Reflections on ABA Techshow 2020 Part 3: Educational Sessions

Today’s post is part 3 of 3, covering various aspects of the recent ABA Techshow in Chicago.

Thanks to Artie Berns, Research/Emerging Technologies Librarian, Western New England University, School of Law Library, for this fantastic series on the ABA Techshow!

In my two previous posts, I discussed a few of the products featured at the 2020 ABA Techshow. This post is about the educational sessions available at Techshow. Since my focus this year was on learning about products in the Exhibit Hall, I didn’t attend very many of the educational sessions. However, I feel that a discussion of the event that doesn’t discuss the various educational sessions would be incomplete.

A little overview of the structure of Techshow will contextualize some of what is discussed below. The educational programs within Techshow are divided into subject areas called Tracks. Some Tracks span two days and include eight sessions, others are for a single day and include four sessions. Of particular note to academic law librarians is that this Techshow marks the first year of an academic track being included as a full-fledged track rather than being considered experimental or not officially part of Techshow. This year’s academic track was called Next 20.

That being said, of the few I educational sessions I was able to attend, I found the session, Bridging the Justice Gap: AI and A2J, to be the most useful. Before going to this year’s Techshow, one of my school’s adjunct professors expressed interest in creating an A2J project where students could develop chatbots. During this session, one of the presenters, Quinten Steenhuis, shared his experience in creating such a system to assist Boston area tenants with housing issues. After the session, I was able to obtain Mr. Steenhuis’s contact information and obtain some advice on how to proceed with such a project.

The following are the experiences shared by other law librarians and law students who attended Techshow with their law librarians. In some instances, I have done minimal editing for spatial rather than content concerns.

Michael Robak, Director, Schoenecker Law Library, University of St. Thomas, School of Law

Discussing the increasing inclusion of legal academia in the Techshow:
[W]ith the advent of the Academic Track, Techshow attendance and interest has become even more robust.  And Thomson Reuters and Techshow have begun law student sponsorships which has also increased attendance.  I think though, most importantly, there are Law Librarians who are adding “tech ed” to their portfolios to complement the “ed tech” hats many already wear.  Legal research is now part of the practice platforms our vendors are creating and, as Information Professionals, it makes increasing sense we play a significant role in the development of technology education at our institutions.

The pitch for academic attendance is easy.  Most law schools produce lawyers who will practice as solos or in small firms.  Those lawyers will need to effectively utilize technology to efficiently practice law.  While this has been the general story for a while now (remember Techshow started in 1986), technology is an ever-moving target.  Techshow is the sweet spot for attorneys who want to stay abreast of the changes and how it can improve their practice.  Larger law firms are there too as well as government attorneys but it is the combination of the track presentations and materials presented, the newer practitioners in attendance who we can ask the question – “now that you’ve been out of law school, what would have helped you to better understand tech?” and vendors that you won’t see at any academic conference.  These three elements provide law librarians, hands down, absolutely the greatest ROI for conference attendance.

Discussing session: Seeing is Believing: Virtual Reality Preparedness:
Mathew and Kenton’s presentation provided clear direction and guidance on both the possibilities of VR technologies as well as their practical uses.  VR clearly offers the legal industry real potential.  And law schools are exactly the right place for VR R&D to be underway as so ably and entertainingly explained by Matthew and Kenton.  This wasn’t just a “let’s talk about possibilities” presentation.  This was a nuts and bolts, clear and concise, explanation and demonstration of things you can be doing today at your law school.  And with only a very modest investment in the technology.  What a great start for the Next 20 track.

Julie Randolph, Reference Librarian, Temple University, Beasley School of Law Library

My favorite session at Techshow was one I hadn’t expected to get all that excited about – Order, Order:  Law Firm Document and Knowledge Management.  Temple University Beasley School of Law’s librarians are planning to introduce a class on law practice technology in the near future, so I came to Techshow to learn more about what technology law firms of all sizes – as well as other legal organizations – use.  Coming from a big law background, I didn’t have a good understanding of solo and small firms’ technology needs and challenges.  This session gave me a great deal of insight as to where solo and small firms may be technology-wise, provided a thorough run-down of a document management system’s core functions, and included information on specific document and knowledge management systems appropriate for these smaller firms.  As a bonus, after the presentation, I started chatting with someone in the row in front of me who then expressed interest in having me present at a CLE panel he’s starting to assemble – you never know what kind of connections you’ll make at a conference!

