Best takeaways from ABA TECHSHOW 2021? We asked a few practice management and technology experts to share a sampling of top session tips for our annual roundup.
In the face of a pandemic and a professional year unlike any we’ve known, ABA TECHSHOW, the renowned annual legal technology conference, as always featured a packed schedule. Held March 8-12 this year, a fantastic slate of programs was at virtual attendees’ fingertips. We’re talking Microsoft 365, cybersecurity, Zoom and Teams, small firm billing and marketing, on to ethics, diversity and innovation. Of course, there was much more.
While we understand it was tough to choose, here are takeaways and tips from Sheila Blackford, Jim Calloway, Joan Feldman, Natalie Kelly, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, Juda Strawczynski, and Megan Zavieh.
Sharon Nelson and John Simek: Expert Tips on Google Ads and SEO
We were in awe of the amazing conference programming that stretched over five days. The creative skills of the ABA TECHSHOW 2021 Planning Board, co-chaired by Roberta Tepper and Allan Mackenzie, were extraordinary.
Marketing and technology converge. While we normally offer cybersecurity tips, we thought the marketing sessions were rife with good tips, so we doff our hats to Gyi Tsakalakis, Megan Boyd and Joy Hawkins for three great sessions. A few excellent tips:
- If you don’t know about Google Local Services ads (and we did not), you need to check them out, here. They appear at the very top of the results of a search — and you only pay if you get a lead.
- Did you know some search engine optimization (SEO) and content tools are assisted by artificial intelligence? Check out MarketMuse and Clearscope.
- Keep your eye on the ever-changing elements of Google’s local SEO changes via Sterling Sky’s free Local SEO Updates page. You can subscribe for free via email.
- Google has increasingly placed more emphasis on the speed with which your website loads on both computers and smartphones. Starting in May, Google will make website loading speed a part of its Core Web Vitals.
- Make sure your website is secure. Google will ding you in the search results rankings if your site lacks an SSL certificate, indicated by the “s” at the end of “https” in the URL bar. This one we certainly did know about since it is security-related, but it bears repeating because so many solo practices and small firms have not taken care of this. Put it on your to-do list today!
Here’s to seeing everyone in Chicago in 2022!
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) and John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) are President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and cybersecurity firm based in Fairfax, Va. They have written 16 books published by the ABA, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” They are past-chairs of ABA TECHSHOW.
Jim Calloway: Quick, Usable Tips and Big-Picture Takeaways
The great thing about ABA TECHSHOW is that the educational experience includes something for every level of legal technology user. Some tips are so simple and easy you can implement them immediately. For example, during Dan Siegel’s program on Adobe Acrobat DC, he noted that the bookmarks pane in Acrobat has three settings for font sizes. When I’ve used my laptop without an external monitor, I sometimes squinted reading the small font in the navigation pane. During his presentation, I changed to the largest font setting and it was an improvement. So that was one tech tip learned and implemented.
For big-picture takeaways, Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, and Jack Newton, CEO of Clio, appeared together to discuss rebuilding law practices differently for the future. In their session “Innovating Towards a Better Normal,” Newton noted that, according to Clio’s Legal Trends Report, 69% of consumers prefer working with a lawyer who can share documents electronically and over 50% of consumers believe most legal matters can be dealt with remotely. Law firms should take notice. Legal expertise is important to potential clients, but whether you allow them to schedule appointments online — and whether a law firm’s chatbot helpfully assists visitors in doing so — is increasingly important in new client acquisition.
Also, providing an online portal allowing clients to log in anytime to review their documents should now be considered a basic law practice service, not an innovation. I do not believe the 69% who wanted their documents electronically were contemplating email attachments. To quote my lawn guy sending me a payment link, “I’ll text it. Email is so messed up.”
Jim Calloway (@JimCalloway) is the Director of the Management Assistance Program for the Oklahoma Bar Association and author of several ABA books. A past ABA TECHSHOW chair, he blogs at Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips and co-produces the podcast The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology.
