28 TECHSHOW’s Ago – Jeff Aresty Reflects on His Year as Chair in 1988

We’re on a TECHSHOW countdown and with 28 days to go, we’re hopping in the WayBack Machine to hear from past chairs and take a look at What-Was at TECHSHOW! This year, for the 30th Anniversary of TECHSHOW, Jeff Aresty, ABA TECHSHOW Chair 1988,  is organizing a pre-TECHSHOW event during the weekend of March 12 – 13 – a legal hackathon! Learn more and find ways to participate in this special event. Learn more about the hackathon and register here.

You can find Jeff on his website or on Twitter at @TechForJustice.


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.    

First of all, thanks for the opportunity to contribute. I was managing partner of a small law firm when I co-chaired TECHSHOW during its kick off years. Today, I run a nonprofit, Internet Bar Organization, which I co-founded in 2005. Though I always was an international business lawyer, in 2005 I began focusing on how technology and law operating in a global environment could benefit so many more people. The first project we undertook was a music project empowering musicians in the developing world to use the internet and ‘global law’ to build a music business and support their communities (PeaceTones); a couple of years ago, we began working with legal aid, human rights groups and environmental organizations to develop innovative justice technologies which could be used to prevent legal issues from turning into unsolvable problems (TechForJustice); I moved from Massachusetts to Texas in 2011 unexpectedly, and, am enjoying a second wind in my new state!!

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

In the first couple of years, we had ‘shootouts’ to contrast the service offerings of the huge numbers of word processing vendors (we were still arguing over the question of dedicated word processor vs word processing software); the ABA was issuing reports (certifying) on timekeeping and billing software – they got out of that business pretty quickly, but TABS, the very first service to be certified, did quite well as I recall. Apple vs PC was a big debate with a clear winner early on! There was tremendous excitement and, because the ABA allowed paralegals to become ‘associate’ members of the ABA, and, paralegals REALLY used computers, we had many paralegals and attorneys come in tandem to our programs. Eventually, lawyers got over it, and, started keyboarding themselves.

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

This was the beginning of the computer movement in the profession. The hot technology was the computer itself. Accountants had figured out that LOTUS 123, the electronic spreadsheet, would be life altering. But lawyers didn’t really have the same ‘killer app’ – word processing was something that most lawyers left to secretaries – it was still too much like typing and document assembly was still an idea that didn’t make lawyers feel good about what they did. Actually, the real issue that was developing in this early computer phase, was driven first by the idea that document assembly would make it easier for lawyers to get their work done – an idea that was NOT accepted by many lawyers as they pointed out the truth that each case and each client required its own customization and attention. But when you combined document assembly with timekeeping and billing tools, and, the move toward professional management of law firms, the perfect storm was developing to emphasize the value of a lawyers’ time defined in billable hours. The then ‘Economics of Law Practice’ section, which gave birth to ABA TECHSHOW, fought the time keeping and billing trend as one of its leading chairs, Dick Reed, published the Section’s first book on value billing in, I think, 1989. The battle for the soul of the profession was on – are we measured by the number of hours we bill at what rate; or, by the value of the service that we provide. You can decide who which idea won that battle in the 90s and on. Just ask LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer and AVVO.

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

That’s a hard one – I really think the stars of our first couple of years were the staff. I remember Susan Stewart and Donna Spilis going all out to make the TECHSHOW happen. I remember Betsy Turner, who chaired the computer division of our Section inspiring so many of us to become innovators. I remember Bruce Jaster and Don Hagans from Texas who let me jump on board as a co-chair of the TECHSHOW since I was able to bring Boston’s World Trade Center into the fold as a venue after they had already secured the Infomart in Dallas. We had had quite a successful “Computer College” running at the Massachusetts Bar Association at the time, so we were able to bring many of the ideas we had developed in Massachusetts to the TECHSHOW format. Probably, the standout program that we did came from a prior chair of the ABA Economics of Law Practice Section, Bob Wilkins. Bob had taken document assembly and value billing techniques and had combined them into a program called “Automating your Estate Planning Practice” – he showed all of us how we could advice the client in all aspects of estate planning in a trusted and organized way, so that at the end of the interview, you could literally press a button on your computer and have the first draft of all your documents ready in a flash. Back in those days, we had the support of future ABA presidents Roberta Cooper Ramo and Mike Greco, future ABA treasurer, Alice Richmond, and so many others.

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

Little did I know in 1986 that I would become a Texan some 25 years later…folks from Massachusetts had an attitude about Texans (think LBJ and JFK); and, when I heard about the first planning meetings for the TECHSHOW (I was a vice-chair of the Computer Division, so the information was ‘leaked’), I showed up at a closed door meeting and walked in. I had just moved my office to the newly opened World Trade Center in Boston and knew that its developer would welcome the TECHSHOW since the WTC had been modeled after the Dallas Infomart. So I made a pitch to Don Hagans and Bruce Jaster that we should do two shows. To put it mildly, the Texans weren’t particularly enthused by my idea. To make a long story short, Don Hagans asked that we step outside the meeting room where he made a deal with me – as long as we would do the first TECHSHOW in Dallas, he would support a second one in the same year in Boston. And so, that’s how we began running two TECHSHOWs, one in Dallas and one in Boston, in the first two years.

The other memory, just as vivid – was of Susan Stewart, the leading ABA staff person on our TECHSHOW, giddily clicking her heels as we ran down the streets of Boston after a celebratory dinner at the end of the first years’ two TECHSHOWs.  We had succeeded getting the show off the ground and we were all thrilled!

Any final thoughts about your TECHSHOW experience?

Getting TECHSHOW started, and now, seeing it 30 years later, makes me feel very proud of our early efforts. I can equate the feelings many of us had at a specially convened meeting of the ABA computer division at Betsy Turner’s home in Boulder in the mid-80s, when we were young lawyers filled with excitement about the potential of how computers could increase access to justice for all. When I walked into the lobby of the hotel at the beginning of TECHSHOW two years ago, I could feel the same BUZZ that we had almost 30 years before. There is a brand new feeling out there that something special is about to happen to law because we are finally looking at technology as a means to increasing the value we bring as lawyers to society – by making sure that justice for all is what drives us, not the number of hours we bill. It’s a tribute to the current leaders of TECHSHOW that you have grown the event from its modest beginnings to an event that attracts the best and the brightest. Hats off to all of you! Congratulations and thanks for remembering!!