A Legal Forum Focused on Technology

Robert Childress says that he never intended to be a part of the legal community. He had an “internship that turned into [his] whole life. Strong family figures – such as his father who had been a colonel in the Air Force, and his grandfather who was a foreman who helped build O’Hare Airport – taught him the value of hard work. “And in the legal community, they want you to work four times harder than everyone else. It was the perfect fit,” he says with a smile.

Childress founded the Masters Conference in 2006 because he was looking for a way to connect and “create community” in the legal arena to develop his company, Wave Software. He discovered that there was a need to “bridge the gap between tech companies, law firms, and legal departments,” and the Masters Conference took off as an independent venture.

Fast forward 11 years, and the Masters Conference holds technology and data-centric educational events for legal professionals in 15 cities around the United States and in three international cities. And, the Masters Conference doesn’t only use the event format to disseminate the information that its experts and thought leaders profess. “We have webinars, white papers, podcasts, videocasts, you name it,” Childress says.

Facing the data challenge

The ever-changing world of technology has long been at odds with the more staid legal profession. When he began the Masters Conference, Childress says the conversation in the legal community revolved around how to deal with e-discovery and the increasingly overwhelming amount of data that each individual creates and stockpiles. “Nobody really wanted to deal with it then,” Childress says. “They weren’t ready.” As a result, much of the focus of the Conference was on encouraging legal professionals to face the issue head on.

Now, Childress says the data issue can no longer be ignored, so the focus has shifted. “Data is in so many different formats. We have the Internet of Things, for example. You can collect data from your Nest [thermostat], for example. [Data] is the rabid dog in your office, and you have to figure out how to regulate and handle it per scale because it is growing so massive.” Because “nobody dumps data anymore,” the amount of space that people now use to store data has been expanding over time, and “you might have the same document in four different locations.”

And, because “data is everywhere, that flattens out the space,” Childress says. So, what was once a conference that focused on e-discovery has become a conference that centers on data. “As the industry changes, we change,” he says.

Childress asserts that one of the keys to working effectively with data is to get to the root of the problem and change the process by which it is recorded. Currently, all data is catalogued using a schema called Dublin Core. This system catalogs information by title, date, author, and level of access rights. He says Dublin Core is outdated and fundamentally conflicts with the way the legal community works.

As a result, the data has to be reconfigured in order to make it accessible to attorneys and to the judges who will preside over litigation – which takes a lot of money and a lot of time. “Why don’t we have a conversation about how the data will be prepared initially?” Childress wonders. “We need to address the way that data exists now instead of just treating all data as if it were a book [as Dublin Core does].”

At the core of this issue, Childress says, is a lack of practical instruction in law school. He says that attorneys never learn how to deal with data. “They don’t teach you how to capture data or do trial boards,” he says. He argues for a more practical than theoretical approach to legal education.

“There’s a reason why legal operations has started to exist as a role [or department] in law firms,” he says. Because attorneys aren’t given education in information systems as librarians are, additional experts who can obtain and translate data information must be added to law firm staff.

Though Childress doesn’t expect attorneys to become librarians, he hopes the Masters Conference can help to bridge the gap, so that attorneys can understand the challenges that accompany data, and so that addressing data can become more intuitive and require less processing.

Speakers and topics

Childress says he seeks out speakers that may be on the fringe – people who hold expertise in a particular subject area that attorneys might not ordinarily encounter and from whose perspective they could benefit. “If you go to an electronics show, they are talking about the same thing we are, but not from a legal perspective.” He wants to bring these perspectives together to create deeper understanding on both sides.

He pushes for a “diversity of knowledge” that starts conversations within the legal community and says that bringing outsiders in to the legal community breaks up the “packs” that attorneys tend to form. “If we don’t do that,” he says, “the legal community just stays the same. It’s often reactive instead of proactive – but what if we got ahead of the challenges?”

The Masters Conference is held in different regions in the U.S., as well as internationally. Though there are universal concerns that legal professionals share in each of these locations, there are some significant differences, as well, Childress says. For example, “New York is more concerned about financial regulations, while the Midwest is concerned about patents.”

Always thinking, always moving forward, Childress says he is “continuously mindful of what’s going on around data.” He says that he is always on the lookout for individuals to bring in to the legal community in order to effect change.

David Galbenski, founder and Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Lumen Legal, is one of the Masters Conference’s regular speakers. Galbenski and Lumen Legal’s Vice President of Business Development, Tim Morenc, have acted as emcees and led panels at various Masters Conference events around the country.

The next Masters Conference event will be held in March in San Francisco, CA. Go here to find out when an event will be near you.