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ABA Techshow 2016: Whack-a-mole, Legal Tech Startups, And EXPO Hall Experiments

Nicole BlackABA Techshow has once again come and gone. After an activity-filled, whirlwind trip in Chicago last week, it’s time to sit back and reflect on what I learned.

One trend that really stands out to me, both from my conversations at ABA Techshow and Legaltech New York earlier this year, is how many people commented on the increasing number of legal technology startups that are popping up.

It almost feels like a whack-a-mole game and there seems to be no end to the constant stream of new companies launching at each legal technology conference. The different types of new legal software platforms run the gamut, from law practice management, ediscovery, data analytics, litigation and case management, trial and deposition presentation, and more. 

For those of us who follow the space, the sheer number of newly launched companies and products can be somewhat overwhelming—especially since their existences are often fleeting. The legal technology space is incredibly competitive and the target market can be somewhat reluctant to test new ideas. As a result, it can be difficult for legal technology startups to gain traction—or funding. 

It often seems that many companies launch with much fanfare and then fall off the radar and disappear within a year. Others are nearly unrecognizable two years after their launch, changing their name, focus, and even their platform form one year to the next. In order to survive, those companies that are still around one year after their launch are forced to evolve quickly and pivot on a dime. For example, quite a few startups that launched as iPad apps a few years ago, have recently begun the transition from an iPad app to a web-based tool due to changes in the market and user demands.

So not surprisingly, this year at both ABA Techshow and Legaltech New York, many of the conversations at were focused on this new reality for legal technology startups: it’s a finicky market and a crowded space. Survival of the fittest is at play and only a few will make it. Tune in next year to find out which ones are still standing.

Another familiar theme at ABA Techshow—at least for me—was vendor responsiveness.  As I’ve done at conferences in the past, I tested out another iteration of my Exhibit Hall experiment at ABA Techshow. If you’re a regular reader of my column, you may recall that I often tour exhibit halls at legal technology conferences to test how responsive vendors are. In the past, my “experiments” have been justly criticized for my failure to include controls, so every time I recreate this experiment, I try to add a control to see how it will affect the outcome.

Legal

This year at ABA Techshow, I controlled for the formality of clothing, whereas at Legaltech in January, I tried to control for gender. At ABA Techshow, I was only able to tour the exhibit hall once due to time limitations (as opposed to two or three times as I have done in the past). For the first section of the EXPO Hall, I toured the hall with a colleague of mine, Stephanie Phelan. I was wearing a more formal wrap dress while she wore a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Neither of us wore our “Exhibitor” badges.” She was unable to tour the second half of the exhibit hall due to time constraints and was only able to act as a control for the first section.

The rules were the same as in the past: I (and Stephanie for the first section — she walked about 20 yards behind me) slowly strolled through the exhibit hall and we each tried to make eye contact with and smile at those manning the booths. Anyone who provided a verbal response to me or Stephanie, even one as simple as “hi,” made the cut.

The results were quite interesting. Over 120 companies exhibited this year, and of those, only 7 passed the test.* Again, this is not exactly scientific, but prior experiments have confirmed what I believe is a gender bias. But the results of this particular experiment lead me to believe that part of what’s at play is my own approachability, because clearly, Stephanie was more approachable than I was for one reason or another, even though she was dressed in more casual clothes and was thus less likely to be a decision-maker in the eyes of those manning the booths. 

At this point, I’m not sure if there’s any value in conducting this experiment again since I’ve tested out my various theories at the three main legal technology shows that I attend each year. This is especially so since I’m not sure what the end results necessarily say about the vendors and their reasons for responding to one person over another. Nevertheless it’s been an interesting journey for me—and hopefully for you, my readers, as well.

Legal

With that being said, here are the vendors that made the cut for the first section of the EXPO Hall:

  • Wolters Kluwer; Jonathan Leonard (Stephanie)
  • Comcast Business; Milton Darquea (Stephanie)
  • SpeakWrite; Justin Ruiz (Stephanie)
  • Smokeball; (Ian Sperry and Tom Magna) (Stephanie and me)

Here are the vendors that made the cut for the second half of the EXPO Hall, which only I walked through:

  • ZipWhip; Lauren Akimine
  • Allegory Law; Benjamin Llinas
  • LawStudio; Danielle Gsoell

To the companies that acknowledged us, congratulations. To the rest, I’ll see you next time—if there is one.

*The following companies were exempt from the experiment, since either Stephanie or I knew someone from the booth when we walked by it: Fastcase, Casetext, Clio, Ruby Receptionists, and LawToolBox.
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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