For the past few years, I’ve been hearing about the ABA Techshow. This year, I was finally able to attend.
My purpose? Besides hanging out with some clients, I was interested to find out what sort of technology is being marketed to them for all aspects of practice, and how.
While dozens of summaries and opinions of this year’s show have already been posted, I thought that as a non-lawyer AND a non-exhibitor, my perspective might be a bit unique.
I did sit in on a few of the sessions, and as marketing is our thing, I was picking through the schedule looking for something – anything – that related directly to the marketing of a law practice. I found precious little. The sessions I did attend, on social media, were so bullet-point-beginner that I felt they left the attendees with questions rather than answers. Later, when speaking to a couple of the organizers, I was told that any session that wants to issue CLE credit cannot use the word “marketing” in the title as some states don’t allow it. Interesting how ethics rules and CLE requirements continue to make it difficult for lawyers to find out what they need to know in order to stay in business.
I DID enjoy a session on iOS tips, and it was packed out – apparently they even ran out of evaluation forms. I took some useful notes myself in that one – on my iPad, of course.
WOW. While it wasn’t the largest trade show I’ve attended by a long shot, I was nonetheless impressed and overwhelmed by the size of the Expo. I talked to a lot of vendors, some of which provided niche services in the realm of “I wish I had thought of that!” However, the sheer number of practice management packages out there was impossible to take in. At one point, I found myself talking to a vendor and thinking, “your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I would hate to actually be trying to make an important business choice between them just from shopping around at the Expo. That’s where the networking comes in – but more on that later.
There was some really cool swag, including a tablet stylus that was shaped like a quill from the folks at Clio. I swiped very little of it, for two reasons – small suitcase, and I felt guilty taking too many slurpy freebies since I wasn’t the vendors’ target market. It was REALLY hard to pass on that cuddly stuffed kangaroo from nQueue Billback, however. Regrets…
On Thursday night, there was a welcome reception to which we were all issued two drink tickets – the reception was at the Expo itself, and I heard it remarked by an ABA staffer’s spouse that it was just SO much more comfortable to be chatting with vendors when both parties were holding a beer. I have to heartily concur.
The excitement, the warmth, the conversation, the connecting – THAT is why I’ll go back to Techshow. The organizers set up dozens of “Taste of Techshow” dinners at local restaurants that were hosted by a variety of speakers and others – some of them were even sponsored by vendors. While each dinner had a “topic,” the conversation flowed anywhere and everywhere, enhanced by great wine and awesome food.
The ABA staffed a concierge booth at the entrance to the Expo with folks who were there to answer everyone’s questions, and they were super-friendly and helpful. Thursday’s lunch was a plated awards luncheon, and at my table I discovered someone with the North Carolina Bar that I’d been trying to connect with for two years – we laughed about the irony of having to travel out of state to make in-state contacts.
While I’ve stayed in a lot of convention hotels, most of which had the Hilton name over the door, the Chicago Hilton is a gem all its own. Taking up an entire city block and with a storied history going back to 1927, it was an amazing mix of early 20th century opulence and top-shelf modern hospitality. My room with the panoramic view of Lake Michigan was such an awesome place to be that sometimes I had to make myself get out the door and back down to the show.
What was super-clear by the end of Day 1 was that there is no avoiding the cloud for today’s practice managers. It isn’t just the tech of tomorrow – it’s the tech of TODAY. Top topics of conversation were the cloud and security – and one presenter put it into perspective by asking why we felt the postal service or a messenger was any more secure than an encrypted data connection. While someone joked that they were “contractually obligated to mention Dropbox in every session,” blogger Carolyn Elefant was not distracted from the bigger picture.
Also, it seemed that any software vendor that did NOT offer a fully-featured mobile app was running behind – iPads are becoming more at home in depositions and courtrooms, to the point of being considered indispensable by many practicing attorneys in attendance.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one who felt that the sessions were overly basic – a North Carolina lawyer running a nearly paperless office said she wouldn’t be back because there was absolutely nothing going on for her to learn – and I agree. It’s tough trying to put together a program for 1400 attorneys from everywhere and at every possible point in integrating technology into their practices – not a job I’d like to take on!
Several of us felt that “round tables” where lawyers using certain tech can gather and look over each other’s shoulders at how each person is making use of it would be far more helpful that hearing about it all in the abstract. I’d love to see how that could fit in with the existing paradigm. Just from talking to people, it seemed that Clio was a favorite in terms of practice management – one person said, “it just works.” That type of buzz is way more valuable than comparing vendorspeak and trying to make sense of it all.
Overall, l recommend Techshow, despite the considerable expense of attendance – you can cherry-pick a few sessions for yourself, walk the Expo hall and keep up with what’s going on, and MOST importantly – hang out with your peers and get to the nitty gritty of what really matters – avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome and keeping your eye on the ball when it comes to succeeding in practice.
See you there next year!