ABA TECHSHOW 2024 Review

Since so many of the AI Law Librarians team were able to attend this year, we thought we would combine some of our thoughts (missed you Sarah!) about this yearly legal technology conference.


Startup Alley

We arrived in Chicago on a chilly Wednesday morning, amid an Uber & Lyft strike, with plenty of time to take the train from the airport to our hotel. After an obligatory trip to Giordanno’s our students were ready to head over to the Start-up Pitch Competition. I sat with co-blogger Rebecca Fordon during the competition and we traded opinions on the merits of the start-up pitches. We both come from the academic realm and were interested in seeing the types of products that move the needle for attorneys working at firms.

I was familiar with many of the products because I spend a decent portion of my time demo’ing legal tech as part of my current role. It was stiff competition and there were many outstanding options to choose from. Once all of the pitches were done, the audience voted, and then Bob Ambrogi announced the winners. To my great surprise and pleasure, AltFee won! For the uninitiated, AltFee is “a product that helps law firms replace the billable hour with fixed-fee pricing.” This was very interesting to me because I have long thought that LLMs could mean the death knell of the billable hour in certain legal sectors. This was, at least, confirmation that the attorneys attending the TECHSHOW have this on their radar and are thinking through how they are going to solve this problem.

techshow sessions

This year’s schedule of sessions was noticeably heavy on AI-related topics. This was great for me because I’m super interested in this technology and how it is being implemented in the day-to-day life of practitioners. I saw sessions on everything from case management software, to discovery, to marketing, kinda everything.

An especially inspiring couple of sessions for me featured Judge Scott Schlegel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Louisiana. Judge Schlegel is the first judge that I’ve seen make fantastic use of AI in United States Courts for access to justice. I am passionate about this topic and have been fishing for grants to try to implement a handful of projects that I have so it was phenomenal to see that there are judges out there who are willing to be truly innovative. Any initiative for access to justice in the courts would require the buy-in of many stakeholders so having someone like Judge Schlegel to point to as a proof of concept could be crucial in getting my projects off the ground. After hearing his presentations I wished that every court in the US had a version of him to advocate for these changes. Importantly, none of his projects require tons of funding or software development. They are small, incremental improvements that could greatly help regular people navigate the court system – while, in many cases, improving the daily lives of the court staff and judges who have to juggle huge caseloads. Please feel free to email grants opportunities in this vein if you see them: sharrington@ou.edu.

side quest: northwestern law ai symposium

In the weeks leading up to the TECHSHOW I received an invite from Prof. Daniel Linna to attend Northwestern University’s AI and Law: Navigating the Legal Landscape of Artificial Intelligence Symposium. I took a frigid hike down to the school in the morning to attend a few sessions before returning to the TECHSHOW in the afternoon. It was a fantastic event with a great mix of attorneys, law professors, and computer science developers.

I was able to see Professor Harry Surden‘s introductory session on how LLM’s work in legal applications. While this information was not “new” to me per se (since I frequently give a similar presentation), he presented this complicated topic in an engaging, clear, and nuanced way. He’s obviously a veteran professor and expert in this area and so his presentation is much better than mine. He gave me tons of ideas on how to improve my own presentations to summarize and analogize these computer science topics to legal professionals, for which I was very grateful.

The second session was a panel that included Sabine BrunswickerJJ Prescott, and Harry Surden. All were engaged in fascinating projects using AI in the law and I encourage you to take a look through their publications to get a better sense of what the pioneers in our field are doing to make use of these technologies in their research.

Our Students

Each year our school funds a cohort of students to attend the TECHSHOW and this year was no different. This is my first year going with them and I wasn’t sure how much value they would get out of it since they don’t have a ton of experience working in firms using these tools. Was this just a free trip to Chicago or was this pedagogically useful to them?

I will cut to the chase and say that they found this tremendously useful and loved every session that they attended. Law school can (sometimes) get a little disconnected from the day-to-day practice of law and this is a great way to bridge that gap and give the students a sense of what tools attorneys use daily to do their jobs. You’d think that all of the sexy AI-related stuff would be attractive to students but the best feedback came from sessions on basic office applications like MS Outlook and MS Word. Students are definitely hungry for this type of content if you are trying to think through workshops related to legal technology.

In addition to the sessions, the students greatly appreciated the networking opportunities. The TECHSHOW is not overly stuffy and formal and I think they really liked the fact that they could, for example, find an attorney at a big firm working in M&A and pick their brain at an afterparty to get the unfiltered truth about a specific line of work. All of the students said they would go again and I’m going to try to find ways to get even more students to attend next year. If your school ends up bringing students in the future, please reach out to me and we can have our students get together at the event.


Jenny live-tweeted the ABA TECHSHOW’s 60 Apps in 60 Minutes and provided links. You can follow her on this exciting journey starting with this tweet:


One of the most impactful sessions for me was titled “Revitalize Your Law Firm’s Knowledge Management with AI,” with Ben Schorr (Microsoft) and Catherine Sanders Reach (North Carolina Bar Association).  To drive home why KM matters so much, they shared the statistic that knowledge workers spend a staggering 2.5 hours a day just searching for what they need. That resonated with me, as I can recall spending hours as a junior associate looking for precedent documents within my document management system. Even as a librarian, I often spend time searching for previous work that either I or a colleague has done.

To me, knowledge management is one of the most exciting potential areas to apply AI, because it’s such a difficult problem that firms have been struggling with for decades. The speaker mentioned hurdles like data silos (e.g., particular practice areas sharing only among themselves), a culture of hoarding information, and the challenges of capturing and organizing vast amounts of data, such as emails and scanned documents with poor OCR. 

The speakers highlighted several AI tools that are attempting to address these issues through improved search going beyond keywords, automating document analysis to aid in categorizing documents, and suggesting related documents. They mentioned Microsoft Copilot, along with process tools like Process Street, Trainual, and Notion. Specific tools like Josef allow users to ask questions of HR documents and policies, rather than hunting for the appropriate documents.

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