Virtual Conferences

October 31, 2011

I have been privileged to attend two real world conferences in the last few weeks, our own SCL event in Bath and the ITechLaw conference in Oslo. Both were very successful in different ways. The SCL conference pushed the boundaries of  interactivity with instant mobile feedback and the World Cafe session. ITechLaw had some very good international coverage and networking. Incidentally we are  shortly running a joint event in London with ITechLaw on “Patent Boxes” and the proposed changes in tax legislation in the patent world – see . Please come along if you are interested.

But what I started to wonder in this online age was the extent to which in the future pressure on budgets for travel and conference fees coupled with increasingly sophisticated technology will make virtual conferences a viable alternative. Certainly the technology is here – you could watch “live” webcast presentations, pose questions in real time and presumably interact with other delegates. It could be like an online game, where instead of creating a team to kill the  next dragon or whatever you would form a group that attended the next online lecture and perhaps pooled comments and questions.

Take another step into virtual reality and you could have your own “conference avatar” that would go around chatting to other delegates in the “coffee” and “lunch” breaks exchanging virtual business cards. Remember that fad for sending business cards by Bluetooth from your mobile phone? Well this would be like that but more so.You could dress your avatar up in relaxed or formal attire depending upon how you wanted to appear to the other delegates.

And then I thought about why I attended these conferences in the first place and indeed why we held them in SCL. I go because of the opportunity to learn from other experienced lawyers about the law and their practice. I go to learn about new techologies. And I go to network and socialise with like minded people. This is what actually matters. There comes a point where virtual reality is a pale imitation of the real world. My son plays FIFA 2012 with enthusiasm. However every Sunday morning he gets out of bed, early for a sixteen year old, and goes off to play football for a local team. He joined because he likes the game and enjoys playing and his mates are in the team.

I have concluded that we can and will use online methods for learning and networking. But for the forseeable future they will run in parallel to actual events. Conferences, seminars and lectures will still have their unique human attraction. However clever the technology we still benefit from interaction with other human beings in our work and at home. Virtual football or tennis will  never replace the real thing. Conferences and conventions will continue to be an attractive draw. In the case of SCL this will give us the opportunity to give expression to sense of being a community. So roll on next year when there will also be an IFCLA conference in Munich to look forward to.