Source: Adobe Stock

The value of embracing roles outside our comfort zone

I recently became the Educational Co-Chair of ILTA‘s (International Legal Technology Association) EVOLVE Conference. I ended up in this role because my ambition for myself and my organization required me to wander outside my comfort zone. Yet, along the way, I’ve enjoyed building a community of fellow travelers—professionals in the legal industry who are climbing into the trenches to help build the first iteration of our cross-functional future. By helping each other, we all benefit.

In the spirit of community building, this post announces the (First Annual) ILTA EVOLVE. Relatedly, I will also share some of the details of my own cross-functional journey, which provide answers to three questions:

  1. “How does seeking out work in various disciplines help one expand their skill set?”
  2. “How does functional diversity and exploring new areas enrich one’s life and the value derived from their vocation?”
  3. “How does this approach and experience help me plan a technology conference?”


The International Legal Technology Association is pleased to announce its inaugural EVOLVE conference, which will take place from April 29th to May 1st in Charlotte, North Carolina.  

ILTA EVOLVE is targeted at legal technology professionals and members of the broader legal profession, almost all of whom are dramatically impacted by technology and the process disruption that it drives. Attendees will span functional areas of expertise, including those in the security, information governance, generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data privacy domains supporting the practice of law. ILTA EVOLVE will provide premier learning and networking opportunities developed by a team of industry expert peer volunteers acting as the Educational Planning Committee.

ILTA EVOLVE plans to provide interactive workshops on cybersecurity, generative AI, and the intersection of the two disciplines.   The Educational Planning Committee intends to focus on providing unique content, such as hands-on demos of AI and case studies about how law firms are implementing this technology in the real world today, in the first-day workshop format. The next two days include educational sessions equally divided into security and AI tracks. Keynote speakers and a generative AI roundtable featuring well-known industry leaders will also be foundational elements of the learning experience.

My Co-Chair for EVOLVE is Josh Smith of Ogletree Deakins. Josh and I are pleased to collaborate with twelve industry experts in our Education Planning Committee. Fortunately, we are committed to building out world-class educational materials for our fellow ILTA members. Working with AI and cybersecurity thought leaders in the founder, attorney, core legal tech, and law firm verticals is very exciting. The conference call for speakers will likely begin in February. We welcome industry experts to participate as conference speakers. With the assistance of many of my colleagues, including several at Legaltech News, we strive to build a diverse set of presenters spanning various genders and affinity groups to make ILTA EVOLVE as inclusive as possible.

As an example of the educational content we aim for, there is often ambiguity and confusion about the difference between AI and machine learning (ML). A recent article by Melody Chen does a nice job of identifying and separating out use cases for each technology. See “An AI and ML Primer for In-House Counsel,”, Jan. 4, 2024. ITLA EVOLVE will cover similar topics at a level of depth and detail that sure benefit attendees.

Ken’s cross-functional journey

I am flattered and honored to have landed a leadership position with the ILTA EVOLVE conference.  Yet, it happened organically as I did what was necessary to create success for myself and my employer.

As a quick recap, the foundation of my career has been spent working in the legal tech field.  Most significantly, I have worked building out Xerdict Group, the technology-based service arm of Tanenbaum Keale LLP.  Launched twenty years ago, we were one of the earliest adopters of the legal tech subsidiary model to extend and enhance client service. Fortunately, Xerdict is still going strong today.  See Posts 108, 168, 338 (sharing various facets of my work as a legal technologist).

Boiling down my entire career into a single sentence, I’ve developed specialized expertise in litigation case management, workflow automation, applications development, and legal process improvement, including the development of high-value legal products. Along the way, it’s been a blessing working with so many highly skilled and capable colleagues and clients.

Although it may seem like a bit of a paradox, the more I have tried to help my peers in the broader legal industry, the more I have helped both myself and my employers.

