As we write this, we are a week out from ABA TECHSHOW 2019, which author Simek had the honor of co-chairing along with our longtime friend Lincoln Mead.
There was a lot of conversation before, during and after TECHSHOW about the future of legal tech conferences, especially ABA TECHSHOW itself. Before the conference began, our friends Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy recorded a Legal Talk Network podcast on-site on the TECHSHOW EXPO floor discussing the future of legal tech conferences. You may listen to the podcast here.
During the conference, we talked at length with other members of the faculty, attendees and exhibitors about the future of ABA TECHSHOW.
After the conference, Bob Ambrogi wrote a thoughtful piece in Above the Law entitled “After 33 Years, The ABA TECHSHOW Remains Relevant and Essential”.
Let’s start with the Legal Talk Network podcast. Tom and Dennis attend a lot of conferences and noted that conferences should regularly try new things. Some conferences are responding to the desire for lower cost education by doing them online, but, as Dennis noted, you risk losing the attention of attendees who are at work and apt to be answering emails and doing other work while theoretically attending. He likes the idea of video conferences and collaborating with colleagues.
Brand new conferences have to struggle to get traction. Happily, that wasn’t a problem for TECHSHOW. After 33 years, TECHSHOW has an enviable brand.
Many conferences these days seem focused on innovation, but as Tom points out, there are always lawyers who need training in the fundamentals of using Microsoft Word and other core software applications. They are not yet thinking about artificial intelligence or blockchain and the practice of law. But of course some people are more advanced and want different conference sessions so TECHSHOW had to present a lot of diverse offerings.
Let’s face it, the large firms are primarily focused on LegalWeek. There you find the vendors who cater to large firms. Smaller firm lawyers stopped going to LegalWeek because it didn’t feel like “their place.” It was seen more as a networking event for the larger firms. Besides, New York is really expensive for solo/small firm lawyers.
ILTA is a terrific conference, but more geared to the technical folks in law firms than the practicing lawyers.
TECHSHOW educates on practical legal technology but also focuses on the future of law practice. Every year, it works to stay relevant and hip, targeting different audiences and the ever-changing need of lawyers. As an example, Wellness and Future Proofing tracks made an appearance this year.
Though both Tom and Dennis like conferences where there is a lot of interaction, they acknowledge that they tend to be smaller conferences. Big conferences, by necessity, have to stay at a fairly high level. There is no way you can become an expert in blockchain in one hour, but you may absorb the basics and be able to follow up on more specifics post-conference through reading, webinars, etc.
As Tom notes, you’ll never satisfy 100% of the people, which is why the TECHSHOW Planning Board pays careful attention to evaluations to see which subjects, speakers and events resonated with the audience.
Without question, TECHSHOW attendees struggle with so many educational tracks, often finding that there are multiple sessions at the same time that they wish they could attend. That’s a good problem to have in many ways. You get the written materials and the PowerPoints for every session and you can look for webinars after the conference if you want to pursue a particular topic.
Sometimes, TECHSHOW doesn’t ask for CLE credit for a session but finds that there is good attendance anyway because the topic is so compelling. TECHSHOW has experimented with communities of lawyers in the same area of practice or interested in particular legal tech topics, which offers more in the way of networking opportunities. Its Academic Track has recently grown very popular. Attracting attendees from additional diverse areas of law (e.g. law students and educators) was a conscious decision of the Planning Board, which this year doubled the Academic Track to a full two days.
As a large conference, TECHSHOW works to make sure there are social events to meet people, including receptions, Taste of TECHSHOW dinners, Yoga, a 5K run and other social events. It now has Start-up Alley showcasing new legal tech products and services (hat tip to Bob Ambrogi for moderating the opening-night startup pitch competition). It has the Law Practice book booth. The EXPO Hall is an education in and of itself. TECHSHOW is famous for its open and inviting speakers – faculty members are well known for being receptive to conversations outside of sessions. And we have the “On the Road” podcast reporting from Legal Talk Network available during and after the conference, another fantastic addition to traditional conference education.
As Bob Ambrogi noted in his article, TECHSHOW’s challenge is to attract savvy legal tech lawyers who are chasing the future as well as newbies who need rudimentary technology training – and everyone in between. It certainly pleased us that Bob thought that TECHSHOW achieved the right balance this year.
Cost is always a consideration when planning a conference. Striking a balance of delivering relevant quality content for an affordable price to attendees is always on the minds of conference planners. TECHSHOW couldn’t achieve such success without the sponsorship and participation of all the vendors. This year there were 75 first time vendors to TECHSHOW and the EXPO continues to expand each year.
Of course, one of our favorite parts of TECHSHOW is that we get to visit with so many of our Canadian friends – and we’re always happy to make more Canadian friends – so mark your calendars for ABA TECHSHOW 2020 on February 26-29!