User conferences are all the rage with Silicon Valley start ups.  Salesforce’s Dreamforce user conferences are legendary profitable affairs, but lots of other tech companies host them as well to bring together an ecosystem of users.

More recently, the user conference has entered the legal tech sphere.  Avvo has been sponsoring road shows and Avvocating conferences for several years now.  And right now, I’m attending  Clio’s  inaugural user conference in Chicago. (Disclosure: Clio covered my costs to attend and report). Thus far, Clio has followed the lessons of successful user conferences to a tee with informative speakers, tasty and abundant food and lots of different networking events and staff on hand to answer user questions.

Should lawyers attend user conferences? Not surprisingly, a bit of debate on this topic arose amongst the usual suspects on Twitter. I can see both sides. On the one hand, if you’re swamped with work, taking time from the office to attend a tech event is arguably wasteful. On the other hand, because so many users are lawyers, there are significant networking opportunities   – and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few referrals result from the event. And most of the user questions I’ve heard reflect a sophisticated user base seeking to further increase efficiencies – which is always a good thing.

But user conferences are also a nice way for tech companies to show appreciation for solo and small firm customers. We don’t get much love from most other legal vendors (can’t remember the last time LEXIS or Westlaw sought to wine and dine me as a user – though as a blogger, I do get some treats) and so getting the white glove treatment at a conference (even though there is a cost to attend) is welcome for solos and smalls. Moreover, it makes me wonder why bar associations don’t put on these kinds of events. After all, as lawyers, we’re bar association customers yet most bar events are chintzy affairs. Here, at the Clio conference, I’ve been greeted by at least 6 Clio employees. I can’t remember the last time anyone, even a janitor or bartender gave me the time of day. Nor do any association conferences ask members for feedback on how to improve – which is another feature of the Clio conference. Sure, this exercise doesn’t just benefit users, but it helps improve the product too – and in that respect user conferences like Clio certainly yield benefits for sponsors. But an improved product helps users too.

Are user conferences the future? Will they replace bar association events and tech shows? Probably not, at least in the short term. But over the next five years, this is an avenue of the market that I’d be watching to transform as well. Viva the users’ revolution!