LMA Las Vegas 2013 – A Newbie New Yorker’s Perspective

by Thomas Freeman on May 18, 2013

Freeman, TomWhen I was young I toured the United States by Greyhound Bus. At its Las Vegas station, I recall, were several young guys, waiting to leave town. One of them pointed out to me their tanned fingers – all of which sported white patches near the knuckles. “This is where our wedding rings used to be,” he explained. “We pawned them to gamble, when we ran out of cash.” Las Vegas is a place of dreams, a smorgasbord of hedonism and spectacular entertainment. And it is also a place where for some, dreams can get broken. Would LMA 2013 be a Wachtellian world of wonder, or a desert of desperate Deweys?

On April 8-10, over 1,000 legal marketing professionals arrived to find out. (I suspect none arrived – or, I hope, later departed – by Greyhound.) But the perils of overconfidence, of hubris, of bad decision-making – were much discussed, in a conference full of purpose, dynamism, and ideas.

The legal industry, we all know, is facing realignment. Nobody’s quite sure of its timing, but everybody can feel the wind of change, blowing strategies off course, and whipping-up a frenzy of foreboding commentary on the blogs. For many of us who grew up amid extended booms pock-marked by short-lived blips, this time it’s different. Stagnation, realignment, renegotiation of long-held traditions – call it what you will. Clients cry out: the billable hour is running out of time.

In the vast, but stylish, Aria Resort, Harvard Law School’s David Wilkins set the LMA Conference agenda with an eloquent keynote, the theme of which was relationship change. What struck me most was a statistic he quoted, from the IMF. The West – taken to mean North America and Western Europe – is predicted by the Fund seeing its share of global GDP drop from around 40% to 18%, over the next few decades. The veracity of this prediction is beyond my pay-grade, but we can all behold the general curvature of the trend: all of us, all of our firms, are going to be fighting harder and harder for a smaller share of the premium spoils. Only the innovative, only the well-networked, only the open-minded, will survive. For the rest, it’s a greyhound’s life.

Justifying a Vegas trip, in this “new normal” environment, took some deliberation. One comment at the conference was that there tend to be too few CMOs at LMA, these days. I can entirely understand: CMOs work 25 hours a day – if it’s relatively quiet – and have less need to network, arguably, than others less elevated. I approached LMA 2013 knowing that I have a lot to learn in the field, and if I can be inspired by others’ own trials, tribulations and triumphs – and do so in one of the most exciting cities in the world – then it made a lot of sense to be there. I came with a Bostonian colleague, and we bounced ideas around, made some superb new connections, and caught up with many old friends and contacts. Many commented about the location; by being hosted in such a vibrant city, conference attendance was higher than ever. I certainly felt a great buzz about the place. (The conference itself was run with incredible efficiency).

Breakout sessions were over-full, with many standing around the edges. It added to the urgency of the moment: we now have to exceed expectations, just to stay in the game. If that doesn’t give a legal marketing professional focus and drive, nothing will.

As a director of communications, I would single out the Tuesday morning “Digital Marketing Ideas Worth Spreading” as my favorite session. Speakers were strictly kept to ten minutes – kudos to Adrian

Dayton, who ran it with aplomb. This added a positive tension to the presentations. The caliber of speakers and content was notable and memorable: I got so much from them, and was honored to get some more time with one of them, social media champion Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of Lexblog, at a wonderful Greentarget PR dinner, later in the conference.

I’d also pay my respects to the tenacity of the vendors voluntarily trapped in their exhibit hall. In a city so beautiful, in all of its radiant 24/7 sun and neon, these pros lived for a few days within a windowless fluorescent fortress, which, as someone who has done that stint in a past publishing career, tests the stamina, to say the least.

Thankfully, all could reassemble and recharge for the various receptions, and mingle with friends, contacts, and even a lookalike Elvis and Cher – to remind us just where we all had landed.

Thomas Freeman is the Director of Communications at Cooley LLP.

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