I don’t know how I missed it, but last week, Jones Day laid off 65 IT workers.  Most of them were from my home town of Columbus, Ohio. [UPDATE: It appears the bulk of cuts were in Cleveland, not C-bus. Still Buckeyes though. 🙁 ]  As I began reading the article, my first thought was, “I told you.” But as I continued and I read the quotes from Jones Partner, Joe Sims, I started to regret the things I had written.  Had he or anyone at Jones read any of my posts?  Was I in any way influential in this decision?

Of course, that’s completely irrational and extremely arrogant. But still, the thought briefly crossed my mind. The quotes from Sims and Jones Day sound very much like things I have said and written.

“…we concluded we could do it better, faster and more effectively with a reorganized approach, and that reorganization didn’t require so many people.”  

“It’s basically a change from a local, personal touch to a remote-access basis for fixing little problems, and instead of having people literally on the ground…”  

“We have determined that a reorganized technology function will improve both the effectiveness and the cost of our services to clients.”

Shorter Jones Day: We don’t need so many expensive people to run things anymore.

Ouch.

Keep an eye on Jones to see if they quietly start picking up more IT people in the near future.  If they don’t, and they appear to be otherwise successful, then hold on tight, these cuts are coming to a firm near you soon.

But wait, it gets worse for IT people!

Edward Snowden (Hero or Traitor, love him or hate him) has not only drawn attention to nefarious government activities, he’s also drawn a lot of attention to Systems Administrators everywhere. SysAdmins rule the world. We have access to everything.  We can get into your emails, your private files, your super secret extra hidden browser history. And despite the occasional disgruntled outburst from an overworked and underpaid master of the universe, people generally trust us to keep our mouths shut and keep the company’s private information private.  Snowden ripped the poorly tied blindfold off and danced naked atop the NSA’s servers, shouting wildly about all of the confidential and private information stored there (mostly yours and mine).

In response, the New York Times ran an article in yesterday’s paper, asking the question that very few people have asked before now: “Can the I.T. staff be trusted?

Now, knowing what we all know about law firms’ aversion to risk and their lemming-like “follow the guy in front off the cliff” behavior, how do you think this is all adds up?


You could be forgiven for believing that I am anti-IT. I have written about the End of IT. I have called IT people names. I have generally been pessimistic about our ability or desire to change.  I stand firmly behind all of the things I have written, but I am absolutely not anti-IT. (Some of my best friends are in IT.) I am, however, terribly afraid that IT as it is currently practiced is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the business. Whatever business your company happens to be in.

To that end, I’ve been working on an IT evaluation exercise. The idea is to evaluate each of the services that an IT department provides and begin to have conversations around the specific value that those services bring to a firm or company. This is built on the premise that IT provides the most value when it is actively supporting the business rather than “keeping the lights on”.  That is not to say that there is not value in keeping the lights on, just that in many cases there may be other less expensive, more reliable, and more secure ways to do that.

This exercise is intended to give context to the ongoing conversation about what IT should be doing and where IT should be investing its time and money. This is not guaranteed to provide any clear or easy answers to those questions. The example below is focused on Legal IT, but you could replace the word “Legal” with your industry of choice, and “Firm” with your company name and I think it would work for any IT department.

I would like to open-source this concept. By which I mean, I want someone else to try it out and let me know how it goes. Suggestions or recommendations are very much encouraged and welcome. 

Ryan

********************************************************************
All IT services fall into one of three categories: 

  1. Universal IT: Technology, infrastructure, or functionality that every Information Technology Department in every company in the world provides.
  2. Legal Specific IT: Technology services that are specific to Law Firms.
  3. Firm Specific IT: Technology services that provide a unique value to our firm and our attorneys.

Enter each category as a heading in a table and list each IT service as an entry beneath the appropriate heading (like below). 

Universal IT
Legal Specific IT
Firm Specific IT
1.
2.
3.
1.
2.
3.
1.
2.
3.

  1. Evaluate each service and articulate the specific value that the service provides to the firm.  If you cannot define the value provided, cross out the service.
  2. You want to try to move as many services as possible to the columns on the right. If you believe you can enhance the service in any way that would provide greater legal or firm specific value, then move it to the appropriate column, make note of the potential value add, and underline the service.
  3. Add any NEW services that would potentially provide legal or firm specific value and place an asterisk on either side.
  4. Circle any services that an outside vendor could potentially provide at an appropriate service level AND the entire Universal IT column.
  5. Draw a box around any service in the Legal Specific or Firm Specific columns that is not crossed out, underlined, asterisked, or circled.

