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Legal Currents: ABA Techshow 2012: Legal tech and innovation

Nicole Black

Every year in early spring, legal technology enthusiasts from across the United States, Canada and even Europe, converge upon the Chicago Hilton to attend the American Bar Association’s premier legal technology conference, ABA Techshow.

For those unfamiliar with this conference, it is sponsored by the the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section and its goal is “to bring lawyers and technology together.” It does this by presenting multiple and varied technology tracks. This year there was a strong focus on mobile technologies and apps, cloud computing, paperless offices, and collaboration techniques and tools.

The conference kicked off with an exciting pre-conference event on the evening of March 28: Lexthink.1, a series of 10 6-minute talks given by leaders of innovation in the legal field. The theme this year was “Serving Clients Better” and a sampling of the inspiring talks included: 1) “Legal Industry Startups: An Overview” by Rich Granat of DirectLaw; 2) “One Word That Will Reinvent How You Serve Clients” by Jay Shepherd of Prefix; 3) “Don’t Just Communicate” by Matt Spiegel of MyCase; and 4) “Back to the Future” by Mark Britton of Avvo. Videos of all talks will be available in a few weeks (online: www.pointonelaw.com/).

The official start of the conference was the next day, March 29. The keynote was given by Ben Stein, well known for, among many other things, his roles as the mind-numbingly drab, drawling Economics teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” His delightfully funny keynote focused on economics and the law, but what I found to be the most interesting aspect of his talk was how it came to be in the first place.

Apparently, when the Techshow board met in California last year to plan the 2012 event, Ben Stein was on their short list for keynote speakers, but they were unsure whether this event would be enough of a draw for him, given his celebrity.

Following the meeting in which the keynote was discussed, a member of the Techshow board, Natalie Kelly, the director of the State Bar of Georgia’s Law Practice Management Program in Atlanta, went on a shopping excursion. As she stood near the jewelry department of a department store in a well-traveled mall, who should walk out of the elevator but Ben Stein! She expressed her surprise by exclaiming, “It’s Ben Stein!” To which he replied, “Yes, it is.” And from that peculiar happenstance, a keynote was born.

That Techshow’s keynote arose from such a serendipitous occasion does not surprise me, since it mirrors experience of Techshow itself — which draws lawyers enthralled with technology. This convergence of like-minded individuals in once place tends to result in a plethora of seemingly random encounters and connections that lead to lifelong friendships and enduring business relationships.

After all, that’s a big part of what Techshow is all about: connecting with other legal technology enthusiasts who share a vision of our profession where technology and the law not only peacefully coexist, but actually work together to improve the delivery of legal services to clients.

Of course, Techshow’s not just about networking, although that’s an integral part of this conference — it’s also about learning about the latest trends in legal technology. And, there were plenty of opportunities to do just that, whether from the recently released ABA legal technology books, the official Techshow sessions, the vendor track and vendor-sponsored “lunch and learn” sessions, or from perusing the offerings of legal technology vendors on the EXPO floor.

There was a wide offering of new books this year, including “Limited Scope Legal Services: Unbundling and the Self-Help Client” by Steph Kimbro, “LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers” by Allison Shields and Dennis Kennedy, “The iPad in One Hour for Lawyers” by Tom Mighell, “Microsoft OneNote in One Hour for Lawyers” by Ben Schorr, and my newest book, “Cloud Computing for Lawyers.” These books, and many more, can be purchased at the ABA’s online store (online: https://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/index.cfm).

Between the official Techshow track and the vendor-sponsored seminars, there were over 60 sessions to choose from. My favorite session was the “60 iOS Apps for Lawyers in 60 Minutes” given by attorneys Josh Barrett, Brett Burney and Jeffrey Richardson. This presentation stood out due to the quality of the content and the beautifully designed slides.

The speakers presented the material with ease and humor and obviously knew their stuff. The apps discussed were highly relevant to lawyers who use iPhones and iPads in their practices. Should you be interested, the entire list of apps discussed can be found at Jeffrey Richardson’s well-traveled blog, “iPhone JD”  (http://tinyurl.com/60apps60min).

Another highlight of the conference was the Plenary speech, “The Future of Law Practice: Dark Clouds or Silver Linings,” given by Jim Calloway, the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program.

According to Calloway, technology will be the defining factor between lawyers who survive in midst of these rapidly changing times and those who don’t. He explained that the only way that lawyers can hope to thrive is to reinvent their law offices to be more efficient and competitive. As part of this reinvention of law practice, he stressed the importance of project management, document assembly, online back up and alternative fee arrangements. 

His 5 take away points were that: 1) Great client service and client portals will be a key requirement to a successful law practice in the very near future;  2) Lawyers must invest in more efficient business processes; 3) It is essential that lawyers implement better document assembly; 4) Lawyers need to pay attention to societal trends and changes; 5) Lawyers must innovate and improve every year; and finally 6) Information technology will be a huge part of our future. Lawyers who don’t get it won’t make it.

In other words, as I’ve oft-repeated: Innovate or die. While it sounds ominous and over the top, it’s an unfortunate truth that the legal profession must understand and act on in order to be successful in the face of never-before-seen technological change. The effect of this rapid and far reaching change upon our culture is unprecedented and simply cannot be ignored.

But of course, lawyers who attended Techshow this year already know that and because of the knowledge gained in Chicago, are poised to be at the forefront of our profession, leading the way into the uncharted technological frontier that is our newfound reality.

Are you as well prepared as your colleagues who attended Techshow? If not, you might want to consider making a trip to Chicago next spring. You’ll have a great time, expand your professional network, and arm your law practice with the tools needed to thrive in this rapidly changing, new world, technology-based economy.

Nicole Black is VP at MyCaseInc.com, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is also of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes three legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycaseinc.com.

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