General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Why a Solo Attends Tech Show

by Robert A. Woodke

The ABA Techshow ’99 will be held on March 18-20 in Chicago, as usual. Now is the perfect time to consider locking in those dates on your calendar and planning to attend. You may ask why would I, a solo lawyer, want to spend my precious time and money to go to Chicago and attend this once a year technogeek extravaganza? This article is about the answers I received from solo lawyers who attended in 1998. Of course, the show does provide a track for solo and small firm lawyers as well as one for large firms, one for litigation, one for newcomers, etc.

One lawyer cited a need to update and possibly connect (network) the computers in the office. As a solo lawyer, one can’t afford to make a wrong decision and by attending Tech Show, one gets a chance to listen to a variety of consultants in the formal presentations, and they are very willing to talk to attendees during breaks. Thus one gets answers and suggestions without having to invest in hiring them. Furthermore, if the short answers are insufficient, one can identify a consultant who might be the most helpful for a particular problem or project.

A litigator gets an opportunity to see and hear how other trial lawyers are using technology programs to improve their effectiveness at persuading juries. At Tech Show one can see the technology in action. Those with experience share the pros and cons and also tell about the potential problems and how to avoid them.

Computer animations are demonstrated. Thus their effectiveness is presented for those in attendance to judge on their own. Their cost is discussed. What types of cases they are most effective in are explored.

Computer programs that depict human anatomy and injuries to the bodily structures are available and demonstrated. The adequacy of such software is much easier to judge when you are able to see it function on a computer and look at the output quality. Imagine the ability to have accurate, full-color trial exhibits at a fraction of the cost of hiring a medical illustrator. With a trip to Tech Show you can see this type of technology demonstrated and talk to the vendor about what you need in your office to make use of it. It’s much easier to make a decision about buying such a tool after the opportunity to have a hands-on experience, as opposed to reading a brochure or a magazine ad.

Both the Microsoft and Corel presentation programs are used by speakers. One can thus see each of the programs in actual use, and draw your own conclusion about which is best suited to your particular needs. One lawyer pointed out that he hadn’t even known the Suite he already had installed at his office had that capability. He bemoaned the fact that he hadn’t been employing the technology in his trials.

Rick Rodgers showed those in attendance how a solo lawyer can have a real estate transactional practice and run the same out of a briefcase. No office overhead there. His demonstration of the use of a scanner with a laptop computer and portable printer utilizing readily available software allowed him to do real estate documents and conduct closings without the need for supporting staff or even an office was certainly eyeopening. Any solo faced with a question of whether to increase staff or look to alternatives could learn from such a demonstration.

One lawyer was there to try to decide whether to get a case management system and what billing software the office would use due to a recent change to Windows from DOS. A chance to see the actual software being demonstrated by the manufacturer’s representatives allowed her to get a better idea of the capability of a number of different possible choices. It also allowed her to see how well (or poorly as the case may be) the case managers interacted with time and billing software.

Several solos in attendance were interested in the chance to see and compare voice recognition products. Two major players in that field, IBM’s Via Voice and Dragon Dictate’s Naturally Speaking were present and being demonstrated. Is voice recognition able to replace a secretary? Perhaps not, but it certainly is making the way documents will be produced in the future much different than it has been in the past. With the products being demonstrated it was apparent that the state of the art was much improved over the previous year’s product. No longer was one required to speak like a robot to get a document produced. It will be interesting to see what enhancements will be demonstrated at the next Tech Show. The vendors were able to explain their new enhancements and give guidance on the level of technology required to utilize the programs.

The chance to network with other lawyers was another feature of Tech Show that will be available in 1999. Many solos felt the best benefit was the ability to discuss the use of technology in their practice with others who were in a similar setting and learn from their experiences.

Last year those in attendance had a chance to purchase Palm-Pilot units at a discount. This little marvel allows a user to keep a data-base of contacts, a calendar of events, and to exchange information with the office computers. And it fits in your coat pocket! It will be interesting to see if the committee putting on the next Tech Show will be able to arrange a similar deal for those in attendance.

In fairness, some of the other vendors had special pricing for equipment or software purchased during the show. This discounting allows someone interested in the product to save money versus buying at home. Many vendors will either ship for you or you can carry it with you, whichever is more convenient.

Another valuable aspect of the vendors’ showcase is an opportunity to ask the vendors how to resolve any questions or problems one has with their particular software or hardware. On numerous occasions I overheard attendees asking, "I’ve got this program and I want to know how you. . . .?" The typical response at the show is: "Let me show you that," followed by a hands-on demonstration of a solution to the question. How much more effective this is than telephone support lines!

In conclusion, we can summarize the reasons for attending Tech Show as saving the two most precious resources: time and money. The ability to personally evaluate technology products, the chance to see practical applications demonstrated, the opportunity to get vendors’ answers to technology issues, and networking with fellow lawyers all are components of saving time and money. Shouldn’t you plan to attend now? n


Robert A. Woodke practices in Bemidji, Minnesota.

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