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I had the privilege of being on a panel with three amazing people at LegalTech’s CIO Forum this week to discuss how consumerization of technology is affecting the law firm technology strategy. Phillip Hoare from Wilson Sonsini really made me think differently about the topic because he came at the scenario about 180 degrees from where I assumed most CIO’s would be. His approach was to focus on the positive and downplay the negative. Although I don’t have a direct quote, his motto for dealing with the different ways in which a lawyer wants to use technology, or the different types of technology was basically this:

My job as CIO is to make sure that the attorneys are engaged in the practice of law, and we will support whatever platform or device they wish to use in order to keep them engaged in their practice.

I have to say that I was surprised to hear this type of approach because most of the time at these types of conferences the focus is on what goes wrong, rather on what goes right. In fact, I made a few comments to others that the theme that ran through most of the conference was the biggest problem with law firm technology was that lawyers didn’t stay in the “box” that the CIO or CTO designed for the firm. Issues of potential security risks, or the possibility of commingling of person and firm data, or the duplication of data into cloud servers or personal devices required shutting down the ideas of bringing in foreign technology that hadn’t been fully vetted by the firm’s IT department.

Now, I’m not living in a bubble when it comes to how technology, law firm IT Departments and law firm Partners interact. There is a delicate balance of doing what is right, what is ethical, and what is feasible… and that these three prongs are typically being challenged as new technologies are introduced. I just wanted to say that it was refreshing to hear someone look at the challenges in a way that stresses the need to just make it work in a way that is beneficial to the attorney’s ability to work in a way that he or she finds most effective, and less about drawing battle lines of what will and will not be supported by IT. I’m sure there are many challenges that face IT Departments that take on the “keep the attorney engaged” approach. However, I think that it is the better approach for IT to be flexible in supporting the way the attorney wishes to work, rather than attempting to make the attorneys work the way IT wants. As I mentioned during the panel, if IT starts throwing up roadblocks to the way attorneys want to work… you may find the attorneys have great skills in working around those roadblocks.

  • Greg – that CIO's point of view and attitude are refreshing! I have heard lawyers complain about the restrictions that CIOs place on their firms – and I've heard lawyers' clients complain about it, too.

    One small example is instant messaging, which legal departments liberally use to quickly communicate with each other. They want their outside counsel to use it, too – but most law firm IT departments lock it down. We all understand the risks associated with it (and every electronic communication), but the legal departments have evaluated the risks and proceed with caution.

    IT departments would do well to climb into what's important to the law firm clients – (mobility, responsiveness, flexibility, self service access to KM and experience database tools . . . and more) – what makes the clients happy will generally make the lawyers happy.

  • Anonymous

    Doing what the attorney wants sounds great and all, but the reality is not that easy.

    I direct you to an article posted this week to Bloomberg, "China-Based Hackers Target Law Firms to Get Secret Deal Data,"

    One part in particular, "… 80 major U.S law firms were hacked last year."

    If a client's deal data gets out, not being able to IM their outside counsel will be the least of their problems.

  • RA

    Of course it is important to communicate in with clients in the medium of their choice. However, that does not mean that key pieces of information should be communicated over potentially insecure routes. I like the use of encrypted files for truly sensitive information.