ABA Lawtech Conference 2012 – Day 1

Well, for the past several years I had heard about this annual conference in Chicago.  It is hosted by the American Bar Association, with a focus on Law & Technology.  I finally experienced what the “buzz” has been about and here follows a few pages of what I discovered, learned & want to share with you.

This show truly had something for everyone – whether you are a lawyer, an office manager or an IT professional – anyone working within the legal industry would benefit from attending this conference.  Plus, it did not matter what my level of understanding technology was as there was something for everyone.  New ideas, different techniques and strategies were offered through seminars, lunch’n learn events, the vendor’s expo, evening dinners and/or while simply networking throughout the event.

Perhaps what I found most amazing was the fact that all the vendors & speakers were there to share their knowledge & experience.  It was an open & comfortable forum within which I could easily ask any question – big or small – and it was always responded to with respect & understanding.  It was great to hear presenters say: “been there – done that & you don’t want to do it!”  The whole focus of this event was to help increase awareness of what is & isn’t working in today’s technology that may be relevant to practicing law.

If you have considered attending, or sending a staff member, here’s an overview of the layout for the 2.5 days of the conference.  Each evening included networking events and/or “Taste of ABA”, which were topic-focused dinners.  During the day there were 6 tracks of topics providing a variety of “breakout” sessions for educational purposes.  The Expo allowed participants to meet vendors, try and/or buy a new gadget, book or software all designed to help increase a law firm’s efficiency or IT knowledge.

Day 1: The 6 tracks covered topics on:  Mobile/Smartphones, Digital Marketing, Litigation, Collaboration, Paperless, & topics relevant for Large Firms.  During the day each of these tracks hosted four 1-hour-long sessions on different topics.  So, in total there were 24 presentations to choose from.

To give you an example of the variety of topics, I attended the following sessions:

1)  “Tablet Wars”  A tablet was at the top of my list for 2012 purchases, so I was keen to gain information about what I need to consider when purchasing a Tablet.  This presentation was by an IT guru & a lawyer. Yes, I know, I’m married to a tech, but that doesn’t mean that I automatically follow his suggestions (I always want to hear it from someone else too!)

Anyway, I was not in the least bit surprised to hear that iPad is at the top of the list – BUT it does have a few limitations, so it was great to hear why some firms chose not to go this route.  As a result, I remain undecided about my purchase of a tablet… think I’ll give Apple another year to “fix” a couple issues & then I’ll be happy to spend the $$$!

2)  “Advanced Mind Mapping” This demonstration used Mindjet’s Mindmanager software for creating a “map” to track all the details of a client’s case file – if you have ever done mind-mapping on paper, you’ll understand the concept.  While I had a few colleagues chose not to attend this session because it said “Advanced”, the presenters actually spent 15 minutes covering the basics, so I was able to easily follow the concept of the entire presentation.

By the end of this session, this software quickly went to the top of my wish-list for purchases in 2012 (Sorry, Apple – the iPad just got pushed further down my list!)  The demonstration of a fictional litigation case from interview to trial easily displayed the value & power of this software.  This seminar was presented by two lawyers, without a techie or sales person in sight – so it was all valuable and practical tips & tricks they were sharing based on many years of using the software.  Here’s the link to learn more about it:  http://www.mindjet.com/products/mindmanager

3)  “Managing the Transition to Paperless”  Surprisingly, it was a Canadian lawyer & a practice management advisor working with the Law Society of BC, who provided a great over-view of what needs to be considered when moving into a paperless environment.  They covered everything from scanning, to document management, plus backup solutions, hardware & software requirements.

Naturally, they also had a few stories about the challenges of the many personalities within a firm when everyone needs to see the value of changing to one document management system.  While they pointed out it is impossible to go “totally” paperless, it is possible to become virtually paperless.

