23 TECHSHOW’s Ago –Simon Chester Reflects on His Year as Chair in 1993

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We’re on a TECHSHOW countdown and with 23 days to go, we’re hopping in the WayBack Machine to hear from past chairs and take a look at What Was at TECHSHOW!

simonchesterSimon Chester – ABA TECHSHOW Chair 1993

What were you doing (real life job) when you were the ABA Tech show chair in YEAR? Are you still doing that same thing? If not tell us a little bit about your journey.    

My TECHSHOW chair year broke new ground, because it was the first year that TECHSHOW was chaired by a non-American. I was a partner at a Toronto based firm then called McMillan Binch, where my role was as Director of Research. Jon Klemens (who was then at Altman Weil Pensa) and I shared the job, with Jon focusing on the vendors and me on the programme itself. We couldn’t have done the show without Susan Stewart, our staff liaison, and without email. It will seem strange to attendees in 2016 to hear of the novelty of email, but very few law firms were using it back in 1993 – we planned the whole thing over 10,000 emails, which I have somewhere on a floppy disk (equally prehistoric). Since then I have been General Counsel at a 650 lawyer firm which decided to dissolve two years ago – the largest law firm dissolution in Canadian history. I am now Counsel, Conflicts and Regulatory Matters at Gowlings LLP which in February 2016 will enter into a combination with an English firm to become a global firm of over 1400 lawyers. The practice of law has been totally transformed in the last 23 years.

What was / were the notable topics/tracks of your year?

Though we didn’t realize it at the time, the key innovation was pioneering social networks. David Johnson, a partner at Wilmer Cutler and an old friend from the Law Firm Technology Roundtable, had been writing about the possible use of collaborative tools to encourage dialogue between legal professionals. Stephen Brill, the founder of American Lawyer, was intrigued by the idea and put up seed capital to form Counsel Connect. Stephen and David chose TECHSHOW to make one of the first announcements of the concept, and launch the service. It was ahead of its time in addressing many of the issues of communication and collaboration that continue to challenge us. It was on Counsel Connect that I first started to use the Internet, though since this was before the widespread deployment of HTML, one accessed the web through pull down members and all of the commands were in Unix. User friendly it wasn’t.

What was the hot technology or must have service, gadget or tool or idea?

Graphic user interfaces were in their infancy. Apple fanatics existed, of course, but a minority of lawyers used them. The earlier incarnations of Windows were buggy. We were still discussing the platforms for the future. But at 1993’s TECHSHOW most legal software worked on DOS, and portable computers weighed the same as a small fridge. Hot technologies from that period seem ancient history today.

If you had a keynote speaker who was it and what was their topic?  

My recollection (and it may be flawed, and I am writing this in India without access to my files) was that it was Mitch Kapor, who was the founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the designer of the first spreadsheet, Visicalc, which led to Lotus 1-2-3, the “killer app” widely credited with having helped the personal computer become ubiquitous in the business world. Mitch was also one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He gave a talk on the transformative potential of the tools. I think it was the first time he had spoken to a national (or even international) legal audience.

Do you have any great stories or meaningful show moments to share with us? 

After months of planning and working out the small details, the actual three days of the show are a blur. Every problem that occurred had to be solved on the spot. We had three tracks but things didn’t run quite as smoothly as they do today – and we were using technologies that were advanced for the time. Two moments spring to mind. We were anxious to find out from attendees how they felt about the show and what changes they would like. We held a focus group lunch and asked attendees at random whether they would tell us in detail what they liked and didn’t like. Just like Survey Monkey but they got lunch too.  Finally a feeling of exhaustion and elation when it was all over. On the Saturday evening, everyone seemed to have vanished – and I was deflated. My friend Jim Keene (one of our best speakers, and one of the pioneers of legal technology in Maryland) grabbed me and we went out for a wonderful meal with a Brunello di Montalcino from the early Eighties – we had survived. The show was a success. And we contributed a six digit profit to the Law Practice Management Section (as it was then known).

Any final thoughts about your TECHSHOW experience?

I always told people that I was involved in TECHSHOW because of the people and the ideas. My best memories are of the deep and enduring friendships made, the ideas exchanged, the tips shared and the excitement of the revolution that we all saw springing from the application of technology to a staid profession. That energy endures.