Tales of the CALI Conference Past

Beginning Thursday, a few hundred folks made up of librarians, technologists, faculty (membership in these three categories not necessarily exclusive to each other) and vendor reps will gather at Marquette Law School for the 21st annual CALI Conference for Law School Computing. For two and a half days participants will lead and participate in sessions covering the gamut of using technology in legal education, take advantage of 30-minute-long breaks to engage in personal networking and socializing, and see the ins and outs of one of the newest and most innovative law school buildings in the country. Conceived in 1991 by John P. Mayer (then director of I.T. at IIT Chicago Kent, now executive director of CALI) (I include his middle initial so you don’t confuse him with the pop singer), Tom Bruce (co-founder and director of the Legal Information Institute) and others to whom I apologize for omitting their names, the conference has become the go-to event for those concerned with the junction of educating future lawyers and technology.

There have been notable moments within the sessions: e.g., at the 1993 conference Tom Bruce demonstrated Cello, his primordial Windows web browser. Watching him demonstrate its graphics capability, I was struck with a Eureka! moment: at last a reason to install MS Windows, then in version 3.1. Keynote speakers have addressed their version of the future, for example, in at the 2000 conference Jerry Neece of Sun Microsystems talked about the “Java ring” and all it would do. (Still waiting.) At an earlyconference Ron Staudt showed us one of the original electronic casebooks, on the Lexis Folio platform, which he was introducing to his students at Chicago Kent. Through the years the plenary sessions have featured luminaries from legal education and the technology world at-large.

The individual program sessions are at least as valuable as the plenaries, and often from a practical standpoint, even more so. In these we learn about the new projects developing at law schools and not-for-profits. Some of these projects become very successful, others die after a short life; but even the latter often serve as inspiration for bigger and better things.

In between the sessions are the breaks, long enough to hold a conversation about what works or to just catch up on your colleagues’ lives since you last saw them, quite likely at the last conference. The snacks are copious, the company engaging. And the evening social events are memorable. From watching Blue Man Group, playing BattleTech on Navy Pier, shooting paintball, visiting Second City and The Improv, all on the official schedule, to the impromptu beer hikes and indoor croquet matches, activities make the conference a perfect place and time to recharge both your intellectual batteries and your emotional ones. If you have any doubt about that last claim, ask me about the 2006 conference in Ft. Lauderdale when you see me.

So, if you’ve not made your plans to attend, what are you waiting for? You’ve still got time to book your flight to Milwaukee and be at the conference Thursday morning. See you there!

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