LawFest 2014: Something rather special

LawFest logo

I go to a fair few legal conferences every year and often report about them on here. When I saw early tweets about LawFest it was clear that something very different, from the legal conference as we know it, was forming. I had to go to Cheltenham and experience it. So non ‘legal’ did it look that I persuaded my wife (who is an architect and not a lawyer) to join me.

On arrival at The Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham on Friday evening we were given wristbands not name badges. We were welcomed with drinks. There were familiar faces to catch up with and new ones to get to know (including my first face to face encounter with a cigar smoking bear).

Then through to the theatre for an introduction from Paul Gilbert.

LawFest - Paul Gilbert

He told us that LawFest did not carry CPD points:-

Collecting CPD is not personal development, is not learning, is not anything except a small tick in a largely irrelevant box.

Paul set out his vision of LawFest: a place to be involved, to think, talk and connect.

Then Fiona Laird asked us all to write a four line poem entitled ‘Forgotten’. She gathered them in. She congratulated us on our creativity. She then ripped the poems up and put them in a bin. This she said alleviated our fears that she might read them out. Not sure if it prepared us fully for the fact that the following day we would be creating stuff and reading it out!

My poem, for what it is worth, is:-


I have forgotten

how to write  a poem

Shall I be forgiven?

Can I write another?

Saturday morning started with some live jazz with JCJazz to get us in the swing. We were welcomed by Paul who then began a conversation with Tracy Edwards MBE, sailor, entrepreneur and leader.

Tracy insisted that there was nothing special about her. Sailing around the world arose from a drunken evening in a pub. She did, however, reveal that when she sets herself a goal the thought of failure drives her to succeed.

Hilary Gallo, Steve Chapman and Kay Scorah provided an interactive session to introduce themselves and their fringe sessions. This included a Chinese whispers type session on stage involving actions rather than words with the end result being a very lost message:-

[Kay Scorah on the left started the physical Chinese whisper and shows us what she did whilst John Miller on the right was last to see the whisper and shows us what was lost in translation!]

We discovered that we see things differently through one eye than through the other. We were made aware of how we put our underpants on and how we might do so differently the next morning.

In small groups we created stories one word at a time. This was certainly not a ‘normal’ legal conference and it set the tone for the fringe sessions throughout the day. There were three different streams of activity to pick and choose from. You could dip in or dip out as you pleased. It was impossible to take in everything that was going on but I will give you a flavour of what I experienced.

Theatre director, Fiona Laird, made us find our voice. Through breathing and sound exercises we all sounded much better an hour and a half later than we did at the outset.

LawFest - Fiona Laird

Steve Chapman unleashed the genius within us with a personal creative workout. His six mantras were:-

  • Mad, Bad & Wrong
  • Be Obvious, Be Altered
  • Say “Yes” (to the mess)
  • Fail Happy
  • Embody it
  • Make others look good

We each had to create an innovation from two randomly selected words written by others on post it notes.

LawFest - Pig Park

I got ‘pig’ + ‘park’ so created a pig theme park with inter alia roller coasting pigs, pig dodgems, mud baths and stalls selling bacon butties.

Unfortunately I missed Steve Cross on stage (above) on embracing humour in our lives. But I did go to his workshop on turning off your internal editor, how to make a pattern then break it for laughs, body language and using stand-up to build confidence. There was some very funny moments created by the attendees. It reminded me of my trial at the Edinburgh Fringe and how law and comedy can indeed mix. Steve plans to put on a standup show in London featuring lawyers:-

A break from interactive sessions allowed me to take in a poem from Richard Moorhead’sThe Word Museum‘ read by an actor and directed by Fiona Laird. This made up for missing the earlier session that day with Richard on the evolution of ethics and on Leveson (again informed by actors). I couldn’t express the poetry session any better than Paul Gilbert did in his personal reflection on LawFest:-

My personal reflection is this – When a professor shares a poem he has written that touches his heart, that is then picked up and carried by actors, gently placed before a hushed audience for their quiet contemplation, and it then touches their hearts; in that moment we learn about the power of words, of sharing, of loving, of speaking and of listening …then that is truly a moment to cherish.

Next it was back to an interactive session with Hilary Gallo: Changing chairs to have better conversations. In one to one sessions with other attendees we explored blocking conversations and also encouraging them. We also experienced how you can get someone to move with you without words.

Then a cup of tea was called for in advance of the pre concert drinks.

LawFest - cup cakes

I have already mentioned some of the sessions I didn’t manage to take in. Although I saw Tracy Edwards in conversation with Paul Gilbert I missed a session where you could meet, chat and explore making a difference, change, leadership. I also missed Tracy together with Craig Hunter (ParalympicsGB 2012 Chef de Mission) for reflections on realising potential. There was a conversation with Craig earlier in the day on leadership and team building. Charles Grimes (development expert and musician) had a session giving lessons on leadership in music. Kay Scorah had a workshop on beyond words: Co-creation and co-operation. I also missed the conversation with Stephen Jackson (music director) on how choirs work, the music and the role of the music director. There was a lot going on but as I said earlier impossible to take it all in, even with a Tardis 😉

After drinks it was time for the Cheltenham Bach Choir. One of the foremost choral societies in the South West of England having performed at the BBC Proms and at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. A lovely way to finish the day.

LawFest - Cheltenham Bach Choir

Although the day was not quite over. There were more drinks to be had. More connections to be made.

We were the last men standing. But we carried on well into darkness. Eating, drinking, thinking, talking and connecting.

After LawFest and not particularly linked to it I saw this tweet from Julian Summerhayes quoting Seth Godin:-

This made me reflect that we perhaps learned a fair bit about relations, stories and magic at LawFest. Will that magic continue in 2015? Paul Gilbert in his personal reflection on LawFest says:-

Will there be a #LawFest 2015? May be, but not definitely. There was #LawFest  2014 not because it was tweeted, planned, talked about or made, but because you came. From just one tweet a few months before to the thing it became, it only happened because you came. There will only be #LawFest 2015 if you come again.

It is clear from the tweets in response to this blog post that Paul need not worry. We will definitely come again and more will undoubtedly join us. Paul has created something rather special in LawFest.

Paul said there would be no feedback forms at LawFest and if we tweeted anything bad about it he would block us 😉

I will give my own feedback with suggestions for LawFest 2015 (and risk being blocked by Paul). For a first time event LawFest was remarkably well organised. My comments should be seen as little tweaks to improve very slightly on an incredible start.

  • Festival goers are often tree hugging vegetarians. A little more vegetarian, even vegan (dare I say it), food choice would not go a miss.
  • Those tree huggers like their herbal teas too 🙂
  • Have longer breaks for everyone when no sessions/workshops are ongoing. I have said before that legal conferences (I know this was not one) are often all about the people. More chance to connect socially with the people there during the day would be welcome.
  • Let us know who will be there. I realised after the event via Twitter that some people I knew from social media or through other connections were in attendance. Had I known in advance I would have tracked them down. Absence of name badges (deliberate to make it less conference like) meant it was not always easy to know who was who. Send out a list a day or two before or even hand one out with the programme on the day.

Very minor niggles for something that was rather special. See you at LawFest 2015 🙂

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  1. Brian

    Thank you for putting this brilliant blog together.

    Like you (and Mrs I), I had a blast. As my Tweet said, it reconfirmed my belief–long held I might add–that not all laywers think and act the same, and given the right circumstances are prepared to ebrace a more eclectic mix of skills, fun and humour to unlock their inner child. Absent that they will never reconnect with who they are or their work. I might add that for a long time I’ve admired what you’re doing with your firm, and you deserve all the credit that you get and will continue to get.

    Best wishes

    PS. Next year we should have a face off for the best James May shirt. And do some stand up at the same time.


    1. Thanks Julian

      Yes… not all lawyers are the same. Often those that appear to be so are restrained by the firm and environment that they work in. Do in-house lawyers have more freedom on that front I wonder? Many at Lawfest came from an in-house rather than private client background.

      And thanks for your kind words about what we are doing at Inksters.

      Looking forward to the James May shirt and stand up face off next year 🙂

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