It was as if we were all stepping back into the real world after stepping out two years ago and falling through some portal into a dystopian parallel universe.
On Feb. 29, 2020, ABA TECHSHOW 2020 wrapped its four-day run, and those of us who had attended headed home, exhausted and exhilarated after another successful conference. Little did we know that, within days, our lives would turn upside down and it would be two years before we would return.
But return we did this week, to ABA TECHSHOW 2022. This time, we arrived exhausted — exhausted from the challenges and isolation of two years of the pandemic. But once again we left exhilarated — energized by our emergence from isolation, by the return to normalcy.
For almost everyone there, this was their first foray into face-to-face conference-going since leaving that TECHSHOW two years earlier.
TECHSHOW 2020 and TECHSHOW 2022 became a pair of karmic bookends. The end of TECHSHOW 2020 marked the beginning of a long, strange trip. The opening of TECHSHOW 2022 marked our return. The last conference we attended. The first conference we attended.
It may have been the best TECHSHOW ever.
Was it the best in attendance? Not by a long shot – at least it did not seem so in physical attendance. (The ABA has not provided official attendance numbers, and there was also a virtual component.)
Was it the best in number of exhibitors? No. But it was pretty good given the circumstances. Estimates I heard were that the exhibit hall had roughly 80% of the number of exhibitors who were there in 2020.
Was it the best in programming? No, in that it seemed to be a lighter schedule than normal, and programs were more sparsely attended than in past years. Still, there were many excellent programs on the agenda, and possibly the most diverse roster of speakers in TECHSHOW’s history.
Were the parties as plentiful and raucous as ever? No. Parties were few in number and modest in staging. But, trust me, no one was complaining.
So what made it the best TECHSHOW ever?
Quite simply: Reconnecting.
Two years after stepping away from TECHSHOW 2020, here we were, at long last, again. Two years after last seeing friends and colleagues, here they were, at long last, again. So many familiar faces. So many dear friends.
Two years after we’d last seen each other, it was as if it had been just yesterday. Except now those friends seemed all the more dear, the opportunity to spend time together all the more precious.
After two years of Zoom conferences, this was the ingredient we had been missing – the ability to connect with each other the way humans are meant to connect: together, in person, spontaneously sharing smiles and stories and simply enjoying each other’s presence.
TECHSHOW is a conference that, over the years, has created a community around it. If those who attend are not already regulars, they quickly become regulars. It is a conference where many who go either know each other or know of each other. For all, this was a chance to rekindle friendships and form new ones.
Several times during TECHSHOW, I found myself simply sitting quietly and watching and appreciating the buzz of activity around me. I watched as people chatted in hallways or shared laughs at the bar or hugged old friends they came across in the exhibit hall.
It all felt so normal, yet also so exquisite.
We are all wary to call this dystopian detour over. But ABA TECHSHOW felt very much like a return to the world we all left two years earlier.
Only this time, it was even better, and it was better because we understand what we’d been missing.
Meanwhile, I am off to another legal tech reunion, of sorts, this time at Legalweek in New York.