All Things ILTACON 2023: An Exclusive Conversation with ILTA’s CEO

Joy’s done it all when it comes to legal – her beginnings working at a solo practitioners’ office in Washington, D.C. transformed into working with attorneys and technology, and she’s been that ever since. Now the CEO of the International Association Legal Technology (ILTA), Joy is the expert in all things ILTA, and joins Bill on this episode to discuss:

  • The excitement of record-breaking attendance numbers for this year
  • Exhibit Hall anticipation – what are well-established vendors doing and what will the 29 new startups do
  • Exceptional educational sessions covering trending topics in legal: AI, hybrid work and the pendulum swing of how and when we work
  • ILTA’s growth in developing a dedicated Corporate Law segment to ILTACON, naming its first Board of Directors President from outside North America, and doing more for smaller law firms
  • The wonderfully collaborative and sharing environment that is ILTACON and the volunteers, attendees and vendors that make it the annual event everyone looks forward to
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Episode Guests

Joy Heath Rush

CEO | International Technology Association
Joy has spent her entire career supporting lawyers in the practice of law. As the CEO of the International Technology Association (ILTA), Joy is doing everything in her power to serve the citizen of ILTA with intelligence, dedication and unmatched passion.

Bill Bice

CEO | nQ Zebraworks
Recognized as a legal tech industry visionary, receiving Thomson’s innovator of the year award. Founder of ProLaw Software (acquired by Thomson Reuters), West km (used by 70% of the top 1000 law firms worldwide) and Exemplify (acquired by Bloomberg Law).


 Bill Bice: Hi, Joy. Thanks for thanks for joining.

Joy Heath Rush: Oh, thanks, Bill. I’ve been
looking forward to this. This is the highlight of my week, for sure.

Bill Bice: Well, let’s see if we can make that the case. You set a high bar right off the bat. So, you joy you you’ve done like everything you started on the law firm side, you’ve been on the vendor side you’re running ILTA now. Give a little perspective and history for how all that happened.

Joy Heath Rush: Well, it’s interesting because my mother and I used to laugh about this all the time. I have an unusual educational background. I went to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and they give a degree called the BSFS the Bachelor of Science and Foreign Service. And Georgetown’s the only place you get it. And it’s kind of designed for you to be trained and go to the State Department. And my mother used to say, you know, you spent all that time getting ready to work in the State Department and you know, you’re working in an office. I said I use those diplomatic skills every day. I’m just telling you I needed them. But you know, my first job out of college, you know, it was your first job out of college. I was working in an office for a bunch of solo practitioners who were sharing space in Washington, DC And, you know, it was kind of a Jack of all trades. And I was trying to figure out when I was going to go to Graduate School or if I was going to go to law school. And my boss kept trying to get me to go to this technology training, and I was the most technology-phobic person ever, and I did everything I could to put it off. And finally, I couldn’t put it off anymore.

I was convinced I was going to get fired from my job. So, I go to this training, and it was word processing; you know, that’s what we did in 1982 in a law firm. And at lunch, I called back to my office, and I was like, this is great. I love this. This is the best thing ever. And I’ve been doing technology with lawyers ever since. And you know, I worked there for a few years, and I went to work at Sibley. And, you know, one of the things I learned really quickly is that the law firm community is actually wonderfully collaborative at the staff level. And I mean, I can remember a time when my friend Irene at White and Case you know, had run out of labels, and I was right across the street, and she’s like, can I come over and get some address labels from you? But I’m like sure, no problem, you know, and I learned that there was a lot more to it. And then you know in the mid-90s I discovered what was then called Lana, which had been around since 1980. And I didn’t because my, old firm, Sidley Austin, was never Wang. And that was the genesis of what is now ILTA was called at that time, this name just trips off the tongue: V slug, which was the Wang BS legal user group. And you know, we were never Wanging, so I wasn’t plugged into that community.

And then in 1995, I discovered Lana, and I went to my first Lana conference, which was at the Biltmore in Arizona, and I was hooked again on technology. I thought it was great. I’ve only missed one conference since then. And you know that people start saying you should volunteer, you know, it’s beneficial. And a couple of people, some, I bet you remember, Bill, Joe Harris when she was a CIO, Morrison Forester, Janice Ferguson, you know, kind of twisted my arm and said you really make a great volunteer. And so, I started helping out, putting together programs and stuff, eventually became a board member, became board president. And then, when I moved over to the business partner side of the house, we were sponsors. And I got to see the organization from there.

Bill Bice: You saw it from the law firm side, then the
volunteering side, then being president of the board, then coming to the vendor side.

