It’s time again for the ABA TECHSHOW at the Hilton Hotel in windy and cold Chicago. TECHSHOW holds a special place in my heart: it’s where I was first introduced to an honest to goodness tech show (let’s face it – there’s a ton of lesser shows out there) and it’s where I first met a lot of the good folks with the ABA Law Practice Division.

TECHSHOW does not have the crowds and pizazz of ALM’s Legalweek. It’s more of a relax in your blue jeans and visit with old friends’ kind of show. Make no mistake, it has plenty to offer whether its presentations (24 tracks), exhibitors (over 119), and parties (don’t worry, there’s more than you can go to.) But it’s just a little easier to get around and not as hectic as the other shows.

The slower pace encourages taking more time to talk with peers and vendors, fostering a feeling of community. While TECHSHOW usually appeals more to small- and mid-size firms, my impression this year is that bigger firms are becoming more involved. How this will affect the show remains to be seen.

This year the program chair is Adriana Linares, a law practice consultant and founder of LawTech Partners. Ms. Linares has significantly “souped up” the offerings and tracks to make TECHSHOW more relevant and engaging. To the chagrin of some of the long-time speakers, she has also brought in a fresh set of presenters and a bunch of new topics. While this has resulted in some spoilsports refusing to attend, it will be nice to see and hear some fresh perspectives.

She also brought in a pitch contest of 12 legal startups. These are my favorites:

  • A wholly automated platform that matches solo and small firm attorneys with small businesses based on pre-selected, a-la-carte flat rates
  • A platform that helps law firms, companies, and law schools manage their pro bono work with streamlined sourcing, tracking, and outcome reporting on a modern, tech-forward platform
  • Software that quickly and efficiently connects skilled project attorneys to legal work and an automated timekeeping app for lawyers that will automatically track, categorize and describe all of a lawyer’s billable actions.

Additionally, a health and wellness track and various fitness challenges has been added (including a 5k on Friday) and the sessions involving practice management and technology are designed to focus law school interest in adding these kinds of courses. Ms. Linares has actually added a separate academic tract that focuses entirely on the needs of law schools and students. A “Tech for Justice” hackathon has also been added.

The keynote this year is, interestingly enough, a panel discussion with Mark Britton, the CEO of Avvo; Charley Moore, the CEO of Rocket Lawyer; and John Suh, the CEO of Legal Zoom. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen when the heads of three legal disruptors face an audience of lawyers hostile to the changes they have wrought, but it will be interesting. Another plenary session happily focuses on the role of women in the use of technology in the practice of law.

In looking at the agenda, there is still a lot of the old standby presentations about how to do things with Microsoft and IOS (to the dismay of some, there is no Apple track this year), but there is  an emphasis on process management. I think the topic is all too often ignored: one of my favorite titles is But I’m a Lawyer Not a Project Manager. There are also tracks on the use of data analytics and moving to the cloud and even how to leverage technology for the payment of legal fees.

There are also some very practical presentations ranging from how to be an author to career alternates to legal practice. There seems to be a renewed emphasis on the business nuts-and-bolts of running a law office while practicing law (one presentation, for example is entitled Technology in Your Practice: Cost Effective Purchases).

This year, TECHSHOW seems to be more holistic: not only on how to be a good lawyer and use technology tools, but to be a happier person. Ms. Linares has also introduced a unique system of scarfs for people to wear that better identifies them by their roles and interests in hopes of encouraging more networking.

One standby that will still be with us is the Saturday morning session called 60 tips in 60-minutes. This is the traditional closing session of TECHSHOW, but this year’s exceptional presenters will make it very fun: Adam Camras of Legal Talk Network, Jack Newton of Clio, and Ivan Hemmans of O’Melveny & Myers.

Many of the usual suspects are back as exhibitors. I don’t know if the exhibitor that brought in people to his booth by providing puppies to pet will be back, but Abacus, Avvo, and FastCase will of course be there along with other biggies like Canon, Thomson Reuters (hope they have hats as give aways again-I lost mine and it was a cool hat) and Netdocs. One new exhibitor of note this year will be Dell Technologies. My firm has experimented with using the Dell XPS-13 and I know it’s a good product. Surprisingly given its recent foray into legal tech and the various presentations focusing on its products, Microsoft is not listed among the exhibitors.

Many long-time attendees have noticed and like the changes. I had a chance, for example, to catch up with my friend, Philipp Doyle Gray, an outstanding barrister from Australia and longtime speaker at TECHSHOW. While Mr. Gray is not speaking this year, he is more than happy to let someone else take up the cudgel. Over eggs, lox, and bagels on a chilly Chicago morning, he agreed with the change in course: “Adrianna has done a good job in shaking thing up a bit”, Philippe said, which he agreed was a good thing. He also noticed the positive addition of the holistic tracks and noted how hard it can be to get to know people at these kinds of events and observed that “there seems to be a greater emphasis on networking this year”. We both agreed this was a positive development. Both of us speculated a bit on many of the new presentation topics and are looking forward to see what they reveal. Despite his long trek to get here, the fact that he had never seen snow in a city (it never snows where he’s from) and that he shivered all the way on our walk to breakfast, as always he offered good insight on TECHSHOW, having attended many more than I have.

That’s the beauty of TECHSHOW: the chance to have a good meal with friends and shop talk on the practice of law and technology, get some CLE and see cool new things.

By: Steve Embry, Attorney at Law, Frost Brown Todd LLC

About Steve: Stephen is a member of Frost Brown Todd LLC and is a member of the Firm's class action and privacy groups. He frequently defends participants in consumer class action litigation and mass tort litigation. Stephen is a national litigator and advisor who is experienced in developing solutions to complex litigation and corporate problems. His mission is to find simple, successful, and elegant solutions to the problems posed by complex and substantial civil litigation, primarily in the mass tort and consumer class actions, and privacy and data breach arenas. Stephen is also a member of fbtTECH, the firm’s technology industry  group that focuses on the future and anticipating the ways in which technology will impact the legal system and the issues facing clients. He writes frequently on the impact of technology on the practice of law and is Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association Law Technology Resource Center and an Editor of Law Practice Today Webzine. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter