By Kevin O'Keefe

Legal Tech Conferences Need To Improve Diversity in Speakers and Panelists

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I am becoming more and more cognizant of the diversity of legal conference panels – especially tech and innovation conferences.  

Sadly, diversity when it comes to the inclusion of women on panels is lacking. This is particularly striking when many of the conferences are put on for large law professionals and in-house counsel, both of which come from organizations championing diversity 

Eight years ago I chaired a couple conferences for PLI (Practising Law Institute). The first thing I received was PLI’s diversity policy. Permission was needed if you were not going to comply with the policy’s terms. PLI runs hundreds of programs with thousands of faculty each year. 

Last week I saw the below tweet from Bob Ambrogi, LexBlog’s Editor-In-Chief and Publisher, who was attending the Association of Legal Technologist (ALT)’s CtrlAltDel Conference.

Manel, as I found out while attending this year’s ALM Legalweek Show when commenting about an all male panel to a fellow attendee, refers to an all male panel. I found out from the same person that Wanel refered to an all white man panel – this would appear to qualify.

Two out of three panels all men. Made me wonder what the make up was for the speakers/panelists for the entire conference.

I checked out the agenda which listed the speakers and panels. Only 4 of the 24 speakers and panelists for the two day conference were women (17%). 

An embarrassment and a slap in the face to women.

And this from an organization that bills itself on its about page, in part, as “A collaborative “think tank” of people with diverse backgrounds focused on solving real-world problems.” (emphasis added)

I shared what I saw in a tweet.

These tweets from Ambrogi and I drew discussion (much more from Bob’s tweet) from leaders in the legal profession, virtually all agreeing with the comments on the lack of diversity here.  73 people liked Ambrogi’s above comments on the lack of diversity.  

ALT responded on Twitter a couple days later, after the conference.

I saw offering the panels up on a first come basis irregardless of diversity as an acceptance of lack of diversity — or maybe facilitating it. 

The response was that the tide is coming. 

Markedly better than ALT, but still with room to grow was Inspire.Legal, held ten days earlier, listing only 10 women among their 27 moderators (27%) on the schedule of the one day event.

Inspire had a separate listing of panel moderators on their website promotion of which 16 of 50 were women (32%).

Curious about ALM’s Legalweek f/k/a Legaltech held the same week as Inspire, I found 72 of the 165 speakers and panelists were women (44%). Pretty good.

I also learned confidentiality that ALM was doing what it could to diversify beyond just women (admittedly all I discuss here) to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and the other differences which make us unique. 

My companies, causes and programs have been far from perfect as to diversity. 

But as we move forward talking of innovation and technology, we need to expect and demand diversity in legal conferences and programs. Afterall, it’s the legal system which champions and defends diversity.

Perhaps it would help to call out programs lacking diversity, asking of the diversity of a panel and conference before agreeing to speak or serve as a panelist or question attending a conference lacking diversity.  

The conferences and the causes represented by the groups here are good. My purpose in posting on diversity was for awareness and asking for leadership on diversity by program and conference leaders — and all of us.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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