ABA Techshow

Participants were pleased to be at the first in-person ABA Techshow in 2 years

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Photo courtesy of ABA Techshow

For many attendees, this year’s ABA Techshow was the first large-scale in-person legal conference since the 2020 iteration of the show—which took place right before the COVID-19 pandemic added the phrase “shelter-in-place” into our vernacular.

This year’s show, which took place March 2-5 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, wasn’t quite a return to normal. There were virtual sessions for people who couldn’t—or chose not to—make it. Meanwhile, there were fewer booths in the expo hall than prior years, with the number of exhibitors at 71% of the 2020 show, according to Lyndsey Kent, meetings manager for the ABA Law Practice Division. In-person attendance this year was half of what it was in 2020, and vendor attendance was 70% of what it was in 2020.

Nevertheless, for some vendors, setting up shop in the in-person exhibit hall again for the first time since the ABA Techshow 2020 gave them a chance to cement relationships that they have built online with customers.

Brian Gomez, a senior account manager at practice management software company PracticePanther, said it felt much more natural to connect with potential customers roaming the ABA Techshow Expo hall than scheduling online sessions. “People are curious about the product, but they get to see the people behind it and the personalities,” Gomez says. “It is a little surreal after being virtual for the pandemic.”

Sarah Thompson, vice president of experiential marketing with SixFifty, which is Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s legal technology subsidiary, says it’s refreshing to be able to have face-to-face conversations with potential customers and fellow vendors.

“Now more than ever, people are wanting a better relationship, and we are stepping up and saying, ‘We want a better relationship too,’” says Thompson, who adds that en route to the show, she sent her colleagues on Slack a message along the lines of: “Are you ready for people?”

Moving forward

Although most attendees felt comfortable enough to eschew masks and social distancing, COVID-19 continued to cast a long shadow over proceedings. Acknowledging the radical changes brought on by the pandemic, many panel discussions focused on remote working and virtual offices.

For instance, in a session titled “Location, Location, No-cation: Law Firm Real Estate Post-Pandemic,” Jeana Goosmann—the founder, CEO and managing partner of the Goosmann Law Firm—noted how firms’ use of office space was already shrinking even before the pandemic. Now COVID-19 has pushed even more law firm owners and managing partners to rethink how they are using their space. They also are often balancing competing expectations: Although many lawyers have embraced working remotely at least a couple of days per week, others are eager to return to their offices.

“Many partners are back to work, and maybe they are also committed to a longer-term lease that they have to think about how to handle,” said Goosmann, whose law firm has offices in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Another session, “Ethically Managing Modern Emergencies: Are You Ready?” underscored how law firms should always have plans in place to deal with disasters such as pandemics or inclement weather. Session co-leader Anne-Marie Rabaco, the founder and principal of Modern Juris, shared data from the ABA TechReport 2021 that found only 36% of survey participants reported having an incident response plan for their law practices.

Additionally, lawyers should be aware of ABA Formal Opinion 482. The 2018 finding states that lawyers are bound by ABA model rules obligating them to have sufficient competence in technology and to take reasonable steps to maintain client communications even in the event of a disaster.

“I’m hoping this will spark in your brain the importance of having a disaster recovery plan,” Rabaco said.

Session co-leader Joshua Weaver, director of the State Bar of Texas’ Opportunity & Justice Incubator, added that it’s important lawyers don’t get paralyzed by fear. Many attorneys understand that they should come up with disaster recovery plans, but they realize they are not experts on what should be done, he added. “And then they freeze and do nothing. If you are going to take anything away, it’s that you don’t need to overthink this. You just need to do what’s reasonable, and do it before bad things happen.”

Practical solutions

Some attendees were looking for specific tools or programs to help them solve specific problems. For instance, Judge Scott Schlegel of the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, says he has been trying to figure out a way to allow inmates to electronically sign plea agreements in real time rather than have paper copies delivered to them in jail, which can be a time-consuming process. Schlegel said a Techshow vendor suggested that he just use the chat feature on Zoom to share a link to the plea agreement with those inmates, appearing at their hearings via the video platform.

“If I’m able to have the lawyer sign it first and press a button that sends it to me in my Slack channel, I can then easily upload it anywhere I want and provide a link within the Zoom chat feature so that the inmate can sign next from the device they are currently using,” says Schlegel, a 2021 ABA Journal Legal Rebel. “One idea with zero cost.”

Douglas Lusk, president and CEO of the National Society for Legal Technology, says he came to Techshow hoping to find ideas for the latest tools that he could share with students he teaches about legal technology. One that quickly caught his attention was DepoDirect, which supplies technicians and court reporting staff who host virtual depositions and operate all aspects of the platform. “That is probably the biggest one where the tech geek inside of me went: ‘I need to be showing people that this exists,’” Lusk says.

Navigating all of the available technology can be overwhelming. As such, Dorna Moini, the CEO and co-founder of Documate, recommends that lawyers who are not as familiar with technology focus on four basic areas to start: intake, document drafting, payments and ensuring their data is smoothly transferring between different solutions and is securely stored.

“I think those four elements are things you can implement today,” says Moini, a 2019 Legal Rebel.

This story was originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Welcome Back: Participants were pleased to be at the first in-person ABA Techshow in two years.”

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