Techshow Speaker Roster — Just the Usual Suspects?

Near the end of Casablanca, there is the classic scene in which police captain Louis Renault commands his men, “Round up the usual suspects.” Unfortunately, there is a perception among some that this is how ABA Techshow goes about its faculty selection process. I’ll admit, I’ve expressed that very concern at times, and I’ve heard it from plenty of others over the years.

Already this year, I’ve heard it again. But this time, my curiosity got the better of me. Is it true that the same faculty appear year after year? How common is it for Techshow to bring in fresh faces to speak? Finding myself snowed in on a recent Sunday, I decided to find out.

As it turns out, the “usual suspects” do not dominate the speaker roster. In fact, in recent years, infrequent speakers — the not-so-usual suspects — have made up half or more of the Techshow faculty each year. In two of the three most-recent Techshows (counting the upcoming 2015 show), a third or more of the faculty has consisted of speakers who are appearing at Techshow for the first time.

My Unscientific Survey

Before I go any farther, let me be very clear about a couple of points — maybe I should call them disclaimers:

  • Having faculty return year after year is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. To the contrary, many of those who speak at Techshow are among the best and most knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. That was why they were there in the first place and they deserve to be perennials.
  • If I felt strongly that there was a problem and wanted to do something about it, I had my chance. I was invited this year to serve on the Techshow planning board, but I declined because of other commitments.

Having made these points, I also strongly believe that, for a legal technology event, change is good. If it is to evolve and keep pace with the times, it needs some churn, in order to make room for new ideas and – dare I say it – new generations. Come to think of it, even keeping pace is not good enough; Techshow should be operating ahead of the pack.

So here is what I did on my snowy Sunday afternoon. I found the names of all the speakers at all the Techshows from 2009 to 2015 and dropped them into a spreadsheet. That showed me who spoke and how many times they spoke. Then, I played around with the numbers to see what I could find out.

Now, more disclaimers:

  • I go back only to 2009. I may show someone as a first-time speaker who was not, in fact, a first-timer, if the person spoke prior to 2009. I could not readily find rosters from prior to 2009.
  • I never found the full 2010 roster but I am pretty sure I have most or all of it.
  • If someone was listed as a speaker but never showed up for whatever reason, I have no way of knowing that.
  • My spreadsheet is embedded below. Feel free to check my numbers, if it matters to you.

OK, on to the results.

Techshow, Mythbusters Edition

The primary question I set out to answer is whether Techshow simply brings back the usual suspects year after year. As I said above, when you look at the big picture, this is not the case. In fact, infrequent speakers — those who spoke three or fewer times in the last seven years — make up half or more of the Techshow faculty each year. In two of the three most-recent Techshows, first-time speakers have made up a third or more of the faculty.

Let’s start with the most-frequent speakers. Yes, there are those who return year after year. (See above disclaimer.) Of the 171 total speakers over the seven years I surveyed:

  • Nine have spoken all seven years.
  • Seven have spoken six of the seven years.
  • Thirteen have spoken five times.
  • Thirteen have spoken four times.

So out of 171 speakers, 42 have spoken four or more times in seven years. (I’m using the past tense, but I’m including this year’s upcoming show.) That is a frequent-speaker rate of roughly 25%.

But what I was really interested in was how many new or infrequent speakers there are in any given year. For the upcoming 2015 Techshow:

  • There are 68 speakers.
  • Twenty-two are first-time speakers.
  • Three are second-time speakers.
  • Eleven are third-time speakers.
  • Twenty-eight did not speak the prior year (2014).

That means that:

  • 32% of this year’s speakers are new to Techshow.
  • 53% will have spoken three times or fewer in the last seven years.
  • 41% are different from the year before.

For last year’s 2014 Techshow, there were fewer first-time speakers:

  • There were 60 speakers.
  • Nine were first-timers.
  • Ten were second-timers.
  • Eleven were third-timers.

But when you looked at the overall percentage of those who were not “usual suspects,” the result came in close to 2015’s:

  • 15% were new to Techshow.
  • 50% had spoken three times or fewer.

I’ll go over one more year, 2013:

  • There were 54 speakers.
  • Twenty were first-timers.
  • Nine were second-timers.
  • Four were third-timers.

That works out to:

  • 37% were speaking for the first time.
  • 61% had spoken three times or fewer.

Thus, for the three most-recent Techshows, first-time speakers made up between 15-37% of the faculty and infrequent speakers made up 50-61% of the faculty. I consider that a more-than acceptable churn rate.

So Who Are The Regulars?

I know that some of you reading this will want to know the most-frequent speakers are. Here are the speakers who have appeared most consistently over the last seven years.

All seven years:

  • Calloway, Jim
  • Henley, Barron
  • Nelson, Sharon
  • Pinnington, Dan
  • Reach, Catherine Sanders
  • Schorr, Ben
  • Simek, John
  • Stevens, Ben
  • Trautz, Reid

Six of the seven years:

  • Burney, Brett
  • Foster, Debbie
  • Kennedy, Dennis
  • Petro, Nerino
  • Richardson, Jeffrey
  • Svenson, Ernest
  • Unger, Paul

Five of the seven years:

  • Best, Steven
  • Bilinsky, David
  • Levitt, Carole
  • Linares, Adriana
  • Mead, Lincoln
  • Medina, Victor
  • Metzger, Mark
  • Mighell, Tom
  • Neff, Donna
  • Ries, David
  • Rosch, Mark
  • Serpe, Richard
  • Siegel, Dan

So what does this all mean? Well, if nothing else, it satisfied my idle curiosity and occupied a home-stranded afternoon. Plus, the next time someone complains to me that Techshow is always the usual suspects, I’ll have an answer for them.