Any services that are:

  • Crossed-out:  Just because IT cannot articulate the value to the firm does not mean the service provides no value.  Ask other departments, or attorneys, to articulate a particular service’s value to them. If no clear value can be determined, begin the End of Life process immediately.  There should not be many, if any, of these.
  • Circled: Begin looking for vendors to take these off your hands. A circled service should not be automatically “outsourced”, but it is probably a good candidate for the kind of service that can, and eventually will likely, be outsourced. Yes, I said to circle the entire Universal IT column. Not everything in this column will be a candidate for outsourcing, but if it’s in this column, it should be considered.
  • Underlined or Asterisked: These are opportunities to increase the value that IT provides to the firm. Invest in R&D for these enhanced or additional services.
  • Boxed: These are the current services which provide the most unique value to the firm. Focus on these and continue to invest resources here.
Repeat this exercise every six months.
Image [cc] Cacau & Xande

A friend of mine pointed me to an article from Quidlibet Research, Inc.’s, Nina Cunningham, entitled “Leveraging the Assets of the Law Library.” I read it… then I read it again… then I read it again. Each time finding different things to agree, and disagree with. I sent it to staff for feedback… then I sent it to peers for feedback. Even after all of this, I’m still not sure what I think of Cunningham’s conclusions on how a Law Firm Library should be leveraged.

On my current read, my synopsis of Cunningham’s article is that Law Firm Libraries should focus on being really good researchers, and shift the managing, operations and vendor negotiations to other departments. Of course, I may read the article a few more times before completing this post, and my understanding of the article may shift once more.

Let me start off by pointing out a couple of sentences that my friend said caught her attention:

…firms of all sizes struggle to supervise law libraries. While libraries are operating departments run by professionals who should be self-supervising, the logical partner of the library is the IT Department.

This statement is backed up with the idea that Librarians are the content managers, while IT Departments are the distribution managers. This fits in with my synopsis that Librarians’ value is in researching and anything not directly related to this shouldn’t be managed by the library.

Cunningham goes on to the next segment of her article and talks about what most of us know as “Embedded Librarians” into law firm Practice Groups. She refers to it as “Subject Matter Experts” and sees it as a way to distribute the strengths of the library staff (researching) across the firm. The interesting part of the Subject Matter Expert analysis isn’t the concept of placing a skilled researcher within the Practice Group, but rather that the Subject Matter Expert should work in a very subtle way. Here’s how Cunningham puts it:

This expert contribution should not be too loudly broadcast. If it is, it could appear as a disruption to SOP and be rejected. But if given a chance, it can serve a disciplined approach to creating strategic support for the growth and development of the practice group. A librarian’s relationship with a practice group can grow naturally this way over time.

One of my peers saw this approach as being similar to creating a quasi-Practice Support Lawyer (PSL), only in this case, a Practice Support Researcher (PSR.) The way it is expressed in the article, you might define it as a Discrete Practice Support Researcher (DPSR.) There was a mention of how “IT enterprise makes for the best use of reference librarians” in this topic of DPSR’s, but I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure where the author was going on this. I ran this by some of my peers and they gave me some good feedback that I wanted to share with you.

Librarian:
A common mistake made when discussing embedding seems to be that the embedding researcher will quietly wait until called upon for assistance.  While this model does allow the researcher to be proactive (the proverbial fly on the wall), it also restricts their effectiveness.  As an embed with [a practice group], I ask questions on the conference calls and use my experience to provide guidance to help the group achieve its goals.  There has to be a give and take. 

CI Expert:
In terms of leveraging librarians (with rare exception – present company of course excluded) Librarians would need to be trained and coached to feel comfortable outside of their libraries. It is akin to training associates to be rainmakers and bring in clients.  How much of the literature out there discusses whether or not associates should be trained in BD or leave it to those who are naturally interested/capable. Introverts vs Extroverts. In my experience the theory of the embedded Librarian is great, in practice, it intimidates…. 

