Management Assistance Program

Takeaways from ABA TECHSHOW 2023

By Jim Calloway and Julie Bays

ABA TECHSHOW was held March 1 in Chicago. After 2021 resulted in a virtual TECHSHOW and 2022 was a hybrid show, the consensus among attendees was that it was great to be 100% in person again.

For us, the ABA TECHSHOW began on Wednesday. We attended a day-long retreat with practice management advisors from across the U.S. and Canada. This year, there were at least 22 PMAs attending our retreat. We spent the day learning about new technologies available on the market. Julie demonstrated Descript, an all-in-one video editor. If you haven’t heard of this product, she wrote about it in the January/February issue of the ABA’s Law Practice magazine. Videos are a great way to connect with people, and this text-based editor for videos is a good way to create them.

There seemed to be more Oklahomans than usual attending this year. Although, that could be because Kenton Brice of the OU College of Law and the ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board had red Oklahoma ribbons printed so that he could add them to our badges. Surprisingly, they turned out to be quite the conversation starters.

All three of Oklahoma’s law schools had faculty attending the ABA TECHSHOW, with two of them represented on the organization’s planning board: Kenton Brice and Darla Jackson from the TU College of Law. Ms. Jackson will reprise her TECHSHOW program “I Didn’t Know PDFs Could do That” for our OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference this summer. Mr. Brice will speak on several programs at the conference, including one Jim will co-present with him about lawyers’ use of ChatGPT.

Julie’s focus at ABA TECHSHOW was on the marketing track. As we frequently point out, people law requires a constant flow of new business, and active marketing is required to accomplish this. She will teach “Legal Marketing Design: Crafting a Standout Strategy” at the Solo & Small Firm Conference and wanted to hear what experts in the field are saying today.

Tulsa attorney Trevor Riddle was a co-presenter on two TECHSHOW sessions on optimizing your law firm efficiency through automation, discussing the tools he uses in his estate planning practice. Texas attorney and veteran legal technologist Mark Unger said of one of his sessions:

In what I previously termed a “mind-bending creation” of spreadsheet backups while pulling via keywords from Gmail using Chat GPT, Alex and Trevor walked the entire audience through a how-to workshop; they combined the use of Zapier with Gmail and Chat GPT to create a Zap in this fashion. While much was above some of our heads, the concept was analogous to all kinds of use-case workflows and its practicality after the front-end work was illuminating. While Alex focused on the Google steps, Trevor complemented [sic] the same workflow on the Microsoft side.

Mr. Riddle will also be speaking at the OBA Solo & Small Firm Conference. His presentation is titled “Law Firm Efficiency Overhaul: Optimize Your Technology for Maximum Performance.”

Artificial intelligence and ChatGPT were on the mind of many speakers and attendees, given the explosion of ChatGPT in recent months. Many vendors’ displays had a ChatGPT reference on their booth background. We were impressed with how they got those items printed so quickly.

Chatbot Chat with AI, Artificial Intelligence. man using technology smart robot AI, artificial intelligence by enter command prompt for generates something, Futuristic technology transformation.

Our thought is that they should have named ChatGPT “First Drafts.” If you know how to do something, ChatGPT lets you do it faster and sometimes better. But if you don’t understand something well, you need to carefully proof the ChatGPT output since it has been known to “hallucinate” nonexistent legal citations.

We agree with the prevailing TECHSHOW wisdom that these large language model AI tools, like ChatGPT, will be a significant disruptor for many soon. One thought repeated so many times at TECHSHOW it seemed like a cliché was, “AI won’t replace lawyers, but lawyers using AI may replace lawyers who don’t.”

In fact, there was an interesting preconference event: Casetext announced what it describes as “the first AI legal assistant,” CoCounsel, on a national network morning show. The company representatives noted it differed from the commercially available version of ChatGPT because it was trained on Casetext’s legal information database. The service was discussed in a TECHSHOW session the ABA Journal covered in “How Can Lawyers Use AI to Improve Their Practice?”

Premier legal technology journalist Bob Ambrogi has posted his review of ABA TECHSHOW. Mr. Ambrogi was surprised with an unexpected lifetime achievement award that made him speechless. His blog, Law Sites at www.lawnext.com, is an important source of legal technology news. As the acquisitions and mergers of legal technology companies heated up greatly, it was one place we could go to remember which company now owned what tool.

Some presenters talked about how they were running their operations in a way most would believe to be impossible – a family law or consumer bankruptcy practice where they do not answer the phone. Regina Edwards and Jen Lee gave a compelling presentation titled “Early and Often: Better Client Communication through Automation.” Ms. Edwards has been practicing family law in Georgia since 2001 and just added an estate planning division to her practice. Ms. Lee is a bankruptcy attorney (or, as she likes to call it, a debt and credit strategy attorney) and is licensed in California and North Dakota.

But do not think that you can stop answering your phone and have good results. Both of these lawyers have sophisticated automation systems and virtual receptionists in place who have been well-trained to triage incoming calls, e.g., “Your honor, when is a good time for her to call you back today?” Existing clients may be asked if they have posted their questions to the client portal. Potential new client inquiries are prioritized appropriately. Onboarding new clients involves detailed explanations of the process and obtaining the new client’s agreement with this communication system. But clients generally seem accepting. Isn’t a scheduled call better than waiting for a phone call to be returned whenever?

The lawyers then have their days arranged with blocks of time for uninterrupted work and scheduled blocks of time to handle the phone appointments. Ms. Edwards quipped, “I’m divorced. If you have spent 20 years building up the anger, you can wait 20 minutes to talk to me.” The speakers acknowledged that some practice areas, like criminal defense and personal injury plaintiffs work, may require traditional immediate office phone availability.

One excellent presentation was “Creating Content That Earns Clients” by Annette Choti, the founder of Law Quill, a digital marketing agency for law firms. Her presentation focused on (e)xpertise, (a)uthority and (t)rustworthiness, or EAT for the acronym. It’s a good way to remember what your focus should be when trying to engage with new clients. She explained that websites shouldn’t showcase lawyers’ academic experience or awards, but the focus should be on what you can do for them as a lawyer. Videos are a good way to convey your EAT. Stanley Tate will teach about video marketing at our Solo & Small Firm Conference.

Another interesting discussion took place in a workshop titled “Designing an A+ Client Experience” and presented by Jessica Bednarz, director of legal services and the profession at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, and Catherine Sanders Reach, director of the Center for Practice Management at the North Carolina Bar Association. They used examples from a new ABA book, Design Your Law Practice, Creating Exceptional Customer Service, to reimagine new and improved ways of interacting with clients.

Legal Talk Network was at TECHSHOW, and they interviewed many of the presenters right after their presentations. Their posted collection of audio interviews provides highlights of several presentations.

Next year, ABA TECHSHOW will be held Feb. 14-17. Doesn’t attending ABA TECHSHOW sound like the perfect Valentine’s Day date? In the past, we’ve had OBA discount codes available and hope to have them again. 

Mr. Calloway is the OBA Management Assistance Program director. Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma? Contact him at 405-416-7008, 800-522-8060 or jimc@okbar.org. It’s a free member benefit. 

Ms. Bays is the OBA practice management advisor, aiding attorneys in using technology and other tools to efficiently manage their offices.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal — April, 2023 — Vol. 94, No. 4

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