Fully virtual again this year, the Clio Cloud Conference is Oct. 26-29, with a full line-up of programs on legal practice and technology, keynote speakers such as Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive and The Huffington Post, and entertainment from Grammy Award winning musicians.

On Friday, I saw down with George Psiharis, chief operating officer of Clio, to discuss the company’s planning for the conversation and to learn more about what attendees should expect. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, which I have edited for clarity, concision and continuity.

Also, Clio provided a promotional code for readers of this blog to obtain 50% off the $199 cost of the conference pass. Use the promo code “Law-Sites” via this link. The code expires this Friday, Oct. 1.

Full details on the conference agenda and speakers can be found at the conference website.

AMBROGI: In hindsight, Clio made a very smart decision, a very prescient decision, to have the conference be virtual again. But back when you were making that decision, was that a difficult call? What made you decide to do it virtual again?

PSIHARIS: That’s a great question, Bob. We were in discussions on that. We had to assess the information that we had. We had to look at, of course, the opportunities to have an in-person event, what the on-location impacts would be, in addition to overall public health guidance in Canada and the United States. Companies have made, as you’ve seen, different decisions. Lots of folks have chosen to go ahead and to have live or hybrid events. I think ours, for better or for worse, has grown to a size where it hits a different kind of threshold in terms of rules, but also risks. Overall, we landed on, I think, an option that we’re very happy with.

The fourth wave was always on our minds, and even when we were considering and had our deadline in place to make that decision, it was very present. In the end, we prioritized doing a better-than-ever virtual event, but keeping safety to be a top priority and not taking any risks. We’ve done the same with keeping our own office locations closed as well through the end of the year. We thought through those on both fronts and landed on making the decision earlier so that we could really pivot our focus to making the virtual experience even better than it was last year.

AMBROGI: Last year was your first virtual conference. What did you learn from that experience that you’re going to implement this year to make this conference different or better?

PSIHARIS: So many interesting observations and learnings from last year. I’ll highlight a few, but it’s a topic I could go on about for way too long. One key learning for us is we’re very fascinated with how it actually broadens the audience and does make the conference more inclusive. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of people who are able to join the conference, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make the time or afford time away from their practices or, one way or another, not be able to make it in person, even without the risk or the health and safety considerations. Seeing a new audience and a lot of new folks and understanding how to introduce them to the conference and be part of it was a key learning for us.

George Psiharis, Clio COO

Obviously, there are a lot of learnings on the experience side as well, and that starts with the actual experience of the sessions. There are a couple of things I’d say. One would be, there are always tons of opportunities to make the AV experience more seamless that we learned from last year and are going to be getting even better at this year. Another interesting observation for me was how to make the conference interactive. We know that conferences are just as much about attending the sessions and learning new information as they are about connecting with other individuals. It’s not the same over a virtual setting, but it has some other pros that don’t come with the live setting. One of the most fascinating for me was the level of dialogue taking place during the sessions.

Think about the traditional conference experience. You’ve typically sat very quietly, trying not to make any noise, and listening to the speaker and exploring your own thoughts as it goes on. But in a virtual setting, something that we really saw take shape was active dialogue during the sessions, live reactions from folks’ posts, unpacking of the messaging, and even excited reactions during the sessions in the chat, which was really interesting. That presents something to us – and it’s a big part of how we’ve crafted this year’s experiences – which is to continue having that dialogue, but also to create different kinds of forums for people to connect and discuss with one another. We saw some great uptake of the features we had last year related to that, and we are really looking forward to having new experiences and improvements in that area as well.

AMBROGI: Can you give me an example of how there will be new opportunities for having that kind of dialogue?

PSIHARIS: One big need for us is to continue – and I think we did a really good job with this last year but want to do even better – making the experience interactive and not having the audience members be too passive or just kind of staring at a screen. We all know folks have plenty of Zoom fatigue, and are even much deeper into that this year than they were last year. So there are going to be a lot more breaks and invitations for folks to be active in different ways, whether that’s engaging with the entertainment, activity bursts, opportunities for folks to engage with one another in breakout rooms or sessions in a digital format. Those will be extended versions of what we had last year. So a lot more focus on building out the interactive components of the experience for the attendees.

AMBROGI: Programmatically, what are you excited about this year? What are some of the highlights of what’s going to be on the agenda this year?

