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ABA Techshow 2017: A Winter Storm, Hints of AI, And Legal Tech Galore

Nicole BlackNow that ABA Techshow 2017 is behind us, it’s time to reflect on the ups and downs of this year’s conference. As is always the case, there were some highs - and some lows.

The low this year was obvious to all who actually made it to Chicago: the weather. The show was slated to start on Wednesday, March 16th, just one day after one of the worst winter storms of the year hit the East Coast, while another barreled into Chicago. This meant anyone from the East Coast who wasn’t able to move their travel plans to earlier in the week never made it into Chicago. 

The lack of East Coasters was readily apparent and significantly reduced the number of attendees this year. Although it’s difficult to determine the number of attendees on any given year, numbers are often estimated to be between 1000-2000 attendees. During the Keynote on Friday, which is usually one of the most well-attended events, there were approximately 450-500 people in the room. This reduced number of participants definitely affected the energy of the show compared to years past. 

Even so, ABA Techshow has an energy of its own and the show went on despite the noticeable effects of the storm. Numbers aside, this year’s conference had a decidedly different feel from prior years. The speaker roster was markedly different and many familiar faces were replaced by newcomers. 

Another new feature this year was the startup competition that was held on Wednesday night, after which the competing startups were provided with a small slice of the Expo Hall so that they could showcase their wares. “Startup Alley,” as it was affectionately called, was located in the very back of the exhibit hall and each startup had a small booth that was really more of a stand and measured approximately 7’ x 7’.  I wrote about all 12 startups here.

Each company had lots of potential. Most were new to me, although I’d written about AltLegal and eBrevia on a number of occasions. So when I visited Startup Alley, I must confess that I was distracted by the bright, shiny, and new — and my recent focus on AI’s effect on the legal industry definitely colored my perceptions. So it should come as no surprise that the new startups that caught my eye at Techshow utilized machine learning and rudimentary AI features in their software. 


First there was UniCourt, software developed for litigators, which analyzes legal data, including nationwide court records, to provide docket tracking and case research. The software also uses that data to provide analytics about litigation trends. Lawyers can gain insight on attorneys and parties involved in a case, and can also obtain data on how the judge assigned to the case has handled similar cases in the past. This aspect of the software reminds me a lot of the features of Lex Machina, which provides similar data analytics for particular practice areas and which was acquired by Lexis Nexis last year. 

Another interesting startup was Ping, which provides a passive time-tracking solution that captures and reports all of the activities of a firm’s lawyers that occur while on their computer. Its basic functions are similar to Chrometa’s, another passive time-keeping product I’ve covered previously. The difference is that Ping is specifically designed for lawyers and works with the law firm’s billing software to automatically associate a time-keeping event captured by Ping with the likely client for which it was performed. That’s where the AI comes in: Ping analyzes the work being done and the files or people involved and predicts the likely client associated with the work. The only software I’m aware of that includes a similar feature set is Intapp Time, which captures time across all devices, including desktops, laptops, and mobile and then provides a daily summary utilizing AI-type analytics to suggest relevant connections using other firm databases.

Coincidentally, Ping was the winner of the startup showdown, followed by Doxly, and then UniCourt, which came in third. The winners were chosen by members of the audience, who voted on their favorites after watching the showdown. So I wasn’t the only one who found Ping and UniCourt to be of interest.

All in all, it was a worthwhile event, despite the inclement weather and its effect on the number of attendees. There were lots of opportunities to learn about new legal technology and network with like-minded colleagues and by all accounts, an great time was had by all. If you missed it this year, hope to see you at ABA Techshow in Chicago next year at the Hyatt from March 7-10th!

Nicole Black is the Legal technology Evangelist at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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