As the person who plans and emcees the Startup Alley pitch competition at ABA TECHSHOW, I was pretty sure that I knew how the 90 minutes would unfold when the event kicked off TECHSHOW in Chicago last week. But in the final moments, after the pitches were done and just as I had invited the audience to cast their votes for the winning startup, I was thrown for a loop.
My friend Steve Embry, who is chair this year of the ABA Law Practice Division, took to the stage and began telling a story about an anonymous someone who had helped him start blogging — someone I immediately recognized to be me. Steve then introduced Carolyn Elefant, one of my dearest friends in the legal world, who told how I helped inspire her to start blogging, and who then introduced a video about me (see below), complete with a song parody to the tune of John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane.” (Thanks for the video to John Lindsey of inCite Legal Tech by day and Perfect Parody in his spare time.)
Then came Gyi Tsakalakis, TECHSHOW 2023 cochair and another longtime friend of mine, who presented me with an award — not to mention a cake — all in recognition of my 20 years of blogging about legal tech.
If ever there was a moment for which I would ask for a do-over, it was that moment when I returned to the mic. Never have I been so dumbfounded and so dumb — completely at a loss for words. Out came a bad joke about the interlude having given the audience more time to vote. What failed to come was just how moved and touched and humbled I was at that moment.
(Molly McDonough posted video of the full presentation on LinkedIn.)
Anonymous sources tell me that Carolyn was the person who originally thought up this honor. That is ironic, given that, if anyone deserves to be honored, it is Carolyn, not me. She started her blog just weeks after I started mine, and her thought leadership over the years has contributed so much more to the legal profession — and, particularly, to enhancing and celebrating small firm practitioners — than I could ever dream of contributing.
As for Steve, he thanked me for giving him some advice that helped him get started blogging, but he never needed any advice from me. Starting his blog after a career as a litigator, he was a natural from the get-go, combining the experience of someone who spent years in the trenches of law practice with the common sense and insights of someone who has built his blog around the mantra, “No bullshit.”
In presenting me the award, I know that Gyi was representing the entire TECHSHOW board. But let me just acknowledge that Gyi is the epitome of what makes the legal tech world special and of why it has been my honor to be part of it for so many years. Gyi’s day job is legal marketing. But unlike some legal marketers out there, Gyi is deeply committed to ethical and honest marketing and to ethical and honest practices in his own business. He is brilliant about marketing and only too willing to share that brilliance through his speaking and writing and podcasting. When my son Ben and I launched the LawNext Legal Tech Directory last year, Gyi was generous in sharing advice and counsel, all without expectation of a fee.
To me, the funny thing about getting recognized in this way is that I do not think I’ve done anything worth recognizing, other than keep at it for a long time. I am a reporter, not a do-er. Carolyn is a do-er. Gyi is a do-er. Steve is a do-er. So many of you reading this now are do-ers.
All I do is hold up a mirror to the legal tech world and reflect back to you what you all do. Sometimes what that mirror reflects is not so pretty, but far more often than not, what that mirror reflects is an industry built on hundreds and thousands of innovative and disruptive do-ers, all striving towards the ultimate goal of helping legal professionals better deliver legal services to their clients.
At a separate TECHSHOW event last week, Joshua Lenon, lawyer in residence at Clio, talked about the cumulative impact of legal tech. I cannot do his words justice, but the gist of what he talked about was how he explains to new hires at Clio the outsized impact their work can have. Given the massive gap throughout the world in access to justice, every incremental improvement in legal tech helps legal professionals do more and therefore helps chip away at that gap. What might seem, in the moment, as a relatively minor task, is cumulatively building towards a much greater goal.
That is what so many of you are doing, day in and day out. You are building towards a better, fairer and more just world. I report on it because I believe in the mission and I am inspired by your work. But you are the do-ers, not me.
A word I heard a lot last week to refer to the legal tech community is “tribe.” An event such as ABA TECHSHOW is where that tribe gathers, where those of us who believe in the potential of technology to improve the delivery of legal services find our people.
As a journalist, I strive to be objective. But I cannot deny that I am emotionally invested in this tribe and all of you who are part of it. Many of you — including Steve, Carolyn and Gyi — are among my dearest friends, and I want nothing more than for all of you to succeed in the work you do.
If I had a do-over for that moment when I returned to the mic, I would tell you that I am fighting back tears and that I am humbled that members of this tribe saw fit to honor me. I only wish I could turn around and honor all of you with an even bigger award and an even bigger cake.
Until that opportunity comes along, I like to believe that, by reporting and recognizing legal innovation through my writing, I am, in my way, honoring each and every one of you who strive to improve the legal system.
From my vantage point over the years, I have watched some founders build great wealth, and I have watched as others lost every dollar and drop of sweat they had to invest. As for me, I can assure you that blogging is not a road to financial riches. There were many years that I never earned a penny from my blog, and never expected to.
But I can also assure you that blogging has brought me riches far greater than anything money could ever buy. Thanks to blogging, I revel in the riches of a trove of deep and abiding friendships that I will treasure dearly until the day I die.