Of Conference Debriefs and #ABATECHSHOW 2016 Chicago Travel Tips

A good conference can leave little time to explore a city itself. Hence, I’ve pathetic little Chicago lore to pass on. No Field Museum meditations, no Magnificent Mile shopping tips. Chicago may not best be described as “the appurtenance to the Hilton along Michigan Ave” but honestly, after attending the 2016 ABA TECHSHOW, I am hardly in a position to describe it any better.

The only souvenirs I acquired bleeped in when I disengaged airplane mode on a layover in Minnesota… 95 Twitter notifications from lawyers and startups I engaged with at the conference. Fellow conference attendee, LSUC’s Phil Brown, looks to have summed up my thoughts on the last morning…

Blessed are we that Slaw.ca is not a travel blog.

#ABATECHSHOW Conference Debrief

With a good week now passed since the conference, here are some observations around:

  • the exhibitor floor,
  • conference track sessions, and
  • themes and mounting pressures (according to my inner barograph) relevant to technology applied to the practice of law.

Travel Tip #1 – Wednesday evenings in Chicago are a good time to ignore the city, check-in to a hotel early, and learn about vendors of legal technology!

The serpentine corridors beneath the Hilton opened up to a floor of nearly 100 exhibitors. From stalwarts like LexisNexis and Thompson Reuters (no introductions needed) to upstarts like “pretty Easy privacy” and Social Media Information, LLC (SMI) (default encrypted communications tools and social media investigative reports, respectively), the floor was teaming. By approximation, 15 (maybe more?) cloud-based law practice management tools, including some feisty newcomers came vying for a piece of the LPM pie.

Here’s a glimpse of the companies shilling their practice management wares:

  • Abacus Data Systems, Inc.
  • Actionstep Inc.
  • Amicus Attorney – Gavel & Gown Software
  • CaseEdge by Mozato
  • Clio
  • CosmoLex
  • LEAP
  • Legal Files Software, Inc.
  • MyCase
  • PerfectLaw Software
  • Perfect Practice
  • Summary Judgment LLC
  • Tabs3 Software
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Tikit Inc.
  • Zola Suite

Another clutch of products appeared to touch on aspects of practice management:

  • Filevine
  • LawAlign
  • Uptime Legal Systems

That’s not to mention a number of newcomers who were in attendance, although not in an official exhibitor capacity. I met the founder of at least one startup (Lawcus from MaRs’ Legal X Cluster) with a tool for law practice management.

Based on my conversations, BC’s homegrown Clio is widely acknowledged as the market leader in this space — and this impression was not rebutted by the ribbing I got for being a Canuck among Clio’s competitors.

Clio showed off a slick booth, newbie CosmoLex, out of New Jersey, put on a big display, as did the more established contender MyCase. The result was an overwhelming sense that law practice management systems are the lunch of choice for vendors… and everyone wants a bite out of Clio.

What also struck me on my first day ignoring America’s third largest metropolis was the sheer number of books on display in the ABA bookstore. This is in clear distinction to the CBA, which exploits little in this way. I took snapshots of about 50 covers, then gave up realizing I was just about halfway through the collection displayed. Many are purely focused on particular types of marketing and succeeding in various niches of law (e.g. Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, How to Succeed as Outside Counsel, and Personal Branding in One Hour for Lawyers), scads relate to the use of particular software (The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat, Worldox in One Hour for Lawyers, etc.), plus project management and office procedure materials galore.

Travel Tip#2 – Leave your camera at home. TECHSHOW’s numerous sessions and networking events leave little time for sightseeing.

Mermaids could have been living openly along Chicago’s Navy Pier for all I know. Honestly, with so many concurrent sessions at any given time, I barely left the Hilton’s shadow.

  • Thursday, March 17 tracks
    • Fundamentals of Microsoft Office
    • Mac N Law
    • Starting Up/Starting Over
    • Cybersecurity and Privacy
    • The Productive and Efficient Lawyer
    • Promoting & Managing a Practice
    • Tech Grab Bag
    • Legal Technology 2020
  • Friday, March 18 tracks
    • Mastering Existing Technology
    • Visual Presentations
    • Tech Fundamentals & How To…
    • E-Discovery
    • Advanced IT
    • Tech Beyond Walls
    • The Law of Technology
    • Legal Technology 2020

I can hardly offer more than a glimpse of what these sessions contained, but for this glimpse my own Twitter feed for #ABATECHSHOW is a convenient, if not comprehensive, account of the sessions I attended (drill down to posts from March 16-19).