CIO:
I have believed for a longtime that law librarians should be leveraged as PSLs. US firms have had little interest in adding PSL headcount, but I believe that law librarians have the requisite skills (at least the ones I know) and interests to perform much of the work of a PSL and most firms already have the headcount. This would require Library Services to rethink their position

Next up on the list was what Nina Cunningham refers to as “so-called technical services activities.” These are the areas where library staff are having to spend time actually managing the firm’s print and digital materials, and how this tends to define the library’s role in the firm:

These activities are administrative in nature and surround the purchase of new print materials, online cataloguing, routing of print or digital materials, and the lending, finding and shelving of books. These activities are relevant to managing physical assets but are too often identified as the only library activity. This undervalues research staff and overvalues book management. In an era of downsizing and cost containment, law firms should be biased in favor of contributions to client value.

How Cunningham argues libraries should handle this so-called technical services role is something that I think she oversimplifies. Her answer (in my interpretation) is that the IT Department can assist and streamline the entire process of managing the collection through a series of list building and records consolidation. I’m thinking that the response from many “so-called” technical services librarians would be that we’ve been doing list building and records consolidation well before there was even such a thing as a so-called IT Department. However, to Cunningham’s credit, she does have a point that the management of the collection is perceived to be a low value to the firm. Of course, the “low value” is relative… try telling a Practice Group Leader that their core materials for researching their practice area are being cut or reallocated through list building or records consolidation and see how low value the service is then.

The pièce de résistance of Cunningham’s article surrounds the idea that vendor contract negotiations are not a value of the law library, and should therefore be turned over to the better negotiators found in the IT Department. Her concept is that the librarians define the content needed from the vendors, but the negotiations should then go to the experts. This leads me to my favorite quote in the article:

…it is a gift to librarians to limit their involvement in contract negotiations.

Um, thanks?

This part got many of my peers talking, and disagreeing with Cunningham’s assumptions on placing negotiations in the hands of IT. Here are a couple of responses I received from peers.

Librarian:
Library Contracts should be negotiated by Librarians.  These services are  not like purchasing a software or SAAS package.   The service needs to meet the content needs of the attys in a way that they are comfortable with.    Librarians also have a deeper understanding of the quirks of the vendors, which as publishers have a different pricing model than software companies do.  I have been involved with IT contracts and they have different set of serviced level requirements than the Library contracts.  Also, knowing these contracts allows the librarian to contribute significantly to cost recovery efforts firm wide.

CI Expert:
Contract negotiations should be done by whomever is best at it and understand the opportunity cost of the exercise with the particular vendor. All admin groups work with vendors and negotiate contracts, – Accounting and Office Services with companies like Xerox and whomever sells your paper and pens, HR with employees, Benefit providers, Marketing with Multinational media outfits, SWAG companies, printers, ad agencies, IT with software and hardware vendors, telecom companies and of course Library with licensed content. There are many more negotiations in between it is a part of management to do take on this role and it may be that while you are a terrific manager of an admin group, you can’t negotiate contracts so you hand that piece off to someone else in your group who can be fierce but fair. To hand it all over to IT, in my mind makes no sense…as non users of the content, they can never understand the negotiation.  

CIO:
I hear what [the Librarian above] is saying about understanding the contracts and how law librarians have a unique understanding of research needs (and I agree), just like IT has unique understanding of IT needs.  Procurement is a disciplined approach to buying – not a skill set commonly found in IT or LS.  The idea is to involve IT and Library Services to the extent necessary to get the right product, but let procurement do the heavy lifting on negotiating the contracts. 

IT/KM Specialist:
No time to read all of this. Busy negotiating contracts on behalf of the Library.  Lazy b*stards.  Why don’t they negotiate their own contracts?

Okay, the last comment was one of my friends having fun with the rest of us.

My own thoughts on vendor negotiations, and what I’m hoping where Cunningham is intending to go with this argument, is that there is some value in negotiating with the vendors in a unified way. Especially in this time where a vendor like Thomson Reuters is selling products to IT, Accounting, Marketing, Library, Records, Conflicts, etc., there is opportunity to leverage that relationship and end up with a better overall deal for the firm by pointing out the large amount of money the firm spends, as a whole, with the vendor. However, I think it is an oversimplification of the process to simply have the different groups define their content needs and then turn the reigns over to the IT Department to negotiate.

