moderators at Legal Tech – after all, when it laid off a raft of senior editors at American Lawyer a few weeks ago, the company said it would be focusing on “new revenue sources and expense controls” – it destroys the credibility of its event (and, eventually, the publication) by doing so. I, for one, question the value of an educational session when I know the person and organization leading it paid to be sitting on the dais as opposed to being invited because it is Best Of Show in its category.

    • Thanks for commenting, James. Pay for play panels no doubt lack credibility, but the attendees don’t know it’s pay for play. For fear of offending people no one talks about it – especially the organizations paying.

  • Adrian Dayton

    Totally agree, I was also asked to speak- for a price. That’s no way to build great content. It is a sure way to get Lexis, Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg moderating every panel and keep actual innovators and interesting speakers miles away.

    • Thanks for the comment, Adrian. I think you’re right about leaving innovators miles away. Clio has a more interesting conference from a speakers standpoint and Legaltech Meetups like the one in Chicago everything bring some real innovators in Legaltech together.

  • Andrew Wilcox

    Love this article! If I had a nickel for every email or call that I get to present around the world to “potential customers that are hungry for my expertise”, but I have to pay my own way, fees and expenses..I’d have retired already. Seems like if you are charging attendees and sponsors, that is how you are able to hire compelling speakers to provide value to said attendees and sponsors. Otherwise these things are adult trick or treating.

  • It’s not just legal, Kevin, it’s a trend in the broad publishing market (ALM, UBM, CMP, Access Intel). It’s always happened, but in the last few years it’s become more prominent, because it makes money. The advertising model isn’t working, but events do. Therefore, the publications have essentially become break-even marketing for an event. Welcome to the future of trade shows, legal or otherwise.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Frank. It’s shortsighted on the publishers’ part. They don’t have a clue how blogging and social media work. I can create a bigger and more meaningful impact through social media than paying to speak. In addition small players without the legacy baggage of a publisher can hold better conference – ones with better speakers, better exhibitors and more attendees willing to pay more. Fortunate for some publishers is that many companies and their marketing/PR people are clueless when it comes to social media so they need to pay to get exposure.