I. Volunteer Assignments

Within ILTA, I have wandered far outside of my usual world. Here are the three most significant areas where I’ve been able to contribute and learn outside my typical skill set:

  • Conferences.   I’ve participated as a speaker in several ILTACON conferences and as a session coordinator for what was formerly known as the ILTA LegalSEC Conference.  In doing so, I gained experience in cybersecurity, the legal profession as a whole, cloud computing, legal operations, law firm financial operations, and many other topics.
  • ITLA Press.  In this capacity, I attended many Company Update sessions at ILTACON 2023, wrote daily articles for the ILTA Above The Law Channel, and learned how AI is being deployed in the product lifecycle development process for many key legal tech providers.  This offered me a completely different perspective on the conference than the educational session element of ILTACON.
  • Strategic Business Partner Liaison.   In this capacity, I meet regularly with an ILTA key partner (my assigned partner is iManage, the legal industry document management system leader) and gain exposure to a legal tech company’s marketing, business development, and customer relationship management elements.   Cf Post 284 (discussing how Chief Revenue Officers in legal tech company are tying together sales, marketing, and customer success).

Although not part of my day job, these experiences collectively expanded my understanding of the legal profession.  And as I was becoming smarter and wiser, I was having fun and developing relationships with great people.

II. Immersion in academia

A saying attributed to many wise people, including Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman, tells us, “If you want to master something, teach it.” I am following that advice, as I recently became an instructor in the Computing and Decision Science Department at Seton Hall University.

A. The value of networking

It is fair to say that my new role teaching was almost completely the result of networking. Over the course of three years, I participated in guest lecturing classes and in a colloquium at Seton Hall University, developing relationships with members of the Stillman School of Business.   In August of 2023, a professional friend of mine I met before the pandemic recommended me as a Contract Term Faculty member teaching three technology courses at Stillman. 

It was the beginning of a transformational journey for me into higher education. While I believe I helped my students develop considerable life skills, perhaps surprisingly, I received extraordinary benefits from interacting with my group of 100+ students in the three courses.

B. My onboarding — learning, preparation, and a welcoming culture

Professor Jones in a classroom in Jubilee Hall

I started the onboarding process during an incredibly busy time in my life—while I was in Florida attending and writing for the ILTACON conference.  Learning the ins and outs of two educational platforms – Cengage and Blackboard – in a fortnight was difficult.  But, with focus and burning the midnight oil a bit, those hurdles were overcome.

Once I arrived on campus, I greatly benefited from an exceptionally welcoming culture.   Two of the Deans at the Stillman and my Department Head were top-class in how they treated me.   They answered my many questions, graciously sharing how they appreciated me and were flexible regarding my new role at “The Hall.”  I am thankful for all their support and guidance.

Broader university events, such as the new Faculty Convocation, further cemented that feeling of being welcomed, as did attending 8:00 a.m. mass, the relationships I forged with the Seton Hall Career Services Department, and even my daily trips to the University Center Starbucks, where I invariable had the chance to speak with some of my students in an informal manner.   

Throughout this process, I learned the true value of being appreciated and working in a welcoming environment.  Yet, it proved to be infectious, as I immediately found myself trying to pay forward in the classroom, working with clients, and my other volunteer activities.  What’s the lesson here? That culture really does matter!

C. The best part—the students

During the Convocation Mass, the Interim President of Seton Hall, Katia Passerini, spoke to the new faculty members.  Her thought resonated with me: students should come first, second, third, and fourth to everyone in our roles in the University.   It was a great perspective I always try to put into practice during course prep and interactions with students.

Ken Jones – Attending the Seton Hall New Faculty Convocation Mass

And, I might add, this is a concept I try to apply in my broader professional work life, as I now will work with volunteers, ILTA employees, session speakers, and conference attendees during the ILTA EVOLVE preparation process and, of course, the event itself, putting their concerns and needs above mine.