You, you just reminded me, by the way of all the joys of converting off of informatics. That was, that was so much fun for so many years, getting firms off of Wang.

Joy Heath Rush: All I could do was hear, you
know, people talking about that. I mean, the two things I always thought were weird about Sibley, and a wonderful firm, I was so happy to grow up there, but we were never Wang, and we were never Novell.

We put in an all-PC network in 1988. We started rolling out PCs on a local area network. That was really early, and it was an IP network then. I won’t say it was maybe the most stable network I ever worked with and I P network in 1988,
but it was, it made our experience different and at the times when firms were just moving off of Wang in the early 90s and the mid-90s.

We were in a very mature you know network-based implementation, and that was a nice place to be. But we had a whole other set of problems we were solving of software distribution, and you know offline access and people wanting laptops and you know all the things that people still to some degree struggle with today and you know when the when the CEO role became open at ILTA.

I was like, I felt like it was the job that I had trained for my whole life, my whole career. But I told the board at the interview at the time. I said if you’re looking for a professional association executive, that’s not me. I will become one. You know, I’m an executive in other kinds of businesses, but I’ve never done associations. But if you want someone who loves the association unreservedly, knows it inside out, upside down and backward, and knows the industry well, then I’m your person and the board decided that’s what they wanted. And I’ve spent the last five years trying to prove that they were right in their decision and becoming an association executive. But you know, it’s what makes it possible is just this community. I said that in the beginning. I learned that very early on, the amount of sharing, the willingness to which people are going to be helpful. I’ve had so many folks tell me that come from other industries they said we’ve not, we never experienced anything like this in another industry. It’s just different and in a wonderful, wonderful way.

Bill Bice: It is, and it’s such a backbone for the industry. I
mean I
very much remember going to my first ILTACON. I was
never there for the V slug days, but I was there at the lawn at the Biltmore, which is, you know it was a beautiful place, even if it’s in August to hang out and it’s just something that you look forward to you know every single year to get back together with everybody.

Joy Heath Rush: It’s totally true, and in fact just today we were talking about. You know, because of the size of our event, we have to book hotels pretty far out, and there’s always, you know how many, which hotels can we really go to? And part of it is that our members and our business partners, our whole world community loves that.

They kind of, love the resort feel, but even more that they love that sense that everybody’s kind of under one roof or more or less under one roof. And they know that if they’re walking through the hallway, the person they’re running into is probably another ILTA person. And someone they would want to talk to, someone they would want to meet. And they just, they love that. And so that that changes the profile, the properties where we can go, you know. It’s a big event. We can’t go to the Jacob Javits Center, McCormick Place, or we wouldn’t want to. It’s not our personality.

Bill Bice: Frankly, being in a conference location like that would really change the networking, right? So, the being all together is, is very crucial to the ILTACON feel.

Joy Heath Rush: Yeah, what’s funny, the first year, I was on the business partner side. One of my colleagues was with me. It was her first ILTACON, and we were walking through the hallway. I’d go into our demo room or something, and she’s like, I’m not walking with you anymore. I can’t get where I’m trying to go. And I said, well, wait till next year; it’ll be like that for you. And that’s one of the beauties of it. You can’t get to where you want to go as quickly as you want.

Which is just fine because you’re running into all kinds of old friends and new friends. You know, people that maybe you’ve only ever seen on teams or on Zoom and particularly these guys looking to connect in person. Absolutely, absolutely.

Bill Bice: And there’s such a strong desire to get back in person now. So, I think I think this year’s going to be. I mean, last year was great; everybody was back. But this year feels like it’s just going to be on a whole other level because of the energy and desire to be in person.

Joy Heath Rush: I think so too. And right now,
as of this minute, we’re tracking for it to be in the top three in terms of number of attendees that we’ve ever had. My marketing people would be upset if I were more specific and but that’s exciting. I mean, we’re at over 1300. The number that I measure
personally is I look at full-week member registrations, it’s kind of the benchmark, and we’re over 1300 as of yesterday with six weeks to go.

Bill Bice: Yeah, that’s awesome. So what? So, what, what are
you looking forward to this year? I mean, you’re right in the middle of planning and all of the last-minute things that come together.

