ABA Techshow Review

I recently attended the ABA Techshow in Chicago.  Not only was this my first Techshow, it was my first non-library specific conference as a librarian, and it provided me with a view from the other side of the legal profession, i.e. practicing as opposed to academia. Fortunately, this was also the first year the show had an official Academic Track, which consisted of five sessions over two days. During this time, I not only attended all five (and the keynote by Professor Daniel Katz from Chicago-Kent), but also several other sessions on data security, as well as spoke with many of the vendors.

The Academic Track was, from my perspective, a hit! Each session was well attended, and the panelists represented perspectives from academia, as well as law firms, bar associations, legal tech companies, and several practice areas. This allowed for various viewpoints about how technology can be used in academia and how that will trickle up into the profession. While all of the sessions were informative and valuable, one in particular seemed ill fitted into the track. The last academic session on Thursday dealt with mentoring women and people of color, yet focused less on mentorship within academia and more on legal technology generally, and in a legal practice setting specifically.

My concern about including this session in the Academic Track is twofold. First, it is an incredibly important and necessary discussion to have for all attendees of the conference, and I worry that including it in the track dissuaded conference goers from attending, but who would have benefited from the session. Secondly, I worry that finding no other place to include this session, yet knowing the imperative to include in the conference, that the conference organizers decided to use the Academic Track as a catchall in this instance. Rather than include this in the Academic Track, the Techshow should consider a session on the social considerations that attorneys should make when using legal tech, including increasing participation of women and people of color into the legal profession generally, and legal technology specifically.

The most destabilizing experience about the conference was my interactions with the vendors. While the majority of vendors were eager and willing to speak with me about how their products were applicable to current law students and soon-to-be lawyers, there was a subsection who seemed to be disappointed as soon as they discovered I was from an academic library. Since my previous experiences have all been at library specific conferences (AALL and MAALL) this was something new, although not entirely surprising. Despite the cold reaction from some, the expo hall was one of the highlights of my experience, specifically since I was able to see how the legal technology which is being used (a lot of case management platforms), as well as be introduced to legal tech markets I had no idea existed (I had no idea off-site receptionist services existed, let alone there was a burgeoning market). The “Startup Alley” featured 15 newer companies just starting up (hence the name) which offered some similar and unique products, as well as offered a clear list of companies to keep an eye on for next  year to see how they have fared. Overall, the expo hall was a delight.

Finally, the overlap of presenters at the various sessions was surprising: of the 95 total presenters, 50 (53%) were on two or more panels. This demonstrates that there is still room for attorneys, professors, and librarians to enter the legal technology marketplace to foster a more complete comprehension and appreciation for the benefits of legal technology. The Techshow’s place in Chicago provides Chicago librarians an opportunity to offer their legal tech expertise and experiences to a wider legal audience and foster more dialogue and collaboration between practical and instructional technology. As an added benefit, this would also expand the Academic Track at future shows.

Final points. First, it was odd being back at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the site of the 2016 AALL Annual Meeting. While it was strange due to the similarity and differences, it also conjured up one particular horrible (yet funny) memory of mine from AALL. Second, for a technology-centric show, there were many sessions on either the dangers of technology and/or habits to avoid using technology. This seems counterintuitive but makes perfect sense–for legal technology to be useful, we need to control technology, not let it control us. Finally, it seems to me that no one understands Blockchain entirely (except maybe Debbie Ginsberg), which makes me feel a little bit better.