“F@ck no!”

As I stood sipping a drink at The Front Page in Dupont Circle during a happy hour for e-discovery professionals, that was the highly articulate response I received from a technology vendor rep on whether he was attending the ABA Techshow, which begins today.

“That event is more for solos,” he said. “It’s small time.”

In a sense he was right.  If LegalTech New York is considered the Super Bowl of legal technology conferences in the industry, the ABA Techshow is dismissed by many as a worthless preseason game.

So then, why am I here in Chicago for the ABA Techshow?  Well, let’s just say you would be surprised what you can learn in the preseason.

It’s not that the Techshow cannot attract large law firms to join their party.  I mean, the organizer is the freaking American Bar Association for goodness sake.  The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t, because it doesn’t have to.  The ABA Techshow has done a great job at carving out a very specialized niche for itself — a niche which is attracting a breed of lawyer that is operating ahead of the curve on a daily basis.

If you can read between the lines and keep your ear to the ground, there are several legal technology trends that everyone, especially Biglaw, should be tracking. I’ve got three of those for you after the jump.

Let’s be clear, the ABA Techshow is not LegalTech. No conference really compares to LegalTech’s vast size and vendor participation. But, for a legal technology conference, the ABA Techshow has a distinct character. Being in the midwest (Chicago), it tends to be more laid back, and the participants tend to interact more with one another.

The majority of the Techshow attendees are not just curious about technology, they live for it. Where Biglaw is resistant to change, the Techshow crowd is always looking for ways to adapt. They are scrappy. Most are constantly writing articles in journals and other publications and are not afraid to use social media to promote their ideas online. They don’t worry about how many hours they billed this month.  They don’t come across as pretentious or put on airs. And since the conference size is smaller than LegalTech, most of the attendees already know each other from prior Techshows or other conferences, so they have fun hanging out with one another.  In a sense, they are the anti-Biglaw. You know, cool.

With that as a backdrop, here is what I have picked up about the law and technology just by studying the conference schedule:

1. An Emphasis on Solos and Smaller Firms

You think the recession we’ve been going through has hit Biglaw hard? Try being a solo practitioner where you are as worried about how you are going to pay for your family’s next meal, as you are about finding your next client.  Try being a laid-off associate at a small firm where your only “severance” is the back of a door hitting you from behind.

The solos and small firms of the world have been hit really hard these last few years, and many of them are going to do whatever they can to fend off another financial meltdown. They crave the knowledge that can help them adapt to new technologies that will enhance their practice. This Techshow focuses squarely on that group.  They dedicate two tracks of the conference to that audience, consisting of eight panels. Ironically, there are panels in the solo/small firm tracks that Biglaw folks would useful, such as Crossing the Digital Divide: eMarketing to Clients and Prospects or E-Discovery in Small Cases.

2. “sMAC” Down

Who says Macs aren’t for business?  Hello Biglaw? Are you listening?  An entire track at the ABA Techshow is dedicated solely to Mac users.  It goes to show how Apple has made inroads in a community that normally shuns change.  Think about it. Lawyers were scared to move away from the typewriter.  And God forbid they would ever communicate with a client via email. Now the Techshow is saying maybe they should depart from their beloved PCs?  Aren’t Macs only reserved for people like that boyish college-looking kid in those commercials?

3. The Spotlight on social media

The ABA Techshow has brought in two of  the premier social media lawyers on the planet to speak at several panels on using social media tools to help lawyers augment their careers.  Nicole Black is the owner of lawTechTalk and a law blogger extraordinare. Carolyn Elefant is well known in the industry for her blog MyShingle.com and her book Solo by Choice.  She was also a long-time blogger for Legal Blog Watch. I don’t want to say those two wrote the book on social media for lawyers, except for the fact that they did.

So those are just a few of the many things I will be tracking here in Chicago. I will report next week on the goings on here at Techshow, but in the meantime, the best way to follow me will be to check out my Twitter page to track my thoughts or “tweets” in real time, and I am sure to have plenty of them.

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Gabe Acevedo is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and the owner of the e-discovery blog, GabesGuide.com. He also writes on legal technology and discovery issues for Above The Law. He can be reached at [email protected].


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