Joy Heath Rush: I think we have an exceptionally strong educational grid and program. This year I was teasing my team because I was going through and looking at it before it was published, and I said do my eyes deceive me, or is there no e-mail management topic on the
grid? That’s got to be the first time in 20 years that there hasn’t been an e-mail management topic on the grid. I’m not sure that means we’ve licked it. I think we’ve just kind of surrendered to doing whatever we figured out at this point.
You know, these days, it’s impossible to have a technology conversation without talking about it. AI, it’s just not possible. And I think we’ve got nine AI-related topics. But to me, what’s so interesting about it is that people are starting to think about all the different aspects.
So yes, there’s straight-up technology selecting a product like any other product, but how is this different?

There’s a regulatory landscape that’s emerging as being very confusing and conflicting across jurisdictions. We’ve got organizationally these, what we think of as emerging technologies don’t always sit right in IT, especially in a
big firm. They might sit in the innovation function, which might be under IT might not.

We’re thinking about applications on the business side, not just the practice side, like using natural language processing, large language models, and help desk tickets to deal, you know, have chat responses to frequent questions. I’m
looking forward to hearing all the perspectives that people have on this because.

In the conversations I’ve had in the last two months, people are all over the place on this issue. Are they blocking chatGPT are they not? Are they experimenting with BERT? Are they thinking about Harvey? Are they, you know, and I’m really
looking forward to that. The second thing I think is I’m looking forward to hearing what people are talking about other than AI; it’s not, you know, because it’s not the only thing that we’re talking about, and another issue that isn’t going away is hybrid work.

I think a lot of firms have been trying to get people back in the office, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been successful, and it is, one CIO said to me: no one’s going to fire a partner for not coming to work three days a week. So, people are trying to really still cope with how the pendulum is going to swing there or whether it’s going to settle someplace predictably and what that means for how we work when we work. And I think those conversations are still interesting.

Bill Bice: It seems like people have forgotten that pre pandemic partners worked wherever they wanted to. Like this is, this is a new concept.

Joy Heath Rush: Yeah, absolutely. It’s just that they were expected to show up occasionally, and the staff and the associates were expected to be there every day. And so, yeah, it’s a leveling of the playing field in a way that maybe isn’t completely comfortable for everybody. They also have a very nice contingent of corporate law department folks coming this year. We’re doing a dedicated event for them on Tuesday and
Wednesday, and I’m hoping that they’re going to let me sneak in and listen to some of their conversations because back to the AI topic.

One of the things the corporate group is talking about is, is outside counsel guidelines. You know, I hear from law firms that we’re getting lots of outside counsel guidelines about AI, but how are the corporations making those decisions? Who’s driving it? Is it the law department? Is it some kind of corporate IT or governance function? And what happens if a law firm comes to and says we want to use, you know, X or Y product?

That’s going to be a very interesting conversation. So, it’s looking at it also from the client’s perspective. And then, you know, I always look forward to the exhibit hall, Bill. I mean, I could spend 3 days there. I wish I had the time to spend three days there. Not only visiting with, you know, longtime friends and seeing what’s new, what some of the well-established companies are, are up to. I mean, I’m sure that nQ Zebraworks will have interesting things to talk about that are new at ILTACON.

And I also want to see the startups. I want to see what kinds of companies are emerging. I was allowing somebody the other day. It’s like, I promise you there are not, you know, we
have 29 startups, and they’re not all contract lifecycle management companies. That’s to be the, you know, one of the big things. But you know, I want to see what’s interesting, one of our large firm CIOs said, o
ne of the reasons she loves coming to ILTACON is to stumble on things she wouldn’t otherwise encounter. And that could be with an existing business partner, with a new offering, or it could be one of these startups.

But it’s the opportunity to really focus on thinking about what’s next. And that’s the exciting part, right? Maybe that says kind of ILTACON in a nutshell. It’s an opportunity to spend a week really thinking about what’s next with other smart people who are also thinking about what’s next.

Bill Bice: Yeah, that that is that’s the perfect way to look at it. A couple of comments on some of the things that you mentioned. You know I’m really looking forward to the day when AI is not a separate category, and it’s
actually embedded in the technology that we’re using because that’s when the real power is going to come through and that’s going to happen, you know we’re going
to get products that are really. Designed for specific use
cases in legal, and they’re going to make a, you know, they’re going to make a lot of sense. I mean, we all use AI all the time right now. We just don’t think of it that way. And your comment about corporate counsel, I think, is a really interesting area because there’s some real cognitive dissonance going on there because you hear clients saying, well, we want the benefit of our firms using AI. But we don’t want you using necessarily our work product to feed the system. We don’t want it to benefit anybody else, right? So, there’s there are some interesting challenges that have to be worked out there.

