Why We Founded the ABA TECHSHOW – Technology and the Transformation of Law

aba techshow logo bringing lawyers and technology together

When I first worked with Don Hagans and Bruce Jaster from Texas and several others in 1986 to help develop the inaugural ABA TECHSHOW, the idea of using computers in the practice of law was at its complete inception.

At the time, I had already started the Computer College in Massachusetts as chair of the Law Practice Section of the Mass Bar Association – generously funded by Digital Equipment Corporation (remember when DEC and WANG battled for the legal market…). Running educational programs all across the state of Massachusetts, by 1986, we had trained hundreds of lawyers across the state on how to automate their legal practice. Essentially, it was document assembly training, but it was the first Bar training ever of that kind. As I was also vice-chair of the ABA’s Economics of Law Practice Section’s computer division, I had caught wind of the idea for an ABA TECHSHOW (inspired by a computer retail building in Dallas, called, funnily enough – InfoMart). As Boston was opening its version of the Infomart at about the same time (called the World Trade Center in Boston), I approached Don and Bruce about doing two TECHSHOWs each year – after some friendly Texas/Massachusetts negotiations, we agreed. And, that’s how we got started – two ABA TECHSHOWs a year – one in Dallas, the other in Boston – which happened for two years, and, then the ABA staff asked us to move the show to Chicago and run it once annually.

The TECHSHOW always had a strong mix of the “geeky” lawyers in the beginning, who could just as easily have been brilliant experts in computer science, driving the show. So the TECHSHOW was truly started by and got its legs from people with an intense passion for technology. After a period of time, when computers became more prevalent in law offices and the learning curb was bridged, TECHSHOW attracted many consultants to law firms – those who wanted to help lawyers select the best technology for their needs. In the early days of TECHSHOW, we had ‘shoot outs’ (yes, a Texas theme) over the word processing software, the best timekeeping and billing software, PC vs dedicated Word Processor, Apple vs PC – lots of impassioned debates!! There were multiple software options all vying for top placement, and the conversation centered on which brand was best.

Over the years, there have been many changes to technology and TECHSHOW has been at the cutting edge each time, helping lawyers adapt. With the 2015 TECHSHOW underway, it’s fascinating to see that this year and in previous years, it is no longer only the technology lawyers at the table nor solely product evangelists – lawyers, computer scientists, academics and more are all beginning to gather together through commercial events and events like the Appathon and other legal hackathons, to improve the practice of law. It’s a great movement for the profession, and I’m glad to see TECHSHOW is in the middle of it.

As one of the founding co-chairs of ABA’s TECHSHOW, it’s a privilege to be associated with an event that is now approaching its 30th year. As some of you know, 10 years ago, I founded Internet Bar Organization (www.internetbar.org) to increase access to justice through technology for the most vulnerable in our society. We took our inspiration from the early days of ABA’s TECHSHOW and the Computer Division which was the watering hole for so many of the ‘early adopters’ of the personal computer within law. The justice system is undergoing changes that will change and improve access to justice in so many ways and we look forward to continuing to work together with the ABA, where we have so many ties, to realize through technology our shared vision of “Justice for All”.

15
Apr 2015
AUTHOR Jeff Aresty
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