The best thing about Nina Cunningham’s article is that it got me discussing this with my peers, librarians and others within the law firm structure. Although I don’t agree with some of the pieces of her argument, there are a few points that are well taken, and hopefully others within the profession will pick up the discussion from here and come back with additional comments and suggestions for how to handle leveraging (and defining) the assets of the Law Library.

The Consumerization of IT.  Bring Your Own Device. Personal Cloud Storage.  These buzzwords have sent IT departments the world over into a tizzy.  In fact, 37% of all IT related articles written in the last 2 years have been about one of these three concepts.  (I totally made that stat up.) We, as IT people, are obsessed with the consequences of allowing consumer devices and personal software behind the corporate firewall and well we should be.  The idea raises many questions:

  •  How can we support all of these various devices? 
  •  How will we keep our networks secure? 
  •  If they’re using their own software and hardware, do they really need us at all? 

These questions, and their many variations, are important and must be answered.  However, in the midst of our flesh rending and teeth gnashing, I think we have completely missed the biggest problem introduced by Consumer Technology in the Enterprise, it has given rise to the RETEs.

Recently Empowered Technology Enthusiasts are proto-geeks who have come to believe that they have a savant-like way with technology, because in recent years the technology they used to struggle so hard to use, now just comes to them naturally.  Most RETEs are harmless, sweet even.  Your mother became a RETE the first time she texted you from her new iPhone.  But there is a certain brand of RETE who is very dangerous, specifically for IT Departments dealing with Consumer Technology issues, the RETE in charge.
 
This person used to fight with their Blackberry daily.  They would get stuck in the menu tree and call IT to help them find their way out.  They bought a netbook because it was tiny and shiny and cool-looking, but they threw it out a window because it was too slow and would drop the wireless network every 5 minutes.  Then they discovered the iPhone, the iPad, and the App store.  The heavens opened and Steve Jobs in the guise of Prometheus bent toward them with the flame of all technical knowledge, passing it slowly in front of their face.  The scales of ignorance fell from their eyes and suddenly everything made sense.  Technology was easy!  Apps could do everything!  And that’s the moment when the question that strikes fear in the heart of every IT Guy first occurs to the RETE.  “Why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?”

It’s a perfectly valid question, but there are many obstacles to making technology at work as easy to use as commercially available consumer technology.  We have long term contracts and agreements with enterprise software makers.  We have security and support issues that consumer app makers don’t even consider, and we have industry and company specific requirements that they aren’t interested in addressing.  The RETE in charge doesn’t care, “Why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?”
Consumer software makers have spent the last few years building apps that aren’t just solving a particular problem for the user, but also doing it in a way that is intuitive and simple, that conforms to the user’s workflow instead of requiring the user to conform to the software.  The software learns the user instead of the other way around.  Intelligence is built into the back end of these apps so that users don’t even see it, let alone have to use their own.  “So… why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?”
Many enterprise software makers are just now hiring their first User Experience Engineer. They’re half a decade or more behind the consumer software developers.  The big guys, the one’s we’ve all been paying exorbitant licensing fees for the last 20 years, they’re going to struggle and many of them will fail in the coming years.  They’ll be replaced by little guys who have been building consumer apps and have been focused on the user experience all along.  These little guys will eventually nail the security and support issues too, and their focus on user experience and their lower overhead costs (read: lower licensing fees), will lead to enterprise level, intuitive, user-centric software in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, the question is still hanging in the air, waiting for a simple answer. “Why is it still so difficult to do all of this technology stuff at work?” 
If you come up with a good answer, drop me a line.  
Please…

One of the listservs I joined early in my law library career was Teknoids (way back in 1997 or 1998.) Although it is made up primarily of techies in law school libraries and IT departments, I still love the conversations that go on. The conversation on what was titled “Everybody’s Favorite Topic…” was on what law schools will do since Westlaw is no longer going to support free printing for students, but will leave the printers for the law schools as a gift, just in case they want to pick up the tab for students printing out cases. Paul Birch from the University of Richmond School of Law (at the request of my fellow AALL member, Joyce Janto) started the conversation by asking if others would share their up-to-date printing policies. Judging by the title of the email, however, it seemed that Paul knew the conversation would take on a life of its own… and it did. I especially like the idea that John Mayer throws out (half-joking/half-serious) about moving off print completely and just giving students a Kindle to send their print to via PDF and email.