Or maybe I’ll just say, “Your problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”


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  • The goal of the TECHSHOW board is typically to feature 1/3 new speakers every year – and it looks like that goal was met this year. Some years are better than others.

    It’s really hard to figure out who gets to come back, for the reasons you mention. Part of it is based on speaker rating – if audiences like you, you stand a better chance of coming back. But we still have to be sensitive to exhausting our audiences with particular speakers.

    I will admit that during my year as TS Chair I made an attempt to give a one-year “break” to a couple of perennial favorites. One did not speak to me for several months, and one has never spoken to me since then. Then at the conference, we got at least 5 people complain “why didn’t you have XXXX to speak this year? We love him/her!!!” It can be a hard game to win.

    • It’s a shame anyone would react that way. Good for you for trying to mix it up. You can’t make everyone happy when making those kinds of decisions.

  • Brian Tannebaum

    Looking forward to it!

  • I spoke twice – I was 2008 and 2010

    • Carolyn – I have you for 2010. My spreadsheet didn’t go back to 2008.

  • Bob, what a great post. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    For what it’s worth, the TECHSHOW Planning Board spends an immeasurable amount of time toiling over each year’s faculty roster. In addition to the substantive factors (e.g. past attendees’ speaker evaluations) there are also a host of more mundane factors we have to consider—first and foremost is availability. TECHSHOW is not a typical conference where speakers can just fly in for a day, and give a one-hour presentation about some topic du jour. Presenting at TECHSHOW requires a significant commitment of time & energy, and the commitment begins 3–4 months ahead of the conference. For practicing lawyers (and judges) especially, that can be daunting.

    On the flip side, we recognize that attending TECHSHOW also requires a significant commitment—of not only time, but also money. So the Planning Board has a duty to make sure that every TECHSHOW has fresh and engaging content, to ensure the attendees leave with the feeling they got their “money’s worth.” We want to make each TECHSHOW so good that people won’t want to miss it—that skipping a year isn’t even an option, because of what they might miss.

    As far as repeat speakers are concerned, think about TECHSHOW like a restaurant. Restaurants with trendy, niche concepts or menus come and go all the time. Then there are restaurants that attract both locals and tourists for decades. People keep coming back to these restaurants because of quality and consistency. These restaurants usually offer fresh, seasonal dishes that change frequently (sometimes even daily) depending on what’s available, and what’s best right now. But those special dishes are created around a core of signature menu items for which that restaurant has become famous.

    • Joe – Thanks for these thoughts. So you’re saying folks like Jim Calloway and Sharon Nelson are your “signature menu items”?

  • Ooh, I should’ve known I’d open myself up to that question! To some extent, though, yes. Can you imagine a TECHSHOW without them? Or Barron Henley, Ben Stevens? Even being a Mac user, I know I’d miss seeing Ben Schorr if he wasn’t at TECHSHOW.

  • I’ve only been going to TECHSHOW in the past five years but I find it odd that more actual, working lawyers with active private practices are not included as presenters. Is there a reason why more real lawyers are not involved on the board and as presenters? For me, the best sessions are those presented by real lawyers really using technology in serving clients day to day. Maybe they are too busy? Or maybe they don’t get asked?

  • Dan, I completely agree, and the board tries to find practicing lawyers as much as we can. But you guessed at least part of the reason why we don’t get as many as we want – a lot say they are too busy. Particularly for the board – we have always had trouble keeping practicing lawyers on the board, because it’s a lot of work. It’s also hard to identify a lawyer as a speaker if they aren’t already speaking on the subject – if they aren’t giving speeches, or participating on message boards or otherwise making themselves known that they have tech skills, we often don’t know they exist.

  • @Dan you’re not alone in wanting more “real lawyer” presenters at TECHSHOW. I am a practicing lawyer,with experience working in Big Law, government/judiciary, and small-firm practice, and having spent the last year on the TECHSHOW Planning Board, I can attest that the single biggest reason there aren’t more practicing lawyers at TECHSHOW (and on the Planning Board) is the time commitment required. Big law firms don’t want to have their partners diverting billable hours to presenting seminars to an audience of primarily other lawyers (as opposed to industry/potential clients), and solo & small-firm attorneys can’t keep their practices afloat while taking the time away from billable work.

  • Perhaps the rules and procedures need to be changed to accommodate practicing lawyers on the board and as presenters. I could watch Ben Stevens or Victor Medina fold laundry and learn something. More real lawyers will enhance the credibility and relevancy of the program. It’s for lawyers, right? They are out there. It may take some digging and persuanding, but they are out there.

  • Robert, I enjoyed this thoughtful analysis. As a practising lawyer from Australia I can report that the problem of finding speakers about technology who are themselves practising lawyers is a problem here too. I volunteered to present at TECHSHOW because I was highly impressed with the standard but more importantly I was impressed by the goodwill and sense of duty displayed by all concerned. There is a unique sense of collegiality absent from other conferences. If there are too few practising lawyers then it is the fault of practising lawyers—not the board.

  • Bob, if I add up your totals there were 304 speakers over the years that you tallied and only about 39 speakers were women. I say “about” because there are a few names that could be male or female. I’ll let you all do the math, but let’s try harder to get more women involved so the female attendees see some female law/tech role models on the stage–especially at the main events (keynote, plenary, 60 Sites, and 60 Tips). Start with the list at http://linkon.in/lawtechwomen (many of those listed are already Techshow speakers). Despite the uneven male/female, I love Techshow and I know how challenging it is to find experts.