Fast and Furious: ABA TECHSHOW 2019

The ABA TECHSHOW Conference and EXPO is where lawyers, legal professionals, and technology all come together.

The 2019 ABA TECHSHOW will take place from February 27 to March 2 in Chicago, IL. Once again, the event will be at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. I’ve attended lots of technology shows, but still have a warm spot in my heart for this one. For over 31 years, this show has been bringing the best of technology, experts, and lawyers together. It’s an ABA event but still has the low key, peer-to-peer type atmosphere that it always had. But make no mistake, it’s packed with speakers, exhibitors, and good dialogue. If you are only going to one tech conference, this is the one I would pick.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with John Simek and Lincoln Mead, who are co-chairing this year’s event. Planning for the show is a yearlong process and I know both John and Lincoln have put in long hours and lots of hard work. I’m particularly thankful for their time.

Stephen Embry (SE): How did each of you come to be co-chair of the TECHSHOW Planning Board for this year?

John Simek (JS): Like other LP appointments, serving as the co-chair of TECHSHOW is determined by the chair of the Law Practice Division. I have served on the TECHSHOW Planning Board previously and expressed an interest in becoming a co-chair. I am honored to be serving as a co-chair with Lincoln Mead and working with a great group of individuals on the Board.

Lincoln Mead (LM): I had enjoyed the honor of serving on the board previously and had left treasuring the experience. I had been out a couple of years or so when I received an invitation to be a co-chair from Debbie Foster. She won me over and I was delighted to learn that I would be working with John Simek, which closed the deal.

SE: We are about two months out at this point. How are things coming?

JS: We are progressing nicely and on track with our task timeline. We have finalized the grid and speaker selection. Registration opened on November 1, so make sure you register before the expiration of the early bird deadline, which is January 14, 2019.

LM: Registration is open and we are already seeing a lot of activity. We have had great success in bringing in exciting new speakers and have seen the return of popular veterans for 2019. The board members have put in some incredible work to ensure we have a strong program, and I am eager to see the pay off at the end of February.

SE: What will be new and different this year?

JS: Every year the TECHSHOW Board experiments with different concepts, hoping to grow and expand the conference. This year we will relocate the pitch competition for Startup Alley to the EXPO Hall to accommodate a larger crowd. Law students will be assisting the TECHSHOW operation this year by directing traffic, monitoring attendee access, and reminding attendees to complete session surveys. In addition, the Academic track will be expanded to be twice the former size, with sessions on Thursday and Friday.

LM: The team has been innovative in balancing the program elements that people love along with some opportunities to see different formats that take advantage of TECHSHOW’s new home. We are excited to be introducing an app from a fresh provider that will leverage some new technologies and tools. We are hopeful that this will help attendees get the full experience of TECHSHOW. In terms of programming, we have worked to more tightly integrate the Startup Alley competition by bringing it to the EXPO Hall, which can accommodate a larger crowd and provide attendees with additional access to the many exhibitors that are joining us. We also are thrilled to be able to expand the Academic track and develop a stronger overlap between law schools, legal startups, exhibitors, and TECHSHOW programming. To help with all of this we are currently focused on recruiting local law students as TECHSHOW docents to help guide attendees, increase participation in surveys, and ensure that attendees have the best experience possible.

SE: For those who are considering whether to come for the first time or to come back this year, what would you tell them about why they should attend?

JS: It’s all about the excellent content, networking, and access to vendors. The board works very hard to identify relevant and practical sessions to improve an attorney’s law practice. With over 50 sessions on the grid, there is something for everyone. The EXPO Hall provides an excellent opportunity for attendees to sample legal tech products and effectively “kick the tires.” Unlike some other conferences, there is no cost to visit the exhibitors in the EXPO Hall.

LM: I am not a lawyer; my first exposure to TECHSHOW was as a technologist and educator. The reasons I kept coming back are the reasons I hope that people will connect with for 2019: The opportunity to see some outstanding speakers, to interact with them in an open environment, and to develop a strong network that can help shape and improve a practice through the year. While I have had the pleasure of attending a wide range of conferences over the years, I have yet to see one that so strongly encourages speakers, exhibitors, and attendees to interact and learn.

