The first ABA 2022 live TECHSHOW since 2020 concluded this past Saturday, and from all indications, a good time was had by all.
Maybe the best description of the Show I heard came from Jim Calloway, the Director of Management Assistance at the Oklahoma Bar Association. Jim said the Show felt like one half tech show and one half family reunion. And so it was. Lots of people seeing each other for the first time since 2020. Lots of smiles. Lots of hugs. Lots of random meetings in hallways and on the Exhibit floor.
One of my other friends remarked that he thought it was so nice to not travel and be with his family during the pandemic. That he might just keep doing that as we come out of it. And then he arrived at the Show, and as he put it, “It dawned on me how much I missed all this.” I think it was true for all of us, myself included. Jim was right: it felt like a good family reunion.
The Show felt like one half tech show and one half family reunion
I wandered around the Exhibit floor a lot. (Unfortunately, I was too busy talking and getting re-acquainted and forgot to take any photos.) My first impression was that it really seemed like a typical pre-typical show. Plenty of exhibitors hawking wares. Plenty of people milling around looking at stuff and grabbing SWAG. And yes, as I moved around more, it became evident that there were fewer booths and more room (not necessarily a bad thing) certainly than there was in 2020. But everyone more than made up for the understandably lower numbers with greater enthusiasm.
The vendors themselves also seemed happy to be back live. More than one told me how much they hated trying to sell in the virtual conference world and how most virtual leads petered out. But most felt like they made good, solid connections at the live Show and were thankful to be back in person.
The Show opened as usual with the in-person startup ally competition run by the esteemed Bob Ambrogi. The startup competition is one of the most popular TECHSHOW events. It showcased some 15 innovative legal startups, most of whom were in actual attendance. The startups faced off in a pitch competition – judged by TECHSHOW attendees – to pick the most innovative startup for the year. I have to say I was impressed by the pitches. More and more, the pitches sound like real professional pitches—the kind startups in other fields make when seeking seed money.
The winner was an interesting choice: TurnSignl, a Minnesota-based company. TurnSignl provides drivers on-demand teleconferencing with attorneys during traffic stops and following car accidents. The app connects drivers to real-time legal guidance from attorneys licensed in the local jurisdiction. I say interesting since it seems more of a consumer product than one directed at the legal market. But the fact that it won may be a reflexion for the times in which we live.
As I previously reported, TECHSHOW offered 5 in-person educational tracks. These tracks had over 40 sessions plus two virtual tracks. The virtual track itself included over 20 pre-recorded educational sessions. The Show also offered two “simulcast” events: a keynote on March 4th, followed on March 5th by the ever-popular 60 tech tips in 60 minutes. The sessions seemed pretty well attended under the circumstances. They offered information and insights on a wide variety of topics dealing with law practice, not just legal technology.
The Keynote speaker this year is Kemba Smith Pradianote. Pradianote went from college student to drug dealer’s girlfriend to domestic violence victim. She was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison based on a trumped up conspiracy charge. This charge was associated with her boyfriend’s arrest for actually selling large quantities of drugs. (In an ironic twist of fate, the boyfriend was gunned down and never served any time).
Her prison sentence was commuted in 2020. But her story is a stark reminder of the inequities stemming from the war on drugs program and mandatory federal sentencing requirements. The unfairnees is particularly hard on people of color. Prodianote challenged us as lawyers and tech developers to devote time and attention to combat the fundamental unfairness of our system. Tough but necessary for us to hear. Kudos to TECHSHOW for calling this to our collective attention.
One thing I did notice: Chicago. I walked down Michigan on the one warm sunny day we had during the Show and couldn’t help but notice how few people there were out and about. I was in Chicago in the summer, and things seemed a little more normal then. I think the last round with Omicorn may have done a lot of people in when it comes to getting out. Lots of businesses gone, lots of restaurants boarded up. The one store that seemed to have normal traffic: the architecturally striking Apple store. Figures.
On the plus side, the restaurants where I went for dinner seemed to have a fair amount of traffic, so maybe the few that are left still have a chance. And Chicago is still beautiful, especially at night.
So the table is set for a completely back to normal 2023 TECHSHOW, barring unforeseen developments (which we are now used to). But whatever happens, it was sure nice to be back live this year.
What’s next? This week ALM’s LegalWeek kicks off in New York. It’s a bigger show directly toward larger law firms and tech providers. Historically, it lacked the homey feel of TECHSHOW, but it will be interesting to see if it has the same happy reunion vibe as this year’s TECHSHOW. I’ll be in New York and will let you know how it goes.
(By way of disclosure, I am currently Chair-Elect of the Division, which has some 20,000 members. LP is responsible for and puts on TECHSHOW).