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ABA TECHSHOW: Hot Topics Q&A with Paul Unger

In April, the 25th annual ABA TECHSHOW® hits Chicago, with three days of topflight continuing legal education and countless opportunities to network while learning about legal technology tools, services and strategies in a fun and fast-paced environment. Law Practice asked conference chair Paul Unger for an insider’s tour.

What: 25th Annual ABA TECHSHOW: Bringing Lawyers and Technology Together
When: April 11-13, 2011
Where: Hilton Chicago
How: Go to to find detailed information on programming, pricing and exhibitors. To register, go to The early-bird registration deadline is February 25.

Q. What is the big news at ABA TECHSHOW this year?

It’s the Silver Jubilee! We are excited that 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of ABA TECHSHOW. Our commitment has always been to focus on emerging technologies and it really is amazing to think of all that has happened in technology since 1985. When I look at the schedule of sessions we are putting together, it is great to see so many topics that are on the cusp of technology trends: tablets, cloud computing, e-discovery, litigation technology and paperless offices—these are concepts we were just dreaming about 25 years ago.

I’m also impressed by how much we’ve matured in the ways we are able to present so many technology sessions—ABA TECHSHOW isn’t about just sitting in seminars all day long. We strive to balance each participant’s time with a variety of different ways to learn and interact. Attendees can choose from nearly 20 educational tracks, plus Lunch and Learns, Meet the Author sessions, Taste of ABA TECHSHOW dinners with speakers, roundtables, tips and tricks sessions, and an enormous legal technology expo, all of which will be complemented by our YouTube channel, Twitter feed and Facebook presence.

Q. The keynote speakers are always interesting. Who’s on the slate?

With this being the 25th anniversary, we wanted to bring in someone really special this year. We are thrilled to have a huge name and author in legal technology as our keynote speaker, Larry Lessig, who currently serves as Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and as a professor at Harvard Law School. Professor Lessig has long been known for his distinctive presentation style, but he brings a special perspective to our Silver Jubilee due to his consistent focus on law and technology. He has been active in the Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons; in addition, he has served as lead counsel in a number of important cases marking the boundaries of copyright law in a digital age, including Eldred v. Ashcroft, a challenge to the 1998 Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Plus, he has written several books on the intersection of law and technology, including The Future of Ideas, Free Culture, Code v2 and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.

As technology continues to evolve in new and exciting directions, I can’t think of anyone better suited to speak at an event focused on bringing lawyers and technology together.

Q. What’s the hot buzz in law office technology for 2011?

The two areas where I have noticed tremendous growth and interest are cloud computing and social networking. With new media infiltrating almost every aspect of our lives, lawyers are facing new questions about tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Web-based marketing. The legal profession can no longer ignore social media, but we need to be careful about the social media policies we put in place within our firms or departments.

What’s unique to our profession is that we need to understand not only how to use these tools from a functional perspective, but also how to use them within the guidelines of our profession. Lawyers face challenges about confidentiality, privacy, burden of care and additional ethics that need to be considered when we are posting information for the world to see.

On the flip side, social media has become one of the newest resources for e-discovery. For litigators in particular, learning how to mine these tools effectively can be key in building a case. We have sessions focused on how to use these tools as well as critical issues to consider.

Cloud computing is another obvious buzz phrase in the technology marketplace today. There are tons of products on the market that promise a lot of great things. It’s easy to be attracted to the idea of accessing your documents, case files and e-mails from anywhere—but depending on what you are trying to do and the specific demands of your firm, it’s important to understand how “cloud solutions” work and whether they are ready for you and vice versa. There are also specific considerations about security, budgeting and how each solution is built that we will address. I truly believe that cloud solutions are going to become more and more prevalent in the legal technology landscape, and ABA TECHSHOW is taking on the challenge of showing you how and when it might be right for you to move into the cloud.

Q. Who should plan to attend ABA TECHSHOW?

It’s important to stress that ABA TECHSHOW is for everyone who works in a law office or legal department. Technology doesn’t need to be intimidating to anyone. We’ve intentionally scheduled sessions that start at the ground level, such as “Web Site 101” and “Jumpstart Technology Skills,” that can serve as a great way to dip your toes into the world of legal technology. I have no doubt that any legal professional who is interested in technology will find benefit in this year’s ABA TECHSHOW. Simply put, ABA TECHSHOW is for lawyers, judges, support staff and IT professionals, no matter your level of expertise or comfort with technology.

Q. What makes the 25th anniversary of ABA TECHSHOW so unique?

The 25-year milestone really can’t be overlooked when it comes to ABA TECHSHOW. Technology changes so fast that the fact that this event has consistently been able to stay abreast of “what’s next” is a testament to the caliber of everyone who makes ABA TECHSHOW work. We’ve just gone through one of the most challenging economic times that we as a country, and an industry, have ever had to face. Last year, planning board chair Debbie Foster repeatedly emphasized the need for lawyers to use technology to “do more with less.” I think technology has answered this challenge—just look at the computing power that now exists in a mobile phone, or the concept of accessing your entire business with only an Internet connection, or paperless office strategies driving down our dependencies on physical space and overhead costs. We’re seeing some pretty tremendous advances. Now we are poised to reap the rewards of those advances, and our mission at ABA TECHSHOW is to show the legal community how to harness the power of these new tools and strategies. As we strive to put together another great conference, we’re truly realizing how far technology has come as well as the opportunities that are now just waiting for lawyers to take advantage of them.

About the Author

Paul Unger is a lawyer and founding member of Affinity Consulting, Inc. in Columbus, OH, and Chair of the ABA TECHSHOW 2011 Planning Board.