I just got back from a really great Tech Conference in Jackson, Mississippi. To be honest, I was kind of uninspired in getting ready for the conference, which is a terrible thing to say. After all, this was the Mississippi version of the so-called ‘Tech Revival Conference’ that Tom O’Connor and Gayle O’Connor spearheaded here in New Orleans a few months ago. The conference was a nominal cost event designed to help legal practitioners affected by Katrina. The attendees came from all over Mississippi, and many (obviously) came from the coast. I can’t really say why I was uninspired. It was probably a lot of things, including general malaise (you know how sometimes you have something you love to do and you do it all the time and then one day you just find it hard to get psyched to do it?)
Anyway, as I made the three hour drive up to Jackson I was thinking of how to approach my presentation on Adobe Acrobat (I was co-presenting with Rick Borstein). I was making mental notes and trying to get inspired when, suddenly, it started raining hard and the road began to disappear. I noticed the temperature dropped quickly too. I thought to myself, "first things first. Find the road, then the hotel, and THEN worry about finding inspiration." Once I got to the lobby of the Hilton and ran into familiar faces like Tom Mighell, Hunter Twiford, Rick Borstein et al. and my mood lifted a bit.
We all drove out to a Catfish joint called "The Cock of the Walk."
(what do roosters and catfish have in common, you ask? I don’t know).
I sat by Rick Borstein, the Business Development Manager for Legal
Markets, and we talked about how we were going to handle our
presentation. But we mostly talked about tech trends and other cool
stuff. I always love to learn about technology from people who are
immersed in it the way that Rick is. Adobe, as you might guess, is a
completely paperless company and how they handle workflow is completely
different than most of the companies I’m familiar with. Being a
paperless company, and a high-tech company, people are able to
collaborate easily even though they live in different cities. I find
that sort of thing fascinating. Okay, I know: I’m a geek.
The next day was the seminar, an all day affair that started at 7:30
with a roundtable on E-Discovery (moderated by Tom O’Connor) that I was
asked to participate in, along with notables like Ross Kodner,
Tom Mighell and Hunter Twiford. The attendees at the conference were
keenly interested, which is not usually the case at a legal conference,
especially at the 7:30 programs. There were over 200 lawyers and the
room was packed. I looked around the room and didn’t see any open
newspapers, or patches of distraction. Everyone was sitting up with
their eyes forward, full of anticipation and curiosity.
I felt inspired.
The round table was somewhat leisurely and produced a lot of good
audience questions. Then, after that it was rapid-fire stuff. Rick
and I presented our "how to use Acrobat in your legal practice" thing,
and Rick spent a lot of time showing the new Acrobat 8.0 (just
released). I was supposed be a good co-presenter and chime in with
timely observations, but I got engrossed in seeing Rick show off the
new features. So I mostly bumbled along. If you have a chance to see
Rick present then grab it, but meanwhile check out his Acrobat blog.
After my presentation I was free to roam, and so I spent time
checking out the vendor booths. I got to talking with the guys from Onsite E-Discovery,
and I have to say I really like these guys. I know the head of the
firm, Rob Robinson, and Winslow Chapman, who is the business
development guy. I talked to Winslow and Tom Strack about E-Discovery
process. They know this stuff from the atomic level to the forest
level, and I learned a lot from chatting with them. You would too if
you had the chance.
I also learned a lot by talking to Jim Province, a/k/a The Tablet Lawyer.
Jim lives in Seattle and practices law in a small community, but his
side gig is selling tablet PCs to lawyers and training them how to use
them in the practice of law. I never really understood the value of
using a Tablet PC in the practice of law until I spent time with Jim.
He was showing me a Powerpoint presentation on his Tablet and
occassionally he’d highlight a word or circle it in red, or scribble a
thought to emphasize a point. My jaw dropped and I asked him how he
did that. He showed me how easy it was (it’s built into the Tablet
version of Microsoft’s OS). As he was showing me a bunch of other cool
stuff a tall swaggering lawyer came by and saw what was going on. His
I explained to the fellow that if he wanted to try out the Tablet,
James would let him borrow one for a week or two to see if he liked it
(which I had just learned a moment before as I was trying to reel my
jaw up). The guy said that he worked for a big firm and he’d love to
be able to use something like that in trial, but his IT department said
they would only support Dell machines (this was a "Motion Tablet"). I
explained to the fellow that the reason the IT guys said that was to
make their lives easier because they didn’t want to have to
troubleshoot a wider spectrum of problems than they already had. But
then I told him a ‘dirty little secret’ about the IT department. I
told him that they’re geeks, and all geeks like to play with cool new
technology so if he takes them aside and says "hey let’s start a ‘pilot
program’ to see if this can work for a lawyer" they’d certainly agree
to let him try the Tablet. Hey, if James is willing to let him try it
for a few weeks for free, and train him how to use it in the practice
of law, then why wouldn’t he do that? Why wouldn’t anyone?
I know why. They haven’t met James Province
face to face. James is one of those people that I rarely encounter.
He’s jovial and completely patient, which is deceptive. I tend to
assume such people are not as sharp as people who are more aggressive
and ‘in your face.’ James is definitely sharp, and he is doing
something that he loves and knows how to do well. He’s one of those
guys that a judge who is reluctant to let a lawyer use new technology
would completely trust. I have to say I’d trust James with more than
just technology. I don’t know how quite to describe it, but he’s just
a really good guy and I hope to keep up with him, even if I don’t buy a
tablet (but I have to admit I’m totally intrigued now).
I also had a good talk with Jim Calloway
about some ideas to help the Louisiana Bar Association. Jim is the
Practice Management Consultant for the Oklahoma Bar Assn, and has got a
great sense of humor and strong grasp of legal technology (two
qualities that you rarely find in one person). I met a lot of nice new
people at the seminar too, not the least of which was Larry Houchins,
the Director of the Mississippi bar (and I’m not just saying that
because he likes Apple computers, either). Tom and Gayle O’Connor and
Hunter Twiford deserve a lot of praise for setting up this conference.
The attendees obviously enjoyed the hell out of it. And, even though I
started out feeling uninspired, I did too.