Of course, in class, I am a technology teacher. Accordingly, we cover Excel, SQL, and tech topics like AI, cybersecurity, applications development, etc. I am also fairly obsessive about helping our students build their LinkedIn profile, a topic I have written about on Legal Evolution. See Post 234. I know I probably drive some students crazy with that, but I do it for them. Lastly, I also encourage students to participate in on-campus developmental events, keep up with business news on CNBC, and develop key business skills, such as cultivating personal relationships and being comfortable with occasional public speaking.  All of these things are vital to their becoming well-rounded business professionals.

As wonderful as these experiences have been, the main lessons from my immersion in academia include the unexpected benefits and life enhancements:

  • Creating a welcoming, spirited environment.  Meeting 105 students in a week forced me to find ways to build culture fast. As much as possible, I sought to make personal connections with students. This included treating everyone with respect, investing time to get to know students, and providing every student with exemplary customer service.  I also appreciated the value of making learning fun—integrating music, games, competition, and personal stories into the process.  These are some of the key lessons I hope to apply within my role with the ILTA EVOLVE conference. 
  • Serving a broad spectrum of society.  Seton Hall students come from all walks of life. Some students are leadership institute students, others are typical 18-year-olds trying to find their way,  and a good number are under-resourced students who are the first in their families to attend college. I discovered I derived as much satisfaction from helping a student learn life skills and move from potentially failing a class to getting a passing grade (or, in a few instances, an excellent grade) as I did from guiding high-achievers. That was not something I necessarily expected.
Our classes competed for a trophy as part of their final exam review, the competition being part course content, part a “Name That Tune” contest. Everyone had a great time!
  • Learning from students.   After the semester, many of my students sent me gracious notes.  It was heartwarming to read how they benefited from our class, often more relating to life matters than the technology subjects we covered. As I reflect on this experience, I believe I learned more from the students than they learned from me.  For example, it reinforced that there is a benefit from all business relationships, including (or perhaps, especially) teenage students. To a few examples, certain students inspired me to ramp up my fitness regime and rekindle my artistic connection to music and photography. They also introduced me to new ways of expression, for example. going six miles a day on the treadmill and spending time on my piano, yay is waaayyy more beneficial than streaming or wasting time on my phone! I’m hopeful I’ll have similar learning experiences on the ILTA EVOLVE Planning Committee and the event itself.

(Author’s Note: Adding “yay” to the end of a sentence, along with typing words like waaayyy— are unique written expression techniques I picked up from students — they might not be completely business appropriate, but they make me laugh)

Serving under-resourced populations. For STEM-oriented readers interested in contributing their talents to under-resourced students, I recently learned of an organization named EnCorps, which has a mission of bringing more STEM education to these populations. Volunteering one’s time is a great way to help others, yet it’s often the person who gives who received the greatest benefit.

III. What else (beyond ITLA EVOLVE) is on my horizon for 2024?

My core priorities will remain constant—teaching and helping the students grow professionally and personally at Seton Hall is exceptionally important to me and a huge part of my life. As is providing excellent consulting type services delivered with legal tech products for Xerdict Group. Furthermore, I’m very excited to help lead the ILTA EVOLVE conference, which should be fascinating. I also look to pursuing newfound hobbies, such as further exploring my rekindled interest in music composition.

Interestingly, as it relates to hands-on technology upskilling, during the past month I completed a crash course of different video and audio editing technologies related to music. It’s always great to learn new things. I’m somewhat hopeful many of my prior and current students—and professional contacts—might read this at some point and be similarly inspired to work on building their vocational skills via LinkedIn Learning or other platforms.

To date, I’ve used these new technological capabilities to edit audio, lyrics, and video supporting the posting of some of my photographs and songs together. It’s nothing professional and never will be. This is because it’s not my goal to be a professional musician; rather, my goal for this content is fairly basic. It is to try using mediums less traditionally used in the business world—music and photography—to hopefully resonate with some populations via a different voice than traditional messaging strategies, such as corporate meetings, school lectures, professional articles, etc. And, of course, it is great just to have fun being creative! If anyone is interested, some of my music posts will soon be available via a link on my website.