Each year, ABA TECHSHOW includes a single keynote session. The speaker is generally a Big Name who might have something interesting to say about technology but almost certainly has nothing interesting to say about law and technology.
I wasn’t there for Ari Kaplan’s keynote in 2010, but he was probably the last keynoter to talk about law and technology. If not, it was Richard Susskind in 2009. In 2011, my first ABA TECHSHOW, Larry Lessig spoke mostly about Rootstrikers, his grassroots movement to get money out of politics. In 2012, Ben Stein spoke mostly about his time in politics. In 2013, David Pogue delivered a hyperactive and entertaining keynote that involved him playing his iPhone like an ocarina. In 2014, Rick Klau talked about how Google does a lot of A/B testing. And this year, Nick Carr talked about how technology makes it hard to pay attention. Most of the speakers tried to work in a tenuous connection to law practice, but halfheartedly at best.
If a keynote is supposed to be “a prevailing tone or central theme, typically one set or introduced at the start of a conference,” then what are the TECHSHOW keynotes, which aren’t at the beginning of the conference and have little or nothing to do with legal technology? A way to lure people to TECHSHOW who presumably wouldn’t be interested in attending without a Big Name keynote speaker? A probably-really-expensive way to keep you awake while you digest your lunch? I wonder if everyone else is as confused as I am every year by the big, flashy non sequitur that comes right in the middle of the conference. It’s not that they aren’t entertaining — mostly they are — it’s just that they feel totally out of place.
That’s not the only issue with the keynote speakers. You might have noticed that the last seven keynote speakers at TECHSHOW have been white men — white men who mostly have no real connection to legal tech in the first place. If you gathered all the Big Names in tech into one room, closed your eyes, and tossed a sponge ball in the air, you’d probably hit a non-male, non-white person more often than once every seven tosses.
This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned diversity and TECHSHOW. I actually wrote about the lack of diversity among TECHSHOW faculty two years ago. From what I can tell from a quick tally of this year’s faculty, there are more women (20 v. 15) and non-white speakers (6 v. 21) than I found in 2013.
That’s almost exactly the demographic profile of the legal profession (pdf) when it comes to women, but still a little disappointing for non-white speakers, assuming I’ve counted correctly. Still, it’s real progress — so why hasn’t that progress touched the keynote speakers?
As I said in 2013, I’m not accusing the TECHSHOW planning board of being a bunch of sexists and/or racists. I know some of them and I believe all of them when they say they care about diversity. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m confident there are non-white, non-male Big Names in tech who could headline TECHSHOW — especially given the apparently broad criteria. Maybe in 2016 …
It is hard to tell from a picture and a brief profile which speakers might consider themselves non-white, but I’ve done what I can. ↩