Debbie Ginsberg, Educational Technology Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law Library

Cloudy – with a Chance of Sanctions — or Success!, presented by Nicole Black and Jim Calloway

With these speakers, how can you go wrong?

When asked, many lawyers report they aren’t using “the cloud” for practice.  But of course, in 2020, almost all of us are in one way or another, even if we don’t really remember that Dropbox is actually a “cloud” service.

Knowing what risks and benefits our cloud usage involves is a part of maintaining our technological competence (now required in 38 states).  It’s easy to forget to think wholistically when we are trying to buy a service to solve a problem, but it’s important that lawyers understand exactly what they are purchasing.  They need to know the full ramifications of the service on their business, their clients, their security, and their data.  And, as I remind students from time to time- you’re lawyers.  Read the usage agreements and other terms of service!

I teach this concept to students when I can, but the session provided a useful overview of things not to forget.  A few tips to keep in mind when we use software housed on outside servers (or, really, any technologies):

  • Investigate your provider: Do they provide the level of security you’d like?  Will you be able to retrieve your data?  How will confidentiality be maintained?
  • Read your Service Level Agreement: Remember that with many providers, you can negotiate the terms.
  • Check your provider’s financial stability:  Will they be around in 5 years?  Is another company about to buy them?
  • Check your own financial stability: Can you pay for a whole year, or just month-to-month?  What happens if you don’t pay?

Using cloud services is, for most lawyers, pretty much unavoidable.  But doing your research and planning from the start can avoid many problems later on.

Jenny Wondracek, Director of Legal Educational Technology and Professor of Practice, University of North Texas, College of Law

The 60 Tips in 60 Minutes session is always my favorite session.  I learn so much in such a condensed amount of time as the presenters offer up some of their favorite technologies and tips.  Some of the highlights include:

  • Use the word Draft in an email To: field to prevent accidental sending of a draft email.
  • Using PowerPoint to record a presentation? It can now live caption the speaker with pretty good accuracy.
  • The iPhone can be used as an assistive listening device. Turn on the Hearing setting to use your phone as a microphone, and then hook it to Bluetooth enabled earbuds or hearing aids.
  • Best travel mouse – Microsoft PL2 ARC Touch Mouse (I added it to my Amazon Wishlist!)
  • Find out if you have been hacked –

These are just a few that caught my attention. Want to read more of the 55 tips?  See Ed Walters’ Tweet Rollup –

Kimberly Hale, Juris Doctor Candidate 2020, University of North Texas, College of Law

As a first time ABA Techshow goer, I didn’t know what to expect. The Techshow did not disappoint; every session I attended was informative, engaging, and useful. My favorite session, however, was Bring Design Thinking to Your Law Practice by Susan Letterman White. Session attendees came to the workshop with a current project or problem and, after working through the Design Thinking process, were able to leave with new ideas for practical solutions to those problems. I learned that, unlike traditional problem-solving, the focus is not on the cause of the problem; instead, Design Thinking helps people progress toward a solution through a collaborative, creative process. During the workshop, we partnered up: one person took the consultant role and the other played the client. My “client” was faced with the problem of high law clerk turnover at her firm. Rather than focusing on the cause of the turnover, we talked through potential ways to solve the problem (e.g., creating an official law clerk onboarding and training program, in addition to other ways to improve the overall culture of the firm). The exercise was a great introduction to the Design Thinking process. In a former career, I worked as a marketing professional, and what I enjoyed most was creative brainstorming for new content ideas. Design Thinking embodies that creative side. Now, as a May 2020 graduate, the prospect of integrating Design Thinking into my career is very exciting!

Kelsey Dozier, Juris Doctor Candidate 2020, University of North Texas, College of Law

My favorite session was the keynote, which featured Mary O’Carroll the head of legal operations at Google. I really enjoyed her optimistic perspective on the direction in which the legal industry is heading. One of the things I have always found the most daunting about joining the legal industry is the uncertainty of my place in it in the future, particularly in the context of technological advances that are so often ignored or avoided by attorneys for fear of them rendering lawyers obsolete. But Ms. O’Carroll described an ever-changing and innovating legal industry that doesn’t fear obsolescence in the face of change. She envisions one that embraces change for the betterment of our industry that will not render lawyers obsolete, but rather allow them to provide more legal services to more people than ever before. I found her perspective refreshing and inspiring in the face of an industry historically resistant to change, and I hope to share in that perspective as I build my career.

Kenton Brice, Director of Technology Innovation, University of Oklahoma College of Law

The ABA Techshow is always an incredible time to learn, network, and grow as a professional.  This year was no different.  I had the opportunity to see some old friends in the legal technology world and to make some new connections that will hopefully grow into friendships in the future.  Aside from meeting and talking with people that are incredibly smart and forward-thinking about the legal profession and the normal tracks of learning at Techshow, this year, I took in two sessions on wellness and well-being.  Both of these sessions were incredibly valuable.  My favorite was a session entitled “Create Your Personal Well-Being Plan” presented by Tharwat Lovett and Roberta Tepper.  This session included a road-map for well-being, and actually provided a paper (I know, low-tech) hand-out that helped guide our process.  In the end, I had a toolkit to take with me that I am now leveraging already!  Although this was not necessarily a “tech”-oriented session, this session has already helped inform my everyday life, including my relationship with technology.

In addition to my own experience at Techshow, I had the opportunity to take 10 of the law students from the University of Oklahoma College of Law with me.  They had an incredible time at Techshow.  I’ve included a few of their (anonymized) statements about Techshow below.  If you are wondering whether sponsoring law students is something that your institution should do, I hope these will help encourage you towards a firm “yes”!

“Attending Techshow gives students a rare opportunity to switch gears and focus on practicing law. The event brings together so many professionals dedicated to delivering quality legal services. As technological advances go from new ideas to industry standards, we need to be aware of what’s coming. The atmosphere is friendly, and whether you are a tech wiz or someone with minimal tech experience, this is an event worth attending.” – OU Law 3L

“As a law student, Techshow is not something most of us would think about let alone be aware of. It is geared towards attorneys and that is evident by the lack of students at the conference. This should not be the case. If we want to advance the legal profession and provide better value for our clients, then more students should be attending conferences like this and the other tech conferences offered during the year. As a new graduate, we might not be able to offer the most value to clients because of our lack of experience, but we should be able to offer our firms a lot of value through our knowledge of technological advancements that are changing the legal field. This is something we can take out into the legal field in order to make a change.” – OU Law 3L

“Techshow was an absolutely awesome experience! If you have the ability to attend, I highly recommend you do so because Techshow was an incredibly valuable opportunity. Not only did I learn a ton about new and upcoming legal technologies, I also developed some great professional connections and made some fantastic memories. The Techshow schedule was jam-packed with informative lectures and fun events which always kept things interesting. If you are interested in learning about new legal technology and networking with those in the legal tech industry, Techshow is a must-attend event!” – OU Law 2L

“Techshow is a unique experience for law students. It is one of the few environments where students can see multiple practice management platforms, timekeeping applications, litigation aids, and other legal technology side by side, to see what is not only new but provides the best solution to a particular problem. The ability to talk to vendors and see an in-person demonstration is only available to law students at this kind of conference because the real-life tools that are necessary for the practice of law often are ignored for educational purposes in the standard law school curriculum.  Not only is Techshow valuable for the experiences with legal technology vendors, it is also one of the few places law students can have such a broad swath of choices for ongoing practice-specific education. While most conferences have general themes and lawyers can choose CLE experiences based on the theme of the conference, the sheer number of tracks at Techshow allows lawyers and students to create an experience that most suits their needs. For those students who feel that there is a hole in their knowledge, Techshow is a way to shorten the learning curve, in order to be a practice-ready, value-adding individual in their firm sooner.” – OU Law 2L

“When one considers the legal profession, the adjective “cutting-edge” probably is not one that comes to mind. After all, the law invariably lags other elements of society, and the industry that facilitates its gradual march is no exception. But ABA Techshow is a place where innovation thrives and conventional notions of what the practice of law is like and should be are turned on their heads.

From the first minutes of the conference, rising legal tech entrepreneurs showcased their ingenuity in leveraging automation and artificial intelligence to solve problems spanning the most mundane aspects of client billing to the quandaries of the access to justice gap. And for nearly 72 straight hours thereafter, some of the most forward-thinking legal professionals in the world shared insights that promise to make us better, more efficient lawyers who can create value for clients in ways that have never been possible before and have only recently become conceivable. Large discussions on automation, cybersecurity, lawyer well-being, the client experience, and other topics were wonderful venues for gaining exposure to broad observations about the state and trajectory of the profession, but the greatest value came from smaller, more intimate conversations that took place while roaming the expo hall, standing in line for lunch, or attending one of the many “after hours” networking events.” – OU Law 3L

This is the conclusion of the three-part series. If you missed the first two posts, check them out!
Part 1
Part 2

Associate Director of Research and Instruction, Boley Law Library, Lewis and Clark Law School, in Portland, Oregon.