I’d also review The LexBlog Network’s series of posts from ABA TECHSHOW 2016, which uses Storify to generate a “best of” glimpse of the tweets from attendees. LXBN captured around 10 sessions using this method. The use of live tweets from a number of different sources is an effective way to showcase and abbreviate a session.

Another intriguing tool useful in capturing the essence of sessions was the live info-graphic sketching that organizers paid an artist to do.

I personally tended to sit in on sessions discussing big data, open data, encryption, cybersecurity, social media and automation trends. Surprisingly to me, neither sessions nor official vendors skewed much towards discussions around cognitive machines, such as disruptive applications using IBM’s Watson. Perhaps I missed something, but the one session that appeared to promise more disruptive predictions, “How to Hire a Robot – or Using Experts Systems in Today’s Law Firm“, discussed a fairly comfortable application of non-cognitive machine intelligence to create smarter workflows by automating more or less routine info gathering tasks, much like what we already have with tax assistant software. The “AI family tree”, as it were, is largely in its sapling stage at least here.

Moreover, few if any vendors of AI systems were present among exhibitors. This most certainly could be because fledgling products in this space are still in beta mode. But there’s another possibility to consider: those building tomorrow’s thinking machines may not have much need to build brand awareness among lawyers… if the clients of lawyers are who they’re more interested in connecting with.

Travel Tip#3 – When visiting Chicago, the only thing leaving the hotel should be your data packets… sent safely through a VPN.

The threat of hacks against law firms was clearly front of mind for some. Fellow Slaw contributor, Sharon Nelson, was part of a session on cybersecurity and shared a surprising stat that caught many in the room off-guard…

Tales of egregious data breaches are increasingly common, but attacks on law firms are indeed an eye-opener.

Much of the session’s content was evocative of Sharon Nelson and John Simek’s Slaw post on this topic.

IT security is a growing concern, and one reinforced by the presence of vendors. At least 13 exhibitors offered hosted IT solutions — but more telling still, three offered cybersecurity services exclusive of hosted IT service:

  • Cyber Revolution
  • eSentire, Inc., and
  • F-Secure Corporation

Travel Tip #4 – If tempted to explore Chicago’s nightlife, hop an escalator and attend a networking event in one of the hotel’s several venues.

Public Service Legal Tech in the Data.Gov Era“, featured David Colarusso (lawyer and data scientist), Michael Robak (current CTO at Kansas City School of Law), and Adam Ziegler (of the Library Innovation Lab at Harvard).

Many have heard of the amazing work by Ravel Law and Harvard to digitize the motherlode of reported US case law (there’s this handy Slaw post from Colin Lachance too). But law is generally not that close to the leading edge of open data.

It was cool to hear Colarusso talk about the comparative advancement of other branches of US government compared to law.

One of my favourite sessions of the conference was actually a Lunch ‘N Learn delivered by Casetext’s CEO, Jake Heller titled “Is Crowdsourcing Changing the Way Layers Practice?” The company has built (and is continuing to build) an increasingly impressive, and so far free, platform for sharing commentary on case law — from summaries to full-on articles. The use of a “heat map” quickly shows readers which paragraphs of a judgment are most referenced, both in other cases and in commentary. The company is using some innovative strategies to harness the latent capacity of eager law students to create headnotes and add context to cases. It’s a platform advertised as one where lawyers can distinguish themselves in a competitive market by visibly demonstrating a mastery of the law through articles and posts.

This is an area of special interest to me. In earlier posts I’ve touched on how Clicklaw Wikibooks is also about crowdsourcing experts. It’s about achieving the “impossible trinity” of information, which is simultaneously all three:

  • authoritative
  • comprehensive, and
  • up-to-date.

Casetext is a tantalizing example of something similar, and certainly disruptive to the owners of conventional legal commentary in the way that CanLII Connects is trying to be.

Travel Tip #5 – Never mind downtown. Saturday is good for a scenic cab ride to O’Hare.

If you were there in Chicago, leave a note in the comments and feel free to add a highlight I missed out.

– Find Nate Russell on Twitter


  1. Nicole Black of MyCase just let me know that they sponsored the visual idea maps. I’m virtually positive it’s a service called ImageThink.

  2. I’m advised it’s not ImageThink. Nicole says “Visual notes and it’s Stephanie Crowley. She calls herself a “graphic recorder”: thechrysalissolution.com”

  3. It’s a waste of money to take a cab to the airport: it’s about a 10-minute walk to catch the Blue Line directly to O’Hare. The L frequently moves faster than traffic between the Loop and the airport.

  4. 10 minute walk? Might as well venture into the mists of Avalon. Such fantasy.