SE: TECHSHOW has been thought of primarily a show for solo and small firms, and LegalWeek for BigLaw. What is your reaction to this?

JS: I believe TECHSHOW is for all lawyers, irrespective of firm size. The content is applicable to every attorney and attendees walk away with practical advice to improve their practices. Solo and small firm lawyers seem to attend TECHSHOW frequently, but decision makers in larger firms will benefit too. After you attend a session, head on down to the EXPO Hall and spend some time using the technology you just learned about.

LM: I have always struggled with this concept, as I consider all attorneys to be individual practitioners but recognize that some may have larger support systems from a firm than others. TECHSHOW has been a wonderful resource that centers on building awareness of new skills, tools, and techniques that are presented at the individual attorney level but also scales up to “big vision” concepts and technologies that can expand horizons and have attorneys and other legal professionals thinking of the future.

SE: I couldn’t agree more. When I practiced with a big firm, I would attend and learn more than I ever would otherwise. Changing topics just a bit, if I wanted to get involved in the TECHSHOW committee and planning in the future, what would you suggest?

JS: Certainly, communicate your interest to the current chairs/vice-chairs, LP leadership, and to LP Executive Director, Zachary Bambacht. Actively participate in the various delivery boards of LP. It is always desirable to have diversity on the board with respect to practice areas, LP experience, firm size, etc. Remember that serving on the TECHSHOW Planning Board is a three-year commitment, which may be more time than some are willing to accept.

LM: TECHSHOW has always been a very inclusive environment that is eager to bring in new speakers. There are a variety of points of entry for those wishing to get involved. Looking for the annual call for speakers’ announcement and suggesting program ideas that you would like to speak on is one great way. Reaching out and introducing yourself to board members or LP staff and communicating your willingness and ability to contribute to the community is another path. For those with wills of iron, consider adding to the LP Division library by submitting articles for LP publications or writing a book.

SE: One thing I hear people talk about a lot and that some people may not understand is how the Board selects speakers. What practical advice would you give those who are interested for the future?

JS: Speaker selection and content determination are probably the most important duties of the Planning Board. Throughout the year, Board members are on the lookout for new, quality speakers that they observe when attending other conferences and functions. Recently, we have posted a “call for speakers,” where interested parties can submit their session ideas and interest to be considered as a speaker. Potential speakers should communicate their desire to the current Planning Board. Consider providing a sample of your speaking ability (e.g. link to YouTube, recent webinars, etc.). Current and innovative topics are always welcome too.

LM: If there was one single challenge in serving on the TECHSHOW Board it is the development of the programs and selection of speakers. The call for speakers announcement produces many great topics and introduces the board to a variety of presenters for consideration. Many of these submissions have provided content samples or links to videos to help showcase a topic or previous presentation work. I have seen new speakers come in through referrals, where a colleague may encounter a speaker at another event, or after reading an article, and forwarding that on to a board member. Staying engaged and generating fresh and relevant content or outlining and promoting program topics makes the selection process for the board a little easier. Put yourself forward, be persistent, and stay connected to the LP community.

SE: If TECHSHOW 2019 were a movie, what would you title it?

JS: (laughing) Fast and Furious. TECHSHOW is two-and-a-half days of constant activity. One consistent comment we always get is that attendees wish they could clone themselves as there is so much to do and see. One body just can’t attend everything.

LM: Clue (A guilty pleasure). You are running from room to room, learning something new in each one, encountering a number of unexpected but wonderful people, and at the end of it connecting all these experiences into a complete solution that you did not have at the beginning.

Thanks guys, I look forward to seeing you there and best of luck!

About the Author

Stephen Embry is an attorney focusing his practice on mass tort and class action litigation and is the publisher of TechLaw Crossroads, a blog devoted to law, innovation, and technology. Contact him on Twitter @stephenembryjd.

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