After Going Virtual, ILTA’s Sense of Community Is Alive and Well

For a conference that was forced to go completely virtual despite its best intentions, ILTA>ON 2020 lived up to its name.
The inaugural online event drew many of the usual suspects from the legal tech circuit. Amidst major Zoom fatigue, ILTA was able to do something that many other events haven’t – maintain a sense of community.

This was clearly not an easy feat for the organization, whose annual ILTACON event is known to be the epicenter of legal buying and schmoozing, and is held each August in fun locations like Las Vegas, Orlando, and Nashville and sometimes in arguably less fun places (I’m looking at you, National Harbor).

Even though the physical ILTACON of years past was a massive conference, it was very much defined by the camaraderie developed amongst attendees new and old.

Of all the virtual conferences he has attended post-pandemic, legal blogger Bob Ambrogi said ILTA>ON has done the best at keeping that sense of community alive. “Even though we are all interacting virtually, there is somehow still an almost-intimate feel to it all,” he said. And I certainly agree.

Something a lot of us have pondered over the last six months is how to keep relationships thriving and growing despite the limitations on in-person interactions. Undeterred by presenting virtually, on Day 3 of ILTA>ON my colleague Nate Jenks spoke as part of a marketing panel focused on using data-driven strategies to build new business. He found it felt surprisingly “normal” and appreciated the chance to exchange insights with other data-focused professionals.

In the era of COVID-19, many of us are learning new ways to connect with clients, share our messages and, most importantly, reach new buyers. Virtual events provide new opportunities to explore happenings in industry sectors you might not have otherwise had the budget or time to investigate in the past. Online communities also are flourishing and allow us to interact virtually with peers in ways that remove the barriers of time and travel.

While I still yearn, as we all do, for the days of face-to-face interaction, the relative ease with which we’ve all been able to pivot amidst this uncertainty should give us all hope for the future. ILTA>ON has shown the legal industry that it’s possible to stay connected, learn from each other and grow professionally, even if we are sitting in our living rooms.

While there is no real “end game” in sight as we think about the conference season of 2021, I look forward to the time when we can be in a room full of people again. Yet I can’t help but to think there is no turning back and there will always be a virtual dynamic to events in the future. Going virtual opens the door to a wider audience and allows anyone to drop in on sessions while still attending to their day jobs.

What do I miss most? The random encounters with old friends and the chance to meet new acquaintances. No Zoom meeting will ever substitute for a live conversation, the experience of sharing a meal together or even just casually meeting for a drink.

When and if conferences return to the in-person format not seen since Legalweek 2020, ILTA has shown that a virtual event can offer unique benefits to attendees and speakers. Even sponsors I’ve spoken with said they have been able to secure quality meetings and continue to nurture relationships, albeit from a distance. The absence of logistical planning may have also made things easier for some. One sponsor even joked via Twitter about volunteering for this year’s booth teardown.

Looking ahead, for conference producers who choose to move forward after the pandemic subsides, ILTA>ON has proven that virtual conferences can deliver value and a rewarding attendee experience at the same time.

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