It is fitting that Las Vegas is a major mecca of gambling, given that, next week, several hundred people will take a gamble on their safety to attend the physical portion of the first-ever hybrid ILTACON, the annual conference of the International Legal Technology Association. While I’d planned to be among them, I have decided to hedge my bets and attend virtually.
My decision came down to a risk/reward analysis.
To ILTA’s credit, it is taking every precaution to protect the health of attendees. All attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination and all attendees will be required to wear masks.
But ILTA can do nothing about the fact that the conference venue, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, is a major tourist destination that will be teeming with non-ILTA visitors, some percentage of whom will most certainly be unvaccinated. It can do nothing about the fact that bars, restaurants and coffee shops will be crowded with maskless patrons eating and drinking.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported on a rise in infections, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated people. Even though the odds remain low of vaccinated people (of which I am one) becoming ill, this data “may have altered the calculus,” the Times said.
In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, cases have decreased recently but are still very high, the Times reports. Further, the Times says the test positivity rate there is very high, suggesting that cases are being significantly undercounted.
So there is the risk. What about the reward?
Given that ILTACON is hybrid, one can take in the programs without making the trek to Las Vegas. That leaves two primary reasons for attending: visiting the exhibit hall and networking with other attendees.
For me, visiting the exhibit hall is always interesting, but not a strong incentive. I get to talk with many of these vendors on a regular basis.
Plus, it is unclear just how many vendors will actually be in the exhibit hall. As I reported Friday, one major vendor, iManage, has decided not to send staff to ILTACON (while continuing to support it virtually). I do not know if other vendors have pulled out of attending entirely, but I have spoken to several that have scaled back their attendance.
The same might be happening with regard to networking. I know of one major law firm, that asked not to be identified, that pulled its full contingent of 14 people from attending. I know of others that have also scaled back.
ILTA had previously reported registrations of 275 attendees, plus a number of vendors, partners and others, bringing the total registrations even higher. According to a report this week by Caroline Hill, the total is about 850. But that is registrations — which does not mean they will all show up.
For whoever does show up, networking may be limited. ILTA is planning an opening reception and others have various receptions and dinners planned. But how much will people want to be in eating and drinking environments where masks are off and risk is up?
As I have considered all this, I have experienced a serious case of déjà vu all over again. In the second week of March 2020, I was scheduled to attend an advisory board meeting in Utah. As reports mounted of a dangerous new virus, I contacted the organizer to confirm that the meeting was on and others were traveling to attend. I was told yes on both counts.
I flew to Utah on Wednesday, March 11, only to find that few others had made the trip, except those who could drive from within state, and that the meeting was so severely scaled back as to have effectively been cancelled.
I scrambled for a flight home, leaving, ominously, on Friday the 13th — which many will remember as their last day in the office or classroom — on a plane packed with unmasked others also rushing to get home.
A few days later, I became very sick with what I suspect was COVID-19. I was never tested, because there was no test then, and never saw a doctor, because we were told then not to burden health care providers unless our symptoms seemed life-threatening.
I have to admit: I’d wondered whether I might, once again, be one of the few to actually show up.
So I weigh the risk of four days in a closed environment, in a crowded casino-hotel where the virus is almost certain to be present, against the minimal reward of attending a conference where networking will be severely curtailed, and I come down on the side of hedging my bets.
For those who do attend, the odds are in their favor that they will come away as healthy as they arrive. But I’ve decided it is not a wager I want to make right now.