20130407-112044.jpg I spent the last few days at the ABA TechShow in Chicago. It’s one of the largest law conferences and exhibit shows each year.

I’ve been going to the conference for 17 years, and it’s getting nothing but better. This year there was more of a vibe than ever.

In a passing exchange with one of TechShow’s boards members, where I thanked him for a job well done, he mentioned how much he liked the level of engagement between company leaders and the lawyers.

He said TechShow has always wanted to drive open discussion and engagement between inventors and lawyers so as to generate excitement for the lawyers and so that inventors (company leaders) could get feedback from lawyers.

When most conferences refer to companies as vendors, it was refreshing to hear TechShow’s perspective. I also suspect this attitude and mission plays a large part in why lawyers and companies serving the legal profession love coming back to TechShow year after year.

There’s so much to be gained from an open and frank discussion between lawyers/others working in law firms and the companies serving them. Not only does it make for better products and solutions, but it fosters real relationships where legal professionals feel ownership of a company’s success.

As with technology generally, large traditional players, are not going to drive innovation. Facebook, Evernote, YouTube, Twitter, and WordPress didn’t come from Microsoft or Oracle. Though giants in the law, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters are not known for their innovation.

Engagement where the rubber meets the road — between practicing lawyers and small innovative tech companies bringing the legal profession the future — is so valuable and what makes TechShow different.

Rather than a party hosted by ABC company where people come and go, there’s the feel at TechShow that the companies hosting receptions and parties were doing it to give something back to TechShow and the attendees. “We’re hosting this so you may continue to engage at this conference we’ve come to love.”

Going forward, TechShow shouldn’t hesitate to get company owners on conference panels speaking on what they’re doing. People pack rooms at tech conferences to hear from the leaders of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and much smaller tech smaller companies.

Why not a panel at TechShow with Jack, Larry, and Matt, from Clio, Rocket Matter, and MyCase, respectively? Let them discuss how they are taking practice management solutions, and more, to the cloud. Have the audience ask questions and challenge them based on a lawyers’ needs.

I’d welcome being on a panel with other small company leaders bringing innovative media and networking solutions to lawyers. Listening, engagement, and criticism is how we learn.

ABA TechShow continues to get better and better. If you are a lawyer, small or large firm, you ought to be taking advantage of it.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Tim Sackton.