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By: James Jones Jr., Esq.

Last week I attended the 2017 ABATECHSHOW in Chicago. Although it was frigid outside (it was 17 degrees when I landed), it was warm inside the Hilton where the TECHSHOW was held. Hundreds of exhibitors (Court Buddy included) showcased their latest products, features, and gadgets. Meanwhile, hundreds of attorneys attended sessions on topics ranging from utilizing the latest tools to manage your law practice to the threat of robots replacing lawyers.

Here are my 4 takeaways from this year’s ABATECHSHOW, specifically as it relates to solo and small firm attorneys.

1. The “business” of law is becoming easier. Companies such as Clio and Thomson Reuters have made it easier to put systems in place to help attorneys manage the business of law while they focus on the practice of law. Companies offer attorneys better time-keeping and practice management software systems that can be easily integrated into your law practice. Manual (read: paper and pen) timekeeping and firm-wide master folders and word documents will quickly become the thing of the past.

2.  There is still tension between legal tech and attorneys. I had dinner one evening with several other founders and CEOs of leading legal tech companies, including the founder of the current market leader in legal tech. One of the things we discussed is how our companies are collectively driving billions of dollars in new business to attorneys, specifically solos and small firm attorneys, but somehow there is still tension with attorneys. I learned that the tension is misplaced and really boils down to a perceived threat that legal jobs are being taken away, similar to how taxi cabs perceived a threat with the emergence of Uber and Lyft.

But with billions of dollars being driven to attorneys, I think it is safe to say that we are working hard for our attorneys and that legal work is not going away. Ever.

3. Regulations cripple business for attorneys. The keynote address was perhaps the most interesting and insightful session that I attended. The speakers were the CEOs of industry-leading companies and they faced a barrage of questions from two moderators: one from the ABA and the other from the Georgia Bar Association. At some point, there was a discussion about “shadow regulation”, or the fear that trying new things (i.e. lawyer advertising on Facebook) will be done “incorrectly” and will prompt a letter from the state bar for violating some rule. The CEOs viewed these “shadow regulations” as crippling to attorneys who are trying to build their law practice, while the moderators viewed these regulations as necessary to protect the public. Based on the discussions I had with some attorneys after the keynote address, the CEOs are right.

4. Robots won’t replace attorneys. (I don’t think.) There seemed to be this fear that robots will be taking over Terminator style and replacing attorneys in both the office and the courtroom. There was an entire session devoted to robots and the future of the practice of law through artificial intelligence like ROSS. But ROSS complements attorneys by helping with things such as correctly citing statutes and case law in an instant. Based on what I heard, I think it is safe to say that robots will not be replacing lawyers for things such as coming up with on-the-spot arguments or counter-arguments in court, or trial work. At least not in our lifetimes.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the show this year, I recommend attending in the future. Being “in the know” about the latest and future trends can help you stay ahead of the curve and improve your law practice, which could make your life easier.

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