Updated: Sep 1
I get it, thousands of dollars, time away from home, endless events… They can be a lot, but these things can be super valuable. Here are a few reasons why:
Learn Best Practices - Not only do you get this from CLE’s, but from conversations with your peers. For better or for worse, most conversations end up being about your practice and how to run it. There is a lot of wisdom to be shared about intake, hiring, finances, marketing, technology, and so forth. A great thing about modern conferences is that they have more unique themes than in times past. It used to be that all CLE’s were on how to create better arguments or present to a jury. Now you can find conferences where the entire theme is technology, social media, or marketing. There are a lot of great ways to expand your horizons and learn new things.
Networking - One time I was at a conference and said “Hi” to a stranger that was passing by. There weren't many people around so he stopped and entertained a short conversation. Turned out he was the former CEO of LexisNexis and several other huge legal companies. He was super friendly and offered his support and guidance if I ever needed it. You never know when you might rub shoulders with people that can help you out. It’s not unfeasible that you could hire, partner with, or receive mentorship from someone that you met at a conference.
Learn the Possibilities - At a recent National Trial Lawyers Association conference, they had their annual award ceremony. They give various awards like “Trial Lawyer of the Year” or “Hall of Fame Inductees”. At this ceremony, the winner of the lawyer of the year was chosen because of his recent $730M dollar verdict. $730M! It was one of the largest single event verdicts of all time. Going to conferences and learning what possibilities are out there expands your vision and helps you strive for more. In the day to day of work and mundanity, you lose sense of your vision and what you could become.
Explore the Unknown - I remember being at a conference and talking to a gentleman who had just recently won a massive verdict. He came to the conference to explore what his next practice area would be. He had an inclination that he wanted to get into mass torts, but he didn’t know which tort to pursue or how to pursue it. He told me that he had endless conversations with folks about what they thought would be the next talcum powder or TVM case. Through his conversations he found out the best/cheapest way to acquire cases, how to stay organized, and who to partner with. Going to the conference gave him some serious direction on where he wanted to go.
Fun - My one suggestion to all conference associations is that at least a half day of every conference be centered around fun. I don’t wanna be in Miami for 3-4 days and not ever see the ocean! There are a ton of conferences that are centered around skiing, concerts, dinner parties, etc., but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time at a conference that doesn’t have those activities. Almost every conference has some type of event where you can let loose and enjoy yourself.
Travel - Who said you couldn’t bring your family or significant others? Also, there is a temptation to only book for the dates of the conference because you have to get back to work, don’t do it. Plan an extra day to travel and see the city of where the conference is taking place. There is so much to see, don’t wait until retirement to see it.
CLE’s - It has become really easy to get your CLE’s as of late, especially with Zoom and the onset of COVID. As the dust starts to settle, studies are showing that remote learning just isn’t as effective as in-person. Yeah, you can also take in-person classes from your local bar association, but there is something about having skin in the game. If you spend money and travel to take your CLE’s, you get more out of it. I also think that conference organizations are the best at putting together an interesting curriculum and great speakers. These associations are incentivized to put together the best possible program. There is a lot to be gained from these sessions at conferences.
Business Write Offs - Almost your entire trip is a write off. It’s a good time to treat yourself to nicer meals, hotels, and services. This is great especially if you have had some significant settlements come in, or if you are just having a good year in general.
Speaking - If you hang around these conferences enough and are having success, you will likely have the opportunity to speak. Ironically, speaking is often of greater benefit to the presenter than to the audience. When you are forced to organize and compile your thoughts, you are able to internalize why you do things a certain way. It helps solidify your learning/practices like nothing else can.
Discover New Tech/Services - It's a competitive market, and if you don’t innovate, you will get left behind. Clients want to work with firms that utilize the best services and technology. If you want to be on the cutting edge of technology, you can’t wait until everyone is talking about a product. By that point, it is too late, everyone else has already adopted it. The only way to find the latest and newest tech and services is by either reading cold sales emails, or exploring vendors at conferences. Keep an open mind when strolling through the exhibit hall at these events. You just might find something that could revolutionize your practice.
If you’re an introvert, or you don’t like to travel, conferences can sound like a miserable couple of days. They’re exhausting for all who attend. If you go with an open mind and put a lot of effort in, they can be incredibly valuable. Time and money well spent.