PSIHARIS: It’d be tough to narrow down my answer.

AMBROGI: Well, let’s talk about the keynotes, because you’ve got some interesting keynotes coming up.

Yeah, for sure. On day one, which will be focused on insights-fueled growth – we’re excited to have Jack Newton, Clio’s CEO, take us through both a review of our take on where legal and the legal tech industry has been over the course of the last year, but also, to prognosticate a bit and talk to us about the future. He always delivers something big during the keynote. I can’t let on what that is just yet, but I’ll remind everyone that 2021 was one of the biggest years in legal tech ever. So be ready for that.

AMBROGI: Of course, Clio has already just announced a couple of acquisitions too.

PSIHARIS: Absolutely. Also, we’ll have our Launch//Code competition, which is always a really exciting opportunity where we have the best new Clio integration, voted by an independent panel, with a series of outstanding finalists hoping to take home that $100,000 prize. It’s always an exciting opportunity to see what’s being built on Clio as a platform and what legal tech innovation we’re seeing.

The second day, we’ll have the focus of being client centered, and we’re really thrilled to have Arianna Huffington join us as our opening keynote that day. Most people know her as an incredibly famous and accomplished media mogul. But as the CEO of Thrive, she’s coming to us with a slightly different message to deliver, which aligns on our values of being human and high performing. She’s going to talk to us about sustainability in the workplace, a more human approach to practicing law, and using automation tools to get back more time into your day. I think that’s going to be a real highlight and maybe a different experience of Arianna’s thought processes and thought leadership than what most folks are familiar with.

We’ll have, of course, additional sessions. Barry’s Bootcamp is coming back for those fitness bursts and activity bursts we talked about.  Justin Willman, who is part comedian, part magic show, and who does absolutely incredible things over remote interfaces, will be one of the spotlights that evening as part of the entertainment.

AMBROGI:  What about the Legal Trends Report? Are you also going to be talking about that?

PSIHARIS: That’s right. That’ll be on day one and I’ll be coming with my favorite part, selfishly, of the event, which will be to talk about industry defining insights. I can’t yet share what’s in it, as it’s under embargo for now, but I’ll be thrilled to be able to spend some time some time on new and emerging trends and, in particular, on looking at sustainable growth for law firms over time, over a period of years, and some of the net new insights we’ve been able to deliver this year.

Shortly afterwards, Nika Kabiri will also explore this data in a session related to applying it to your legal practice and, in particular, your client experiences. She’ll follow up on some of the insights there and also have a really compelling set of new information to walk the profession through.

AMBROGI:  I know that the legal trends report over the past year has tracked the impact of the pandemic on the profession. Is that continuing – will there be new insights around that?

PSIHARIS: There will be. The pandemic is still front and center in the impacts it is driving on the profession, so we’ll be studying those more closely. And we’ll be continuing work that we’ve done previously as well, and deepening it. We’ll also be continuing to understand the impact on clients and client expectations and how the world is evolving for them. We’re also going to look at things over a series of years and see how much change was already in flight that has been accelerated by the recent happenings over the last couple of years and in the environment we’re now in. I think it will be an opportunity to zoom out and look at things from a 30,000-foot level that will be, I think, really compelling stuff.

AMBROGI: I was looking at the conference website. It looked to me as if the speakers are more heavily skewed toward Clio employees this year than in the past. Is that fair to say, or is it not a complete listing up there yet?

PSIHARIS: The listing is still being built out. Certainly, we’ll feature lots of Clio folks. In particular they’ll specialize on product-facing sessions and helping attendees understand both existing and new features within Clio, but we’ll still have a pretty built-out list of external and session speakers and, of course, our keynotes and entertainment as well.

AMBROGI: A perennial question I hear – and I have been to every Clio Con, this is the ninth this year, right – is, “Is this conference just for customers of Clio?” What’s your answer to that?

PSIHARIS: Great question. I’d say it’s for everyone looking to engage in legal technology. This is, first and foremost, a legal technology conference, and while there will be content and tracks that are clearly specific on the products we have and both existing and new functionality, the real core of the conference is to engage with other members of the legal profession. It’s a legal conference first, a technology conference second, and a Clio conference third, in my mind. That’s certainly how we set out to build it every year.