For any firm considering starting the project of going paperless, their suggestion was to start with the hardware & backups.  You have to be confident & know it can handle the expanded space required for storing digital documents.  Next, research the document management software needed to manage the increased flow of electronic information.

By the way, did you know PCLaw has a built in basic document management system?  If you want to discuss this in more detail, let me know!  It’s relatively quick & easy to setup with a minimal amount of customization.  In fact, I’d say it’s a great way to experience a very basic document management system.

Lastly, perhaps their most important tip was to invest in scanners like the Fujitsu ScanSnap  – here’s the link to their scanners (also at the Expo):  http://www.fujitsu.com/global/services/computing/peripheral/scanners/ss/

The recommendation at this seminar was to have one at each user’s desk – they not only showed how it was more cost-effective, but also far more efficient than having one large scanner everyone shares.

Be sure to select a scanner that has an ADF (Automatic Document Feeder) and it can handle any size paper – business cards, letter or legal – and be able to scan both sides of the paper simultaneously.  It just makes sense to have these options included when considering what’s available today.

4)  “Cloud Computing – Keeping Workflow Synchronized Across Multiple Devices”  This session looked at how lawyers are practicing law in many places – sometimes at the office, other times from home, even from a coffee shop.  It looked at what “cloud” products lawyers should consider whether using a desktop computer, a laptop/tablet, or a smartphone while at the local coffee shop.

Really?  A Coffee Shop?  That point kind of made me chuckle … so, if you are on a break – why is there a need to be viewing a client’s confidential information in the middle of a coffee shop?  I’m serious… wouldn’t a fast walk back to the office be better?  Plus, it would help rid yourself of a few of those high-calorie drinks or munchies you just ate! … not to mention, keep your client information totally confidential too!

By the way, shoulder-surfing is an excellent and inexpensive way for your competitor to learn about your case.  They can sit nearby in the coffee shop and observe your computer screen “over your shoulder”.  In fact, this related to another tip given at the conference – A reminder to purchase “privacy screens” for your laptop/tablet, so whether you are working at the coffee shop or working on a plane while sitting in close proximity to others, the privacy screen helps to ensure only you can see the information on your screen.

Anyway… back on track with this cloud-computing concept.  The focus of this session was 99.9% on using the “Cloud” for storage.  For once I can understand & agree with my techie-hubby on this point – the Cloud is absolutely not 100% safe when compared to storing data on a server at your own law office – but then again, your office data storage is only as good as your last backup that was taken off-site last night… Assuming the person responsible actually did it, right?  (More about backups next month.)

By the way, if you don’t know what I mean by “cloud -computing”, it means the information is not stored on your local server or computers, but is stored on a very large server located somewhere else in the world.  Perhaps I could best describe it as “super-sized servers” usually based in the USA, but may actually be located in a country outside of North America.  By the very nature of this concept, you probably would not be surprised to realize in order for these companies to guarantee you 24 hour access to your information, it has to be stored in multiple-locations, so if one of their systems goes “down”, your request for information is automatically re-routed to another system.  So, there you go – a brief overview of cloud-computing knowledge for you!

The question to ask with regard to cloud computing is: “Where is my data?” According to privacy expert, David Fraser, a partner with McInnes Cooper in Atlantic Canada, he says people fear storing their data “in the cloud” because it may be monitored under the U.S. Patriot Act.  However, Canada has the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is almost a mirror image of the Patriot Act.  For this reason many firms prefer to have their data solely on-site.  This does give us that “more secure” feeling, doesn’t it?  Here’s a link to what David had to say in 2010 about cloud-computing, be sure to click “next” at the bottom of the page, as it is 3 pages in length:

http://www.itworldcanada.com/news/dont-use-the-patriot-act-as-an-excuse/141033

I will definitely return to the Chicago ABA Techshow next year.  The information was practical, useful & all the presentations are provided on a thumb-drive, so whether or not I attended a particular session, I have this valuable source of information at my finger-tips to share with you over the next 12 months.

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