Joy Heath Rush: Well, and I think it’s also one of those areas; as I said, the regulatory landscape is very confusing in this area right now, and that’s going to make it tough, but also the maturity of the technology. At least the technology that’s in our hands and not in the hands of Microsoft and Google and so forth, we don’t know a lot about, and we’re not used to that, you know, so there’s a lot of learning together here in the solving problems together and learning together. That reminds me more of the early days of PCs, then. Anything else we’ve encountered in the last few years? So yeah.

Bill Bice: And I think the classic Bill Gates quote is very much going to apply here, which is overestimating the change that’s going to occur in the next two years but underestimating what’s going to occur in the next ten years.

Joy Heath Rush: Yeah. And that is, that’s absolutely true. And I think the other one, and I don’t know who coined this phrase originally, but our friend Matt Holman uses this all the time. The pace of change is faster today than it has ever been in history, and it’s also the slowest it will ever be again.

Bill Bice: Right. So. So appreciate it while you can.

Joy Heath Rush: Exactly. That’s it. That’s it, exactly. But it’s just that I always tell my husband this about going to ILTACON or when it was one at there is sometimes there’s honestly nothing more fun than talking shop with smart people. You know, that’s just fun. And so, when, when you’re going through the halls at ILTACON and exhibit hall at, you know, at breaks, at lunchtime, yeah, sometimes people are talking about movies or music, but mostly they’re talking shop and smiling, which is a good thing.
No, it’s that part of it is that affirming? Like, oh my God, I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s having that problem.
And then part of the Oh, you figured out what? You figured out how to solve that. OK, hold on. Take some notes. Yeah, This is just so. I’m looking forward to all that. So, it sounds like you and I have roughly the same number of ILTACONs under our belt, so I think we ought to celebrate that somehow.

Bill Bice: Yes, I missed a few more in the middle there because I left legal for a little bit. But. Couldn’t stay away so here we are, but you’re, you know that that ability to talk to somebody who’s already faced the problem that you that that you are now encountering and being able to work through that with them, you know that that’s sharing your real-world experiences is enormously valuable.

Joy Heath Rush: It is, and it’s great to talk to other people who are in your job at another corporate law department or law firm or law school or whatever it is. But also having access to so many business partners who are solving these problems with dozens of customers every day. I know we did a program earlier this year on using Teams as a phone system. It was a day-long program, and we had one panel that was a very, very
large firm, a very small firm, and one that was a consultant that had done across the board that was so valuable.

Because it’s like, here’s
this one person’s real-world experience, #2 person’s real-world experience, and #3 saying, yeah, I’ve seen both of those models plus these other five models that you didn’t talk about. And you can consider those when you’re making your
decision on how to proceed. And so our real-world experience comes from a variety of sources. And it’s all in one place. Yeah, just ILTA throughout the year; it’s all in one place you can access.

I have this joke with my executive director at my Old Firm. He used to call ILTA your hobby. That’s what he called to me. It’s like your hobby. But one day he called me into his office and said I need to know what Latham, Watkins, Jones Day, Scout and ARPS are doing about this. How long do you need? I said well, it’ll take me 5 minutes to walk back to my office, 5 minutes to get back here and report to you 1. And that’s just the truth of it.

And then he stopped calling it my hobby. So that was progress.  

Bill Bice: Well, the first significant mistake that you avoid because of being able to ask for that advice, you know, more than pays for the membership for, you know, that decade.

Joy Heath Rush: Absolutely. There’s no question about it. And again, the willingness of people to share is the thing. It’s just the culture. That’s Unique and wonderful, and you know I just look forward to that family reunion kind of feeling every year, although the run-up to it is very busy and very hectic in a wonderful way. But then when you get
there, you don’t care because you’re just there, and it’s happening, and people are having a great experience, and you get to watch it.
Such a sense of pride of being part of it, you know, in whatever role it is, whether you’re a volunteer or sponsor or an attendee or a member of the staff, it’s great to be part of it, and the depth of our volunteer culture
even makes that more meaningful. I mean, you know, I was having a conversation with someone today that was explaining our process for how topics are submitted
and speaker speakers are selected, and you know, there are 100 plus volunteers on the ILTACON committee who vet topics, you know, try to make sure there are no duplications. They complement each other. We got the best speakers for every session. I mean, we had over 650 speaker applications for 80 sessions this year, and that’s great.

Bill Bice: Yeah, that’s impressive. And the volunteers that are
just, they’re just incredible.

