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By Jim Calloway
I get excited about ABA TECHSHOW® each year, but the 2006 conference was special for me. After concluding several years of service on the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board, I could look forward to attending with fewer responsibilities this time. And what a wonderful prospect that was, since there is always such an incredible amount to see and do during the show.
I have compared ABA TECHSHOW to a three-ring circus because so many amazing things go on simultaneously. With more than 100 legal technology vendors displaying their wares, an attendee could consume two entire days of the conference just visiting all the booths in the exhibit hall. But you wouldn't want to do that because you would miss the staggering wealth of choices in educational programming.
With the addition of several new tracks—including E-Lawyering, Digital Dollars, Support Staff and Practice Management Tips—attendees had scores of sessions under 14 educational tracks to choose from this year. So attendees were confronted with a lot of rich options, like whether to hear "60 Technology Tips in 60 Minutes," a presentation on advanced Internet research or a primer on how to build electronic briefs. Or one might choose a program under the new Vendor track or sit in on one of the hot-topic roundtable discussion sessions (which were instituted last year). I always counsel first-time attendees to print off the presentation schedule in advance and mark their top two choices for each hour. You simply cannot attend every session that you would like. Good thing supporting materials for all the programs are on the ABA TECHSHOW CD-ROM included in everyone's registration kit.
So what were my favorite things at this year's conference held April 20-22. I couldn't possibly cover them all here, but since the editors of Law Practice have asked me to give a report, here are a few observations on what I found that was cool at ABA TECHSHOW 2006.
ABA TECHSHOW is such a significant event that often new law-related product releases are made at or just before it so the vendors can demonstrate the new products at the show. This year, new versions of some well-known products were featured.
Among them, I got a chance to get a good look at Amicus Attorney 7, a brand-new version of the popular practice management package. When I heard that this new version had incorporated the Microsoft dot-net technology, I wasn't at first as impressed as I perhaps should have been. As it turned out, I found that the tight integration with Microsoft Outlook was nice—but seeing the smart tags automatically appear in Word documents that can open with a single click a list of Amicus operations for that client's file was truly impressive.
I also got a sneak peek at CaseMap 6, a new version of the award-winning case analysis tool. (It was not yet in full release, but it likely will be by the time you read this article.) I learned that with CaseMap's new client intake form feature, you can e-mail an interview form to the client and import the client's responses directly into CaseMap. This might not be as useful for certain individual clients, but having a corporate client send you the contact information for everyone who needs your reports and other data is very significant. But the feature generating the real buzz was the new CaseSoft Bates Stamper that functions as an Adobe Acrobat plug-in and looks very exciting. It is integrated with CaseMap in some powerful ways.
In addition, 3M's Digital Wall Display Plus series was cool in the extreme. It is a 60-inch diagonal large wall-mounted display screen with built-in speakers and all the video and computer inputs you could desire. You can make notes or drawings right on the erasable screen and either print them or save them. It's hard to imagine what you could not do with this one in a conference room. This next-generation type of display product seems destined to replace the conventional projector on a table in the middle of a room.
And speaking of the new generation of technologies, Intel had a booth where people could make Skype phone calls to their friends. It was probably the first time many of the attendees used VoIP (which stands for Voice over Internet Protocol).
Of course, among all the gadgets and gizmos on display, many attendees probably thought one of the coolest things about ABA TECHSHOW was the free 256MB USB thumb drive that each attendee received.
This year's keynote speaker was G. Burgess Allison, and it's always an exceptional occasion to hear the incomparable Burgess speak. In his keynote address, "Technology Eye for the Curmudgeon Guy," he reminded all of us that the world today is not just wired, but as a result, it is flat. He also praised ABA TECHSHOW attendees as those who "get it."
Electronic discovery, of course, is on the forefront of red-hot legal technology issues, and there were lots of presentations about different facets of e-discovery on the educational program. One highlight was watching dueling e-discovery experts Craig Ball and John Simek in a computer forensics mock-trial cross-examination exchange. But there was a different feel about e-discovery issues this year compared to prior years. At this year's conference, it was obvious that many of the attendees now have significant e-discovery experience under their belts. There was little of the deer-in-the-headlights reaction, and many people in the hallways compared notes as to how certain issues are handled.
Weblogs are also big on the technology buzz list these days, and there was certainly a large number of legal bloggers in attendance at this year's show. Was it only a year or two ago that live blogging from ABA TECHSHOW sessions over the conference's Wi-Fi network was the edge of cutting edge? ABA TECHSHOW board member Tom Mighell compiled quite a list of TECHSHOW-related blog posts and pictures from the conference on his blog (at www.inter-alia.net/comments .php?id=P3537_0_1_0). Tom and Dennis Kennedy also did a presentation on podcasting for lawyers, as well as joint pre- and post-TECHSHOW podcasts of their own. (You can hear those podcasts at http://tkmr.libsyn.com.)
ABA TECHSHOW is, in a way like no other event that I've attended, the gathering of the clan in the legal technology and law practice management community. There are other great conferences for lawyers, most of which cover some elements of law office or courtroom technology. But none brings together so many of those who write and speak on legal technology issues or spend most of their time amassing expertise in law office technology issues. The sheer number of sessions, most with co-presenters, means that there will be more experts at this conference than at any other.
Plus, there are many other events and meetings that now take place around ABA TECHSHOW. There are official dinner bashes for those attendees and speakers who want to get together. There are luncheons and dinners between vendors or consultants and their important clients. Old friends get together. There are gatherings nightly in the hotel bar. And there are invitation-only events, like this year's 7th Annual Consultants and Technologists Dinner, produced by Ross Kodner and JoAnna Forshee and supported by a long list of vendors. It's an event that's sort of like the Academy Awards for the law tech crowd, but without the awards, the TV coverage, the fancy designer gowns, the … well, okay, maybe it isn't like the Academy Awards at all. But it is still fun.
But you certainly don't have to be an insider to enjoy the collegiality of ABA TECHSHOW. Several first-timers talked to me about how friendly the conference speakers and attendees were. While walking through the lobby late at night, you can catch snatches of conversations between attendees like, "I hadn't updated the firewall in months," "They thought we could just instantly convert the data," and "I've installed three different desktop search apps." Some attendees operate on the theory that it is important to get as little sleep as possible during ABA TECHSHOW so that you won't miss much, including the chats with your peers.
The spirit of collegiality was made manifest for me during the conference's final session—"60 Sites in 60 Minutes" —at which I was one of the presenters. When, through a startling chain of events, we found ourselves with dying Internet access before a crowd of several hundred, it could have been bad. It was, after all, the wrap-up event of a two-and-a-half-day conference. But the crowd laughed along with us as we quipped while showing sites at a slower rate. It was clear how much they wanted us to succeed. Plus, incoming ABA TECHSHOW Chair Dan Pinnington and the hotel staff were up front with us, rapidly unplugging and plugging cables. Soon the Internet was back and we were back in business. Hardly a soul had left the room. It was another example of the positive TECHSHOW spirit.
So I have to report to you that the coolest thing I found at ABA TECHSHOW 2006 was the people. It includes those who "get it," those who have chosen the career path of helping lawyers practice better, those who freely share their expertise from the podium, those who proudly accept the label techo-geek and those who took the time to come to ABA TECHSHOW to learn how to serve their clients better.