Natalie Kelly: No-Code Tools and a Standout Roster of Diverse Speakers
While describing his tech stack, attorney Stanley Tate touted Webflow as a “no-code” tool for website building. In his very informative “Solve New Legal Problems With Technology and at Scale” session, the suggestion of using no-code tools stood out because it highlighted how users are now at liberty to make site-wide changes via a few clicks instead of having to understand a programming language or even more sophisticated building steps for using some of today’s technology. Having Webflow as an alternative to other popular website development platforms also shows the shift from systems that would require perhaps an outside consultant or programmer toward building business tools anyone can use. Lawyers don’t have to fear new technology — no-code solutions invite innovation by allowing more people to use cool tech to deliver legal services.
But, this wasn’t the only cool thing about Tate’s session. He represented a new face — a diverse face — at ABA TECHSHOW. This year’s TECHSHOW Planning Board, along with the ABA Law Practice Division staff, are to be commended for showing their continued commitment to diversity by having diverse speakers. This includes a personal favorite of mine, State Bar of Georgia President Dawn Jones, and National Bar Association President CK Hoffler, who held a session on “Courageous Conversations: What Leadership in Racial Justice Looks Like,” teaching legal leaders it is imperative to focus on social justice even in the legal technology space.
I enjoyed the entire Diversity track of programming, and hope this continues with future TECHSHOWs.
Natalie R. Kelly (@NatalieRKelly) is Director of the Georgia State Bar’s Law Practice Management Program and a past ABA TECHSHOW chair. She is an Adjunct Professor co-teaching Law Practice Technology and a certified consultant for multiple legal software applications. Natalie speaks and writes extensively on law office management and technology.
Juda Strawczynski: Innovation and Future-Proofing
Using a bit of a thematic approach, here are some of my favorite tips from ABA TECHSHOW 2021.
Small is mighty. Amid all the major changes we are all going through, lawyers may take comfort knowing they can work on making their practices better incrementally. This was a theme across many sessions. Jack Newton and Ed Walters noted that we can make significant gains one step at a time. As James Clear noted in “Atomic Habits” (a book that came up more than once at TECHSHOW 2021), small changes add up to significant improvements. This mindset can help all lawyers considering how to manage our constantly changing environment.
Make the most of your existing tech. The innovation journey starts with the tools we are already using, and working to get more out of them. Many lawyers already have invested in standard software like Microsoft Office 365 or Adobe Acrobat. We can use these or existing technology platforms and software to maximize value. Jim Calloway described how we can develop secure client portals to help law firms attract and retain clients. Dan Siegel’s tips for using Adobe Acrobat DC showed how powerful the software can be, and how it’s a must-have tool as lawyers move to incorporate e-signatures and file documents electronically.
Invest in tech that reduces risks and drives profit. The TECHSHOW 2021 lesson is clear: Invest in tech where it will solve your major pain points, increase client happiness, reduce your risks and improve your bottom line. Charity Anastasio and Catherine Sanders Reach presented a clear case for solo and small firm lawyers to adopt practice management software. Better yet, their session materials helpfully review important factors to consider when purchasing practice management software. A particularly helpful hint is that change management and resistance to change need to be factored in, so lawyers and firms should consider training needs, incentives, or other motivators to get everyone on board.
Keep exploring. Dan Pinnington’s presentation, “Profitable and Practical Tips to Future-Proof Your Law Firm,” featured an incredible throw-back to early TECHSHOWs from the 1980s. Key themes included tips to effectively use your personal computer, automation, document management, and technology as a research tool, just to name a few. These needs remain; the technology to solve them continues to evolve. Fortunately, ABA TECHSHOW provides the busy lawyer with an annual opportunity to review their practices, test out new tech and consider how to future-proof their practices.
Juda Strawczynski (@JStrawczynski) is Director of practicePRO, Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Co.’s innovative claims and risk management initiative. Prior to joining LAWPRO, he was a policy lawyer at the Law Society of Ontario and practiced litigation with a focus on professional liability, public law and civil disputes.
