If you’re paying attention to the law Twitters, then you’ll know it’s Legalweek17. Formerly LegalTechNY, LegalWeek is one of the big legaltech conferences of the year. Which means there are going to be all sorts of proclamations issued from people attending the conference.

Disruption! Take a drink.

#Legalweek17  / #ltny17 <- You can follow along at these hashtags on Twitter. Expect blusterous pontification from aspiring thought leaders. Constant sales pitches from startups desperate for clients. Lots of pictures of convention booths and Powerpoint decks.

Plus a smaller few people who actually know what they’re talking about.

The trick is trying to figure out who you should pay attention to, and who you shouldn’t. How to cull the wheat from the chaff? Lest you forget:

Is the person frantically Tweeting under #Legalweek17 an informed person with considered opinions regarding the topics being discussed? Or are they just a dog, parroting whatever they see and hear in an effort to acquire some legitimacy for their marketing or branding? Hell, are they even there?!

When your only context is a Tweet, how can you know?

For all the acclaim and praise that social media receives – enabling connections, sharing information, empowering users – it actually falls short in many ways. This is best illustrated by another one of my favorite comics that demonstrates something most of us know to be true:

People curate their digital appearance. Just because something appears a certain way on social media, doesn’t make it true. You can’t take things at face value. Trust, but verify as they say.

So while social media is helpful for building connections and establishing relationships, it’s in no way a replacement for building connections and establishing relationships. This was recently reinforced to me at an event at Cumberland Law School here in Birmingham. The American Journal Of Trial Advocacy held its annual Journal Symposium, this year entitled Technological Tools for an Efficient Esquire

The topics focused on the emergence of new technology, straying abreast of industry trends, incorporating technology into practice, and the ethics of technology adoption. I knew many of the speakers from other conferences or events. Those that I didn’t personally know, I knew from social media. Why was it important for me to go to the symposium when I could have just followed along on Twitter?

Old School v. New School

One of the speakers, Roe Frazer, spent a bit of time talking about what he called old school and new school networking. New school networking would be social media. Which is good if you know how to use it. It can help maintain relationships and keep you connected with people you don’t get to see that often. But it’s no replacement for old school networking – going out and spending time with people.

Getting to know them, having drinks, breaking bread. Why? Because it’s much harder to bullshit people when you’re face-to-face.

In many ways, social media is composed of sound bites. Quick quips about the topic of the hour and then moving on. There is little opportunity to go in-depth with other people. Learn about who they are, their experience, and their perspective. When meeting someone in person, having dinner with them, having uninterrupted conversations, you can make far better judgments about who they are and their depth of knowledge.

So when I met Mary Juetten for the first time, I already knew who she was from Twitter. But I got to hear about her experience and frustrations with IP that led to her starting Traklight. I got to ask questions about Evolve Law and how it was structured. How it came about. What she was looking for when approaching new legaltech companies.

I got to know Eunbin Rii, GC at SmokeBall and hear about the issues they face being an Australian company. And how his background as working on the Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois allows him to help Smokeball find its footing in the States.

Andrew Arruda and I wouldn’t have been able to rekindle our legaltech bromance if we didn’t take time to hangout in person. And not only did I get to hear him debut his talk on the intersection of Ethics and A.I. in law, I got to to talk about it with him as well. Instead of a slide & a tweet on Twitter, it was wide ranging conversation.

I got to hang out with Alma Asay in a non-judgmental context. Not only did we not get in a fight, we learned we’ve vacationed at the same beach our entire lives. We got to discuss how the need for on-demand learning, and just-in-time delivery of knowledge affects what her team is doing at Allegory Law.

#LegalTech IRL

But more than anything, by spending time with each of these people in-person, I got to know the real version of them a bit better. Not just the Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn version of them. So when I see them Tweet or share, I have an idea of where they’re coming from. I have an idea of their perspectives.

Which is huge because despite that some people seem to think I’m technology averse, I’m actually an early adopter in most ways. I do enjoy technology. I don’t enjoy puffery and bloated, easily disprovable claims.  As I’ve said rather frequently, it’s not that lawyers are anti-technology, it’s that they are anti-bullshit.

So when I see any of the above people Tweeting about a hashtag, I’m inclined to listen to what they’re saying. I know that they’re real people who are largely no-BS in the manner in which they do things (note: everyone has a little BS in them, me included).

Which, despite my poking fun at #Legalweek17, is actually a reason to go to #Legalweek17, or any other conference, seminar, or event. Not for the presentations or swag or parties or vendor fairs. But for the opportunity to build relationships with people. To learn about the people behind the companies you see and read about.

As beneficial as technology is in fostering relationships, it’s no replacement for getting out in the real world. Get out from behind the computer, put down your smartphone, and go meet someone in real life.

Then follow them on Twitter.

Thanks to Cumberland Law School for putting on a great event.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Dean Denning, Journal Editor-in-Chief Curtis Seal, and Journal Symposium & Articles Editor Lindsey Voelker for letting me crash dinner. It was not my intention but Roe insisted I be his +1. So I place the blame squarely on him.

Bonus of getting to know people: You can even get them to poke fun at mutual friends at conferences you’re not even at.

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