An alternative view on Legal Tech Conference Swag

Swag Tote Bag
Handy reusable environmental friendly shopping bag or a disgraceful blot on our carbon footprint?

A campaign to decrease the use of unnecessary swag at legal technology conferences #gagtheswag was launched last week by a group of GROWL (Global Rise of Women in LegalTech) mentors who met at the Global Legal Hackathon in New York.

Reporting on this new initiative Richard Tromans at Artificial Lawyer asks:-

Ever noticed how much complete junk is handed out at legal tech conferences? Did you really want that tote bag? The miniature Rubik’s cube key ring? The glossy brochures that will go straight in the bin as soon as you get home?

Richard continues:-

And, it has to be said, there is something a bit bizarre about walking around a legal tech conference with cutting edge digital technology experts everywhere handing out wads of paper and giving away plastic pens that are also designed to write on paper.

Moreover, who needs another novelty plastic USB key drive handed out by someone you’ve never met before…(they’re a security risk anyway….)? Or anything else you will never ever use again, if even once… get the idea. What a colossal waste of materials, energy and money, with much of what is handed out made from non-recyclable materials.

So will that be an end to the Artificial Lawyer Laptop stickers then?

Is it the end of LegalTech laptop stickers as we know it?
Is it the end of the LegalTech laptop sticker as we know it?

However, an alternative view would be that those tote bags are useful and reusable as shopping bags – much better and more environmentally friendly than the plastic supermarket ones. My wife particularly likes, for this purpose, a slightly larger than normal size one I picked up at a conference in Ireland.

The miniature Rubik’s cube key ring I admit I could do without.

Brochures won’t necessarily go in my bin as soon as I get home and if and when they do it will be the bin for recycling paper. You might not have time to speak to every vendor at a LegalTech conference and there may be ones that interest you (even if you have spoken to them) and you want to read up more about. Taking away a brochure will give you that opportunity.

People (even LegalTech Innovation Gurus) still use paper and pens. That is not going to vanish anytime soon. A good quality notepad and pen is not to be sneezed at. I accept, however, that sometimes the LegalTech vendors could do better on the quality of the pens they give out.

USB key drives are always handy I find for having a back up of a speaker presentation on when I am giving talks (a ‘security’ backup rather than a risk). Happy to pick one up at a LegalTech conference otherwise I’ll end up buying them anyway.

Other swag not mentioned by Richard would include reusable water bottles or coffee cups (clearly environmentally friendly compared to the one-use disposable alternatives).

Branded cupcakes and fruit are edible and I assume therefore not an issue?

And surely we are not going to be deprived of branded vendor socks at LegalTech conferences?!  I like the ones from Moneypenny:-

Moneypenny socks

The GROWLers campaign, if you want to join it, gives two pledge options:-

Option 1

We will not provide/accept conference swag and we ask that the conferences we support ban conference swag.

Option 2

We pledge to only provide/accept environmentally and socially responsible, 100% recyclable swag and ask that the conferences we attend require this.

With regard to Option 1 are we really going to see stark vendor stands at conferences bereft of anything for the vendor’s to give the delegates?

Will those vendors still be expected to pay say £5,000 or more for a stand with no ability to give anything to anyone that might want to remember who they have spoken with?

These are businesses advertising their wares. It is a basic marketing principle that it takes at least 7 touch points before someone will internalise and/or act upon an advertiser’s call to action. Ideally this should be delivered in a variety of formats, over a period of time. #gagtheswag wants to eliminate some of those touch points. That won’t necessarily be attractive to a vendor.

Option 2 is a perfectly acceptable aim but a lot of existing swag, as already discussed, is actually 100% recyclable. But how will this be policed? What happens if something not quite 100% recyclable slips in? Even if something is not 100% recyclable but will be worn/used over many years by the recipient (in the same way as a similar product purchased by them from a shop would be) is that really a problem?

It seems to me that this is rather a big fuss over a tiny problem (limited perhaps to that Rubik’s cube key ring and the like). A dedicated website has even been set up to #gagtheswag! (no real content on it yet though). I had expected greater things than sorting out what goes in the bin from the Global Rise of Women in LegalTech.

LegalTech Swag Guy

Is the reality not that delegates should be left to be responsible for picking up what they want, and will use, and for leaving on the vendor’s stalls items that they might just end up throwing away?

Ken Grady, possibly commenting on these issue, tweeted:-

Perhaps if we really wanted to see an environmental initiative that would have real impact on Legal Tech conferences and reduce their carbon footprint then out of town speakers and delegates would have to be banned from attending in person and could only do so virtually. But that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

A more sensible and possibly serious approach to dealing with waste at LegalTech conferences was announced shortly before #gagtheswag by Legal Geek and Janders Dean. These conference organisers have pledged to reduce waste at their respective events. They are looking at their events becoming carbon neutral and plan to share their lessons collaboratively. They will apply the 3Rs of “reduce, reuse, recycle”. This I don’t think has to necessarily involve gagging all swag.

Pledge option 1 should not and does not have to be an option. Pledge option 2 should be aimed towards by all, but with common sense applied. #bagthebestswag

What do you think?

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  1. Hi. i am Aron. I have a fantastic (literally) solution:

    Let’s stop having legal “innovation conferences.”

    I applaud Legal Geek and Janders Dean on the (net) carbon neutrality. They should surely go first.

    Blaze the train, man. Blaze it.

    1. Nah… that’s a bad idea Aron. I’d miss out on a trip to Amsterdam next week for Lexpo19 and (spoiler coming up) the chance to display your 100% Prime Legal Tech BS badge as part of my talk 😉

  2. I’m all for #gagtheswag when the swag is what I used to call my two-year olds toys – LPC. Little Plastic Crap Now if a thumb drive, a good pen or a durable shopping bag is offered, I’m there.

  3. I knew I loved your blog! Call me un-PC but I love and use conference swag especially the free ones and totes. I also walk or metro to my offices, don’t use AC and when I do drive, it’s a small car. I’ll match my swag toting carbon footprint with anyone anyway!

    1. You are not un-PC Carolyn. Just realistic. The swag gaggers are probably doing the opposite of you on all other fronts with the net effect that their carbon footprints leave a lot to be desired compared to yours. Let’s focus attention in the right places (like you are) to make a real difference.

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