Joy Heath Rush: They really are, and they give so much, and I know, at least for me as a volunteer, I got a lot out of it. But that’s not why people go into that. That’s a secondary benefit. They go in because they have the desire to help and to enrich others and yeah, it’s just it’s great to be part of and when I talk to my colleagues, my counterparts, and other associations. Whether they’re in legal or outside of it, there’s a fair amount of volunteer involvement. There’s no question. But the level of volunteer involvement at ILTA really is on a. It’s a whole separate tier in terms of how many volunteers we have and the kind of work they do. And you know, starting with my wonderful Board of Directors and we’re seating a new board on Thursday at ILTACON, our new board will take. Take over, and we have, for the very first time, a President from outside North America.

Bill Bice: Excellent. Yeah, I mean, you’re expanding in two directions internationally. And then also more focus on small, small firms.

Joy Heath Rush: Yeah, it’s I think small firms have our understanding some of the value and I think part of. What we’ve seen is a real change there where it used to be the small firm IT manager was the kind of Jack or Jill of all trades, you know, and they installed printers and monitors, and they picked financial systems, and they did a little bit of everything. And we’re seeing now so much at a very small firm that that senior IT person is managing a series of managed service
providers of 1 sort or another or a series of SAS applications.
That’s a skill set. And so, recognizing that and providing programming for people whose jobs have changed in that way. I mean, part of what’s really important for us is, is knowing what roles and jobs are emerging and which ones are diminishing. No, it’s no secret that compared to 10 years ago, the number of people with titles like Network Administrator that’s a lot different than it was. But you have a lot more people that are Cloud Architects. You know, you didn’t necessarily have that 10 years ago. And we have to keep up with that to make sure that we’re remaining relevant. As I said, I was very excited that there are no e-mail management topics on the grid.

Bill Bice: Yeah, it’s definitely not because the problem’s been
solved, but…

Joy Heath Rush: I think we’re at the doing the best we can category, yeah.

Bill Bice: Sometimes you have to declare victory and move on and move on.

Joy Heath Rush: So what’s your favorite ILTACON moment, Bill, your favorite ILTACON moment? Is there one you can point to?

Bill Bice: Well, I mean personally, for it, it’s hard to, you know, when I sold my first company to Thompson Reuters Pro Law, we announced that at ILTA. And we were sitting there the night before putting little Westlaw t-shirts on zebra beanie babies in order to make you know the connection between the two. So you know that was a great event to happen at ILTA. It’s, you know, there’s some irony in coming full circle now and TR selling off Elite and ProLaw. That’s how. That’s how these things work out.

Joy Heath Rush: Yeah, it was. Yeah, you’re right, totally full circles. There’s no question about it. And there was one acquisition that happened recently. I was talking to a CIO about it, and he’s like, yeah, I don’t even almost pay attention to these anymore. The companies just move around, and OK, fair enough, just like the people move around. But you know, I’ll tell you another thing I enjoy every year is maybe someone that I met at their first ILT con when they were on the help desk, and now they’re the IT director at their firm. Or they were the trainer. And now they’re the head of knowledge management. And to watch people’s careers progress over the years and to know that ILTA had a part of that, you know that, gave them some support, some information, some connections that they needed. That’s terrific. That’s, that’s very terrific. Of course, I won’t mention that it may also make me feel slightly old, but we just won’t go there.

Bill Bice: No, but that career development element should

really be appreciated because what you, you know, what you learn from the connections you make and from your peers and from educational sessions, like, that’s such a critical component in making that kind of career jumps.

Joy Heath Rush: Yeah, it really is. And it’s also the thing like, I can’t tell you how many people had reached out to me during the time I was with a business partner saying, OK, you made the jump from a law firm to a business part. What was it like? I’m thinking about doing that. Was it hard? What kind of problems did you encounter? Was it what you expected? I was so happy to be able to share that insight to help people make decisions because you and I have seen through our careers, Bill, that’s a lot more fluid line than it used to be. You know, it used to be that your business partner was always a business partner you’re inside, whether it’s a lot of partners or a law firm you’re inside; now it’s pretty people move back and forth and employers in recognize the value of that perspective and having the combined perspective and I think that’s a positive thing too. Very, very positive.

Bill Bice: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Joy, I know this is like the

crunch time for you. So, I really appreciate you taking the time out for us to have this conversation. It was very enjoyable. Thank you.

Joy Heath Rush: It was my pleasure. Thank you, Bill. Anytime I look forward to seeing you in person in Orlando. Keep cool. That’s what we’re all trying to do in the middle of summer. And for everyone listening today, I hope that we gave you a few smiles and some information that will be helpful to you and that we’ll see you, I hope, in Orlando.

Bill Bice: We’re going to be there. Thanks, Joy.

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