If there are folks out there who aren’t Clio customers, I invite them to join if the content is relevant and exciting to them – I think it should be – and there will be plenty of non-Clio customers who we’re expecting this year and who are already registered for them to connect with as well. That would be my perennial response to that perennial question, but it’s certainly the way we think about building this conference. This is a legal conference first.

AMBROGI: One of the things I thought you pulled off pretty well last year was the entertainment. The Clio conference in the past – the in-person conference – always had great entertainment and social events. You managed to pull that off pretty well for a virtual conference last year, I thought. What are you doing along those lines this year?

PSIHARIS: I’m absolutely thrilled with the lineup of entertainment we have this year. We were talking about the differences between a virtual versus in-person conference format. One thing that’s been really interesting for us is that, in an in-person environment, the experiences are fantastic, but they’re often limited by who’s available at that time or who can make the trip and be in that place at that specific time. In a virtual setting, it really does blow open the opportunities in terms of the breadth and the roster of folks we can go and get in touch with, and this year will not disappoint.

I mentioned our magician, Justin Willman, already. It would be a shame not to point out entertainment from Aloe Blacc on the end of the first night. Justin will be entertaining us on the second day. LeAnn Rimes will be the entertainment performing live at the end of day three. Big Boi will be the big party finale to day four. Just an absolutely outstanding array of entertainment that would be really tough to put together for an in-person conference. We’ll be emphasizing the remote experiences and making them really high quality and interactive, building off of our success from last year.

We’ll also be thrilled to welcome back Barry’s, which is considered to be the best workout out there by many folks. We’ll be doing our fitness breaks and activity sessions to keep people moving, instead of just sitting there on Zoom all day.

AMBROGI: Another question people tend to ask is, “Can I get CLE credit for this?”

PSIHARIS: There is CLE credit available. It varies by state, but there’s information on the site about CLE.

AMBROGI: You must already be starting to think about the next conference. Have you been able to pin down anything yet in terms of what your plans are for the 2022 conference?

PSIHARIS: Yes. We are hoping to return to an in-person conference in 2022. We’ll always, of course, prioritize safety and do what’s right, and what we feel is right, based off of federal and local health guidelines. But, if we do return to in-person, which is our leaning currently, accessibility to attend is something we’ll continue, with virtual and hybrid options. Something that’s been really interesting to us is seeing how much broader and more diverse the audience can be over the online forum. We won’t be reverting back to the format before. We’ll definitely be investing heavily in looking at options, if we go with in-person next year, to make it a hybrid or remote-accessible experience.

AMBROGI: At what point do you have to make a decision one way or the other?

PSIHARIS: I think we’ll get into next year, and probably make the call in the first half of next year, and announce, depending on how it goes. But, as always, it’s a fluid situation, right. My sincere hope is that we’re in shape to declare early an in-person conference and give folks lots of time to plan and be able to attend, or to decide to join virtually, if that’s a better fit for them. But we’ll have to see how things are going in the first half of next year and decide from there.

AMBROGI: So we’re not going to see Jack jump up on stage on the last day of a Clio Con this year and announced the wonderful venue for next year?

PSIHARIS: Well, there will be some surprises, and maybe we’ll drop a few hints. We want to get people excited, but not jump the gun before it’s time to make the call.

AMBROGI: Anything else that you wanted to highlight or say about the conference?

PSIHARIS: The keynote speakers, as always, are a really important part of the conference. To your point earlier, Bob, around this being a legal conference and even a more general thought leadership conference first and a Clio conference second, I’d encourage everyone to get to know the keynotes. I mentioned Arianna Huffington. We’ve got Scott Stratten opening up day three, speaking on authentic marketing and taking us through some interesting and very relevant insights there. On day four, we have access to justice as an overall theme, including Ian Manuel, who will be opening us up with a keynote that day. We’re thrilled to have this depth and significance of keynote speakers covering the range of topics that they are. I think they always have, and certainly will this year, take it to a new level in terms of the impact of being thought provoking, and of broadening the topics as well, really making the content fresh over the course of four days. If I may say, they’re a bit different than what I think folks might be thinking about when they think about the typical legal or legal tech conference.

AMBROGI: Well, George, thanks for speaking with me. I appreciate it.

PSIHARIS: Pleasure as always. Thank you for covering us and looking forward to when the time comes to spend some time together.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.