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SoLI: so what?

by Cat Moon, SoLI co-organizer and VLS alumna

My quick survey of 2018 legal conference opportunities suggests I could spend approximately 50% of my waking hours attending a technology- or innovation-oriented conference happening somewhere. While perhaps an overstatement, there are a lot of them and more seem to pop up on the daily.

At the same time, questions are being raised: Do we need yet another such legal conference? What's the value proposition, anyway? Couldn't people's time be spent in more worthwhile and productive ways, to achieve more tangible results? These are all fair questions. They should be asked. And anyone organizing (yet another) legal conference should constantly be seeking to answer them.

As co-organizers of Vanderbilt Law's Summit on Law and Innovation (SoLI), Larry and I started with a primary question: do we even have another conference in 2018? For context, this would be year three for a conference sponsored by Vanderbilt Law's Program on Law and Innovation (PoLI). Year one (2016), PoLI invited a global audience to engage in conversation around AI and the law. Year two (2017), PoLI hosted an even larger global audience to explore blockchain and the law.

For year three (2018), Larry and I started by asking, do we even do this again? To what end? And if so, how do we make it meaningful?

After much consideration of intent and impact, our answer was YES. We do it again. And we do it differently. How?

First, we reimagined the entire purpose to serve a much larger vision than the latest technology impacting the law. We started by asking a lot of questions. What are the core elements of innovation in the law? What are the barriers to moving the legal profession, legal education, our systems of justice, forward efficiently and effectively? How do we engage a profoundly diverse group of people to join us in this effort?

Answering these questions (and many, many more) led to the vision of SoLI, which will extend throughout the Summit for as many years as it happens: breaking down silos and building connections. This is how we move forward, faster. Together, through radical collaboration among and between diverse thinkers and doers.

Second, we reimagined the structure of a conference. How do we truly engage everyone at SoLI to participate in the conversation? How do we create a conversation that generates measurable action beyond the day of the conference?

Answering these questions (and many, many more) led to the first iteration of our structure. Our presenters are thought and action leaders we've invited to seed the conversation by sharing big ideas based on their vast and diverse experiences. Fifteen of the 24 are women, by the way. And while some of them may be people you've seen take the stage at other "big" legal conferences, many of them are not. We must hear from more, and different, voices, and we are committed to making SoLI a place where these voices can and will be heard.

And their time "on stage" will be brief, intentionally. This isn't about listening to talking heads pontificate. It's about co-creating, which we'll facilitate throughout the day in ways both big and small. Personally, I'm very much looking forward to taking everyone out of their comfort zones during the human-centered design sprint.

Is SoLI's design perfect? Or even ideal? No. It's a small experiment we're running. We're starting where we are, and building from there. We're asking everyone who shares our passion to join us in finding a way to truly move the needle and MAKE LAW BETTER.

Our hope is that many things about the day go right, and lead to collaborations that extend far beyond April 30.

And we expect many things likely will go wrong. I can guarantee that #SoLI2019 will be a very different experience because we will learn from the missteps (maybe even failures), we will iterate, we will ask our co-creators and collaborators to help us make it better so we can help make the law better.

In my 20 years of practicing law, I know that creating opportunities and spaces to bring people together for creative collaboration works. Yes, we have fun! These are social events and we are social animals, after all. And we make critical connections that lead to amazing opportunities to collaborate in ways and on work that would never happen otherwise. (Data exist to substantiate my claim, by the way.)

Events like SoLI matter because the work we have to do in reimagining legal is so vast and enormous that none of us can possibly do it alone. And we don't have to. Through radical collaboration, we can work together, providing the wind our colleagues need to fly a little farther, a little faster. We can take turns leading this effort. And when one of us gets tired from leading, we drop back. And again provide the wind, letting someone else take the lead. Understanding that our effort is much easier when we're doing it together, we move farther, faster.

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