You can read through the whole conversation here, but I thought I’d post a few highlights that were interesting to me:

  • Cyndi Johnson: Since I’m sure Lexis will follow suit and pull their printers too, I’m going to start discussions with the relevant parties (SBA, the Dean, etc) about our options. Our students pay a technology fee which gives them 600-pages of printing per semester with all clinic, research assistant, journals, and moot court jobs waived. Anything above that is paid at $.05/page. We are pretty firm about not crediting Westlaw/Lexis jobs that were printed on their printers unless the printers are down. I’ve talked to the faculty teaching legal research and they stress not printing every page when doing research but it happens.
  • John Mayer: 600 free pages valued at $.05 per page = $30. Times three years of law school = $90. Ergo, buy everyone a Kindle (http://cca.li/bd) when they arrive and send all print jobs to PDF and email it to their Kindle.
  • David Dickens:
  • Gary Moore: We give the students 2400 pages for an entire academic year and a number of their texts are already available on e-reader. I still have some students telling me it’s not enough pages. It’s not dead. It fact it may be undead. The print zombie and right out of a George Romero movie, it’s going to take some time before you can kill them all.
  • John Mayer: 2400 x $.05 x 3 years = $360 – you could buy them a Kindle Fire (or almost an Ipad!) Make them sign a contract that if you give them the ereader, they won’t print or charge the ereader people who print 10 cents a page.  Use the invisible hand of economics!
  • Tom Bruce: That’s a Dada-ist art thing, right? Ceci n’est pas un pipe?
  • Ken Hirsh: Wouldn’t it be more apropos for someone to bludgeon you with an Epson FX-80? Although the trail of discarded perforated paper edge would give the CSI team quite a head start.
  • Jonathan Ezor: *cue Roger Daltrey scream*
  • Gary Moore: [trying (and succeeding) to bring the conversation back from pop-culture references] If no longer allow free pages and you charge for printing, then they will ask what is the tech fee for then, which, of course,  it is for other things like labs and exam software (both heavily used by students).  Some will respond “I already use my own laptop to print and don’t use the lab”. …
    If you go completely print free, then there are other issues, like what material is allowed in an exam (that also means the exam software companies need to catch up) and lot of other administrative issues.  It also means that all materials will be e-reader accessible.  It also means do we require students to own a laptop/tablet (we don’t have a requirement now, though 95% of our students take exams on computer). …
    We, meaning IT directors, can spearhead the charge to go print free and use e-readers, or not allow “free printing” any more, but it requires a major commitment from everyone at a school (faculty, admin and students) and a full support structure, if you go the way of a required standard tablet.   Also, everyone must be willing to deal with the repercussions and be committed to not revert back.
  • Ken Hirsh: I’m not advocating going print-free.  I am saying Westlaw’s (or more accurately, TR’s) action is not a valid reason to increase either the amount of free printing or tech fees.  Students don’t want to pay more in tuition or fees.  Don’t make them.  Let them use market behavior to decide what to print.
  • Gary Moore: But John is right that the use of Kindle Fires/IPads are on the rise and a lot of the texts are available for those.  We have to seriously rethink how students access their material and actually support that use, because that is the way to go.
    However, there are a lot of things that go along with that commitment.
  • Phil Bohl: 
    MONEY?
    Our students do not pay a technology fee. … Our biggest obstacle in pushing out our printers and adopting the digital copiers has been on the cost recovery side.
    Since we own and manage the printers and the print management system we can set any price and apply any subsidy, no real dollars are involved until students use up their initial print credit.  Then they pay for every page by purchasing a block of print credit; minimum of $10.
    With the copiers [maintained by Cannon], it’s all real money and to provide a print credit to each student would require transferring funds from our account to the university’s central IT budget.  …  So about three years ago we started raising our prices and lowering the print credit amount each year to make it possible for us to eventually phase out the subsidy for student printing.
    REDUCE DEMAND?
    [W]e redoubled our efforts to make students aware of the millions of pages they were consuming.  Following a modest campaign,  print volume dropped significantly …
    With such a huge reduction in student printing, this may be less painful that we first thought. At the same time, over the past five years we have seen our library copier volume go down to nearly nothing.  I’d wager that initially