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SmallLaw: ABA TECHSHOW 2010: The Year of Living Practically

By Mazyar Hedayat | Monday, April 12, 2010

Originally published on April 4, 2010 in our free SmallLaw newsletter.

This year's ABA TECHSHOW focused on practicality (and I'm not just saying that because it's on the Web site). In that spirit, let me begin by giving readers what they want most, followed by a little perspective on how we got here. To begin with then, below you'll find my picks for the year's 12 Best of TECHSHOW. Also, don't miss my TECHSHOW interviews.

Best Of TECHSHOW (In No Particular Order)

Clio: For SaaS practice management Clio still rules. Rocket Matter has much catching up to do.

Contracts Express: Formerly known as Deal Builder. Contract drafting in the cloud. Subscription pricing.

Worldox: For document and information management Worldox is the worst. But the best. Go figure.

SpeakWrite: Love this idea — dictate into any phone and get the document in 3 hours by email.

Certex: Professional checks prepared in the cloud. Old idea. New twist. Way to innovate on a budget.

SurePayroll: Payroll sucks, but preparing it at your leisure sucks slightly less. That's a win-win, baby.

Walz Group: Certified mail is a necessary evil. Walz figured out how to save money and time. Sweet.

Proximiti: Proximiti Communications makes automated billing software that works. Plus VoIP phones that save money and integrate with your billing.

FastCase: I've said it before and I'll say it again — for free and mobile research FastCase is it (for now).

WestlawNext: What? I can change my mind. WestlawNext really is better — so much that I use it myself.

Lexis for Microsoft Office: Recognizes and updates case citations as you put cases in your brief. Awesome.

DirectLaw: Like the Highlander, there can only be one. DirectLaw is still the one to beat for a virtual practice. An oldie but a goodie.

How We Got Here

We all know that ABA TECHSHOW 2010 caps a decade marked by relentless churn. We also know that despite such turbulence (or maybe because of it) the biggest law firms got bigger while others blinked out of existence.

As a result, there are fewer large firms than there were a decade ago and the firms still in business employ fewer lawyers than their predecessors. The upshot is that more lawyers are on their own.

Hypothetically then, if a piece of legal technology or office appliance can't save me time or make me money, why buy it? The concept seems simple enough, but it turns out that until recently the ABA TECHSHOW floated above these economic facts of life.

In fact, it was just a few years ago that the show's organizers deviated from their traditional focus on big firms, big vendors and big price tags — right about the time in 2004 that I asked a group of assembled ABA TECHSHOW board members why they favored big firms so heavily "Tech Show favors large vendors?" they answered. "Ridiculous." Or was it?


Despite those ardent denials, the following year's show was markedly different. Ask any of the attendees, vendors, or speakers who were there: clearly the balance had shifted away from biglaw vendors in favor of more agile developers and competitive pricing. I am happy to stay that 2005 became the tipping point.

Every TECHSHOW since has continued the trend toward technology startups, smaller vendors, and lower cost alternatives to big ticket staples — even going so far as featuring SaaS vendors on an equal footing with the vendors of desktop-based solutions.

Maybe it was something in the water back then because 2005 was also the year when the technology industry recovered from the dot-com debacle with thousands of twenty-somethings around the country producing Web-based applications to handle everything from photographs (Flickr) to instant messaging (Dodge Ball).

This wave of Web 2.0 innovation was inspired by necessity. Lawyers, no less than any other group, were in need of a technological shot in the arm to deal with the pressures of a dwindling client pool, downward pressure on income, and soon the added pressure of rapidly declining asset values. Practical technology could mean the difference between remaining the profession and packing it in. At that point the stage was set for a revolution in getting smaller, simpler, cheaper, and, oh yes — faster.

Coming Full Circle

Given the trend that started 5 years ago, we can clearly see why TECHSHOW 2010 was so full of practical developments. Instead of trying to sell solutions for problems nobody had, this year's crop of vendors appears to have been busy in 2009 applying technology to virtually every workaday task in the average law firm — from depositions to drafting, research to practice management, even virtualizing practice itself. So it makes perfect sense that this year's TECHSHOW was not about who made the biggest and best, but rather who can provide the most affordable and efficient with a small footprint that doesn't require a Ph.D. to install.

I've never been more satisfied, and I'm sure that I wasn't the only one. TECHSHOW this year wasn't just about the latest crop of sexy gizmos. It offered a solid helping of legal technology comfort food and office must-haves that would be a relief to veterans and a revelation to young lawyers. And after all, what could be more practical than that?

Written by Mazyar M. Hedayat of M. Hedayat & Associates, P.C.

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Topics: SmallLaw | Technology Industry/Legal Profession
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