Leading up to Legal Geek on the 16th October, we caught up with founder Jimmy Vestbirk to learn about the ever-changing landscape of legal tech.
Hi! 👋 Who are you?
I'm Jimmy Vestbirk, the founder of Legal Geek.
Can you give us a brief history of Legal Geek?
The first Legal Geek conference was at the Boiler House in Brick Lane, hosting 500 people. We invited startups, three sponsors, and we sold out the event. It started out as a startup conference in legal that aimed to bring structure to a fairly unstructured world, bringing everyone together - startups, law firms and large enterprises like Thomson Reuters and Freshfields. We worked hard to make it all about meeting people, with interesting speakers and a different format to most legal events.
That hasn’t changed, but our attendee numbers doubled every year for three years, until we reached 2,000. We’re holding the capacity at the same level for this year, which is the fourth conference.
By now our message has matured - we still want to bring everyone together, and focus on the community we’ve created over the past four years. But just bringing people together isn’t enough - we want to move the conversation from why to how. That means sharing best practices, experiences with products, and letting people know what they can achieve with innovative new technology.
How has the landscaped changed in the three years since you started Legal Geek?
Lots! Some startups are now scaleups becoming large businesses, so we’re starting to see real maturity in the space. We’ve tried to grow Legal Geek as a European event, rather than being focused solely on London, and lots of the new people we see joining the community are from the EU. In the UK it’s still a fairly small space, and lots of people who came along three years ago are still around, which means that high failure rate that’s often associated with startups hasn’t necessarily materialized yet.
Have law firms and in-house teams progressed at different speeds?
That’s hard to answer - we typically meet up with law firms’ innovation teams, who work incredibly hard, but it’s difficult for me to comment on how things are going with the wider firm. On the in-house side, that’s definitely increasing. Previously those in-house teams that had an interest in legal tech would typically be either a small legal team at a tech company - early adopters - or massive enterprises like BT and Barclays. Now we’re seeing the mid-market GCs start to engage and participate, which is great to see.
You guys launched Legal Geek in New York earlier this year. How does that market compare to London?
When we started in London, we’d been running a legal tech meetup for a year before I even pitched the conference, whereas in New York we were very much starting from scratch. Based on our experiences you could say the discussions around innovation in legal there are perhaps a year or two behind those at the London conference. Whether that’s the event or the market needing mature is hard to say, but it feels like the European market is a little more developed, based on, for example, the number of incubators, startups and acquisitions going on over here.
Tell us about this year’s event - what’s different?
The conference will be polished and more focused on our three main audience groups: big law firms, in-house lawyers and tech companies. We have three stages and the sessions are mirrored to match those audiences. The demo stage will be categorized and should help attendees to explore the different types of solutions more effectively.
Also although we’ve kept the total attendee number the same, the physical footprint at Legal Geek has increased by 30%, with a dedicated food hall, a broader startup alley, and generally more space to network. There’ll be plenty of great content, but if what you’d really like to do is chat to as many people as possible, then we want to encourage that.
Beyond the main conference, the other Legal Geek events sound exciting - tell us more!
We have built a week of activity including Legal Design Geek, which is 100% workshop-led this year, and promises to be a really fun, interactive day. Law For Good is our free, access-to-justice-focused event. We have always given charities free tickets to the main conference, but it can be overwhelming for A2J organizations. So we’re offering Law For Good as a free event that functions as a scaled-down version of the main conference, with 200 people - bringing people together and educating a little on how to build and deploy tech solutions, in a space where there’s a huge opportunity.
Beyond that we’re doing lots of training, alongside the main conference, where people can do full-day deep dives on specific categories or technologies.
Startups attending the conference can apply to Eagle Labs, to work in their startup incubator space and attend a startup drinks the night before the conference.
What should sponsors and attendees do to get the most out of the event?
If you arrive staring at the floor, you probably won’t get the most out of the event! Get your head up and engage with people, chat with as many attendees as possible. Legal Geek is a very forgiving event - you can dress down, you don’t have to have loads of technical knowledge, and you can still have a great time and learn from everyone else.