Megan Zavieh: Well-Being Programs and Self-Care
The Well-Being track at ABA TECHSHOW 2021 featured an outstanding series of programs, including “The Psychology of Well-Being” with solo Kimberly Y. Bennett, a “Thought Modeling Workshop” with MyVirtual Lawyer founder Brooke Moore, a session on “Tools to Activate Your Wellness Daily” with life coach Olivia Vizachero and Clio’s Nefra McDonald, and, finally, a panel with all four speakers to discuss how to apply the lessons learned. I’ll sum up my favorite takeaways like this:
Pay as much attention to taking care of yourself as you do to taking care of others. We have gone from wellness being a 7 a.m. run or yoga class to it being a major portion of CLE-earning courses. In that vein, speak openly about your struggles with wellness and encourage each other on a path of self-care. Vulnerability is incredibly powerful!
Megan Zavieh (@ZaviehLaw) focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. She podcasts on Lawyers Gone Ethical , blog on ethics at California State Bar Defense and writes Attorney at Work’s “On Balance” column.
Sheila Blackford: Securing Your Practice Online
The virtual TECHSHOW 2021 was different but some things were the same: the opportunity to listen and learn from some of the savviest techno folks ever armed with a slide deck and lavalier. I was particularly happy Dave Ries was there with his limitless store of helpful information in the session “Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Practice.” Here are some of my favorite takeaway points.
Law firms continue to be targets because they are “one-stop shops” with high-value data, usually well-organized, and often with weak security. If this sounds like your firm, Dave’s advice is worth implementing before you swear off technology because the stakes are too high.
Where to begin: “Security starts with an inventory of information assets and data to determine what needs to be protected and then a risk assessment to identify anticipated threats to the information assets. The next step is the development, implementation, and maintenance of a comprehensive information security program to employ reasonable physical administrative and technical safeguards to protect against identified risks.”
Where to go for the help: For solo practitioners and small firms, more basic information is available on the Federal Trade Commission website, where you’ll find Cybersecurity for Small Business, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s site, where you’ll find Small Business Cybersecurity Corner. Don’t overlook the American Bar Association Cybersecurity Legal Taskforce’s webpage, which includes spot-on resources for attorneys and law firms, especially for the busy solo and small firm lawyer. ABA members can avail themselves of many free CLEs on cybersecurity. Another must-visit resource is the International Legal Technology Association’s LegalSEC initiative, where you’ll find guidelines for risk-based information security. And last but not least is the Sedona Conference’s July 2020 publication titled ”The Sedona Conference Commentary on Law Firm Data Security.”
Sheila M. Blackford (@SheilaBlackford) has been a Practice Management Attorney for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund since 2005. She is the author of the ABA book “Trust Accounting in One Hour for Lawyers,” co-author of “Paperless in One Hour for Lawyers,” and a contributing author to “Flying Solo: A Survival Guide” and the Oregon State Bar “Fee Agreement Compendium.”
Joan Feldman: Is Slack or Teams Right for You?
Remote work in all its many facets was a hot topic at ABA TECHSHOW. There were a lot of great tips on the topic, but here’s one of my favorites.
Slack or Teams? During their session “Collaborating: What Is the Best Tool?,” Kenton Brice and John Grant revealed their very complicated formula for choosing between Microsoft Teams and Slack. The decision lies with one simple question: Do you use Microsoft Office 365, yes or no? If the answer is yes, you are going to use Teams. If not, and you are using G Suite or Mac tools, you’re probably using Slack.
“If you’re already in the ecosystem, and you decide you need a tool like this, just use what you already have,” said Brice. “Some people don’t like hearing they’re stuck in this ecosystem, but, for better or worse, this is our double secret, super awesome formula,” he added.
The biggest message from the session, though, was to ask yourself what problem you are really trying to fix with collaboration tools.
“When it comes to choosing Teams or Slack, the answer may be neither,” said Grant, who blogs at Agile Attorney, before launching into a fascinating discussion of process and bottlenecks. (You can read his series on the topic here.)
“When we talk about all those inputs cluttering your environment, it’s real.” So, think twice before you add yet another.
To echo our other tipsters, virtual ABA TECHSHOW was excellent, but we can’t wait to get back to the live event so we can see our favorite technologists in person at the podium and in the expo hall.
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Curious about the reinvention of TECHSHOW 2021 in the virtual realm? Listen to the January edition of Jim Calloway and Sharon Nelson’s podcast, “The Digital Edge.”
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