If you’re looking for inspiration, camaraderie and practical information, you could do a lot worse than attending next week’s ABA TechShow in Chicago.

While other legal technology conferences have companies paying to put people on panels and exhibitors selling wares that are beyond the comprehension of 90% of lawyers, the ABA TechShow is for the real lawyers in this country. The vast majority of lawyers who practice as solos and in smaller law firms.

Attorney and legal technology columnist, Bob Ambrogi, took a look at word clouds culling media coverage of the ABA TechShow and ALM’s LegalTech, the later unquestionably the largest and leading technology show and conference.

The difference between the two word clouds is striking. Whereas e-discovery dominated Legaltech, look at the words that dominate Techshow: lawyers, law firm, clients, practice, legal and learn.

Solos and smaller firms are looking for practical information which can bring efficiencies to their practice, make representation of clients better and up the quality of their lives. The ABA TechShow brings this in a number of ways.

The educational sessions taught by practicing lawyers, law practice management consultants and tech company leaders focus on practical knowledge you could walk away and use tomorrow. Not to worry about being a tech neophyte, there are plenty of sessions which get down to the very basics.

I’ve been a “mild critic” of TechShow’s speakers, arguing they ought to have more technology company speakers versus the emphasis on consultants, authors and lawyers. No one is studying the future of technology more than the folks working on it every day. And any company leader worth their salt is not going to be hawking their wares from the podium.

Glancing over the roster for this year I see more speakers from technology companies – companies that are improving the practice of law and companies bringing greater access to legal services.

The vast majority of such speakers are from small companies, women and men that solos and small firm lawyers can relate to. This means open and frank discussion between tech execs and attendees — during the sessions and at social events.

The exhibit hall is filled with entrepreneurs, inventors and mostly small technology companies. Company founders and leaders are on the floor speaking with lawyers. This not only makes for better products and solutions, but fosters relationships where lawyers feel ownership of a company’s growth and success.

Rather than looking at technology leaders as “vendors,” TechShow’s perspective is let’s get lawyers and technology leaders talking. It’s a win-win for lawyers, companies and the people we all serve as legal professionals.

TechShow would be nothing without its parties and social events. 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 are doing it to give something back to TechShow and attendees. “We’re hosting this so you may continue to engage at this conference we’ve all come to love.”

The ABA Journal and LexBlog are honored to be hosting our 9th annual “Beer for Bloggers (and everyone else)” on Friday evening. What started as a small get-together has become a TechShow ritual that draws a big crowd. Thank God we missed St. Patrick’s Day by one day this year.

Camaraderie and inspiration may be the best reasons to attend TechShow. First time attendee or coming for your fifteenth year, you’ll feel right at home. After all, you’re all in the same boat. And as small firm lawyers you’re used to speaking and engaging with others — it’s your lifeblood.

TechShow offers dinner sign-ups to dine with tech leaders and cohorts. You’ll be speaking with peers in between sessions and around the concierge counter. And you’ll be out having beers with old friends and people you just met that may become friends for life.

I came to the TechShow on the spur of the moment twenty years ago in 1997. I was a small town trial lawyer and did not know a sole.

I was blown away. Admitedly, I even thought the Sheraton’s having about ten escalators was really something — my town only had half an escalator in the JC Penny.

I remember walking up to the registration desk and meeting law practice management author and consultant, Ed Poll, whose columns I read and cassette tapes I subscribed to. Wow.

Immigration attorney, Greg Siskind, who I consider as the godfather of Internet marketing for lawyers and who penned the first book on Internet marketing for lawyers in ’96, then took me under his arm. He introduced me to Law Practice Management Section leaders and tech leaders such as Dennis Kennedy and Jerry Lawson, who I had only known from their websites. Understand that websites were few and far between then.

I am not sure I would have left the practice to start two legal technology companies had I not attended TechShow in 1997. TechShow opened ny eyes to what was possible with technology — and what was possible for even the average non-tech guy like me with a dream.

Check out TechShow. There’s still plenty of time to register and attend.

It’s in Chicago too. That’s in the Midwest — the middle — where all the good stuff comes from.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Mark Grapengator