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— Legal Talk Network (@LegalTalkNet) March 16, 2017
Between everyone on this panel there is over 50 years of ABA TECHSHOW experience, which means they are more than a little bit familiar with the conference and all it offers. In this report from TECHSHOW Today, hosts Dennis Kennedy and Laurence Colletti pick the brains of Natalie Kelly and Jim Calloway about what makes ABA TECHSHOW valuable and why you (yes, you) should attend next year. Check out some of their answers (and at least one embarrassing TECHSHOW experience) below:
What do you guys like about TECHSHOW that keeps you coming back?
Sometimes, legal professionals are the last to adopt new technology. But, Natalie says, watching hesitant lawyers accepting and implementing technology and it helping their practice is incredibly rewarding.
“For me, it’s always been fascinating to watch the progression of lawyers implementing technology,” she says.
But valuable information is advantageous for her too. She says, “Year after year I came back so I can take the knowledge that I’m gaining here back to the members of my bar association.”
As important as learning is for Jim, his favorite part of TECHSHOW is the community aspect. He says, “ABA TECHSHOW is really a unique gathering because it is more of a community than just a conference.”
“Sometimes I feel a bit maladjusted that some of my best friends I only meet once a year physically.”
According to him, TECHSHOW is one of very few places that brings together reviewers of technology tools, legal tech column writers, and speakers at other legal events in one place.
How important has the community of TECHSHOW been over the years?
As Natalie says, “I think that it’s vitally, vitally important. I think that the relationships we’re building here transcend this show.”
Even though these are connections she sees only once a year, the conversations and ideas created within the space push innovation beyond the show and influence the legal industry.
For Jim, one of the advantages of the show was the ability to gain mentors. “In my first years of TECHSHOW, I was new to being a legal technologist full time and I got a lot of great training.”
And with such a strong network built up, even if Jim doesn’t know the answer to a question, he likely knows somebody else who does.
He says, “I feel that way, not only about the attendees and the speakers and the former TECHSHOW board members that I’ve served with, but also about the vendors. I’ve gotten some really good information from them because you know they’re going to have their top people here.”
What was the biggest problem you helped someone solve at TECHSHOW?
According to Dennis, sometimes it’s as simple as getting a projector to work at a session. He says, “In all the years it seems like I’ve learned so much about what can go wrong and how you have to, as a speaker, be prepared for so many things that could happen.”
For Natalie, sometimes the attendees that need the most help are the ones who are new to TECHSHOW. “The show in itself, from an educational standpoint, can be quite overwhelming. So calming the nerves, saying ‘take one or two great things from this that you’re going to learn and really, really look to implement those when you get back home’.” While you can learn a lot at TECHSHOW, acting on what is learned can be challenging.
But the community is there for support even for new attendees. “You’ll never meet a more welcoming group of people,” Jim says. “I would encourage all of you, if you’re interested in running the technology in your firm better and knowing what the cutting edge is for tools to better serve your clients, come to ABA TECHSHOW. You won’t be disappointed.”
When you approach an audience at TECHSHOW, how do you adjust to the variety of experiences within the audience?
A common challenge for speakers at TECHSHOW is adjusting to the wide array of experience the audience has. Some may be new to using technology while others may be straight up geeks. Natalie says, “We try to be attentive to that in planning. The educational sessions are basically put into tracks and we try to notate which tracks are a little bit better. And in terms of actually speaking to the audience sometimes you’re polling the audience.” Asking listeners where they fall on a spectrum can help speakers to gauge the direction of their topic. It also helps to prepare for such a problem beforehand.
Sometimes, though, even preparation doesn’t work. Jim talks about a time where he was giving a talk called “60 Sites in 60 Minutes,” in which he was going to show 60 useful websites lawyers might be able to use to advance their practice. The panelists assumed the internet was reliable enough to pull up every site, but during the talk pages would take forever to load or wouldn’t load at all. Luckily, Jim cracked a joke saying they had officially changed the name to “Six Sites in 60 Minutes” and audience attention was restored. Dennis empathizes saying, “We really thought presenting live on the internet was stable enough and to this day I do screen captures still when I’m showing webpages.”
For somebody that’s never attended, what is this conference about?
Dennis says, “I’ve always felt that this was primarily a networking conference. And also it’s a way that you can go to a conference and browse. It’s perfectly acceptable to start in one session and you realize it’s not exactly what you expected or what you want, and it’s perfectly okay to get up and go to another one.”
Network opportunities include the Taste of TECHSHOW dinners, where you can meet people while eating better-than-room-service food.
Networking can also include the speakers themselves. As Dennis says, “The thing I think is really amazing and underappreciated is that the speakers especially are are incredibly accessible.” Often times, speakers will dedicate time after the session to meeting and talking with their audience. Natalie observes, “It really is like a family.”
Even with over 2,000 participants, everyone is welcoming, and the speakers are easy to access. Jim says, “I bet I’ve heard a hundred times here, ‘This is finally the group of lawyers that get it’.”
What are the changes you’ve seen to TECHSHOW over the years?
Since first coming to TECHSHOW, Jim has seen a lot fewer eureka moments and a lot more people coming with ideas already in hand. He has also seen significantly more medium sized firms sending representatives to find technology solutions. “There a lot of people here for really serious business problems. A lot of law firms that are struggling with things will send people to TECHSHOW to find the answers.”
Laurence agrees, observing that a lot more people are coming to TECHSHOW with the intention of fixing problems with immediate takeaways.
He says, “At the end of the day it’s about solving a problem. That’s one of my favorite elements of this particular conference is that there is something that you can plug in right away that will either help with the bottom line in terms of saving money or help keep you more profitable.”
What are PMAs and why are they important?
Since both Jim and Natalie are involved with PMAs, Dennis asked them to explain what they do and why. Natalie explains, “Practice Management Advisory Services is basically a group of law society and bar association employees that are dedicated to the practice of helping lawyers with the business side of their practice. TECHSHOW helps us in a way that it gives us that knowledge and we’re able to translate that into solutions that we can then take back to members to assist them.” Some of this assistance includes helping firms with management, marketing, finance, and, of course, technology.
“The jobs that we do to help with the business side of a law firm’s practice, to move them forward in profitability, in productivity, all of those things is something that we find rewarding and we find TECHSHOW very valuable to us as a tool that we can use to do our jobs,” Natalie says. “Part of our job is to not only help the firm identify what their problems are but to say ‘here are the solutions that you can look at’.”
What’s on your radar for this TECHSHOW?
Natalie has her eyes on the new startup alley, saying, “I’ve been fascinated with the whole startup movement.”
Jim, however, wants to stay more focused on experiencing as much as he can. He says, “I’m here for the basics this time. This year one of my goals is to really make sure I hit every vendor on the vendor floor.”
What makes TECHSHOW your main outlet for legal technology?
As Jim says, “I’m a legal technologist and this is the best annual gathering of legal technologists. It’s really just as simple as that.”
Listen into the video to hear more TECHSHOW and PMA stories.
Legal Talk Network is a podcast network for legal professionals with hosts from well-known organizations and brands in legal. Over 20 active podcasts cover important legal news and developments, including access to justice, law school, industry events, legal technology, and the future of law.