By Jim Calloway and Julie Bays
(Authors’ note: Because we waited for our print bar journal to be released, we are sharing this some time after ABA TECHSHOW. But that gave us the ability to include some content from other reviewers.)
Law office technology tools increasingly impact how lawyers practice law. I recently talked to a lawyer who said, “Okay, I’ve had the third client ask me about client portals. So, I guess it is time to set one up.” Every lawyer needs to understand the basics of cybersecurity. The advance of new technology tools cannot be ignored. Just ask Blockbuster shareholders.
ABA TECHSHOW 2022 was held in Chicago in March. The event featured the usual mix of product and service providers displaying their wares in the expo hall and numerous legal technology CLE presentations. As most readers know, I’m not unbiased about this event. I served as chair of ABA TECHSHOW many years ago and have spoken at TECHSHOW more than 20 times. This year featured a significant Oklahoman influence. Serving on the planning board were Kenton Brice and Darla Jackson, both from the OU College of Law.
OBA Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays was selected to present the James I. Keane Award at TECHSHOW. The focus of the award is on the innovative delivery of personal legal services using technology, with special attention given to firms and entities that serve both moderate-income individuals and the broad middle class. This year’s award recipient was Greg Siskind and his team on the IMMpact Litigation project. IMMpact Litigation created web-based expert systems to be able to manage mass litigation cases in the immigration space, sometimes involving thousands of plaintiffs. They automated the onboarding process, including using artificial intelligence-based tools to auto-generate signed engagement letters and declarations. Julie also facilitated some discussion workshops.
Since TECHSHOW 2020 concluded just before the pandemic restrictions began and the 2021 show was completely virtual, this was most attendees’ first in-person event since the last in-person TECHSHOW. Legal tech journalist Bob Ambrogi noted this timing in his review “ABA TECHSHOW 2022: A Karmic Bookend to a Long Strange Trip.” Veteran travelers shared chuckles over how different it felt to pack. Talking to people we had only seen via videoconferencing for the past two years was the most noteworthy part of the conference. Stephen Embry, chair-elect of ABA Law Practice Division, quotes my observation that this year, the conference felt like half tech show and half good family reunion in his post “TECHSHOW 2022: It’s a Wrap!”
So, while we are writing about ABA TECHSHOW, our thoughts cannot help but be drawn to our own upcoming OBA “reunion” this summer, the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference. For example, two of Jim’s TECHSHOW presentations, “The Digital Client File” and “The Future of Law,” will be presented at the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference. The final session of the conference will be “The Future of Law,” where several of our panelists will give their predictions about what comes next, interspersed with the usual end-of-conference door prize extravaganza. If you are inspired to attend this year’s Solo & Small Firm Conference in June, visit www.okbar.org/solo for more information and to register.
ABA TECHSHOW’S STARTUP ALLEY
ABA TECHSHOW’s Startup Alley competition gave an opportunity for promising legal tech startups to exhibit at TECHSHOW. First, there was a review by a group of TECHSHOW participants, then online voting narrowed down the field to 15 (nearly 32,000 votes were received). The top 15 gave a short, in-person pitch to open TECHSHOW, moderated by Bob Ambrogi. The audience then voted on the winner. This year’s champion was TurnSignl, which is not a tool for law office operations. A motorist who is pulled over by law enforcement can use this app to record the interaction and obtain legal advice from a licensed attorney during the encounter. This program is only available in two states, Minnesota and Georgia. But with the publicity generated by their big win, I can see expansion in their future.
Julie was very taken with the startup CoParse, which is both a word processor and PDF application. It integrates features you use in Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat into one product. It also has additional features such as automatic optical character recognition (OCR), e-signature and uses artificial intelligence to help with navigation. The demonstration was very impressive. Hardcore WordPerfect users who are against using Word should take a look.
The list of all 15 companies that participated in Startup Ally can be found at https://reinventingjustice.com/2022-startup-alley-aba-techshow/. It’s an interesting and diverse lineup to peruse. Among these innovative startups is EmotionTrac, which analyzes emotions from facial clues as videos are shown to audience members. The idea is to assist with feedback on trial strategy without hiring a jury consultant. Another, ClearBrief, is a Word add-on for checking your brief (or opposing counsel’s) for misstating of the facts. It also is used to easily assemble a table of authorities.
TECHSHOW was divided into five in-person tracks: design, launch, grow, sustain and transform. As you can see, it is not your traditional lawyers’ conference. It was interesting to watch a live comparison between Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. Oklahoma’s own Eric Patrick, COO of the law firm Ball Morse Lowe PLLC, demonstrated the collaboration tools with Google versus Microsoft 365. One key takeaway from this session was the continuing expansion of Microsoft 365’s collaboration tools. With the use of Teams, law firms can seamlessly and quickly hold virtual meetings, set up phone calls and collectively work on documents more efficiently than ever before. If you haven’t tried Teams and the features it offers, you really should, particularly if you are already paying for it with your Microsoft 365 subscription.
Automated intake processes are big time-savers. We saw several companies offering tools in this area. When computers first came to law offices, one of the early benefits was not having to type repetitive information over and over.
Workflows for document creation was another hot topic. Kenton Brice of the University of Oklahoma College of Law will be teaching on that subject at our OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference. Designing and documenting your workflows is important on many levels, from preventing errors to determining what steps of a process can and should be automated.
Technology tools are intertwined with law offices, as they are with most other businesses. The last two years have demonstrated an amazing interest from venture capital firms in investing in legal technology companies. We’ve seen some companies acquired by others just to fill gaps in their existing offerings.
Probably the best takeaway from ABA TECHSHOW 2022 was that great technology can be very useful, but it’s still the people who make our law firms run and give us pleasure in our work – from our coworkers to our clients. The best technology is one that helps us better connect with our clients, and the least desired technology is one that interferes with attorney-client access and communication. Client portals are great and perform an important client service, enhancing both digital security and client convenience. Having a prospective client telephone your law firm only to deal with several menu choices of “press one for this and two for that” is perhaps not the best use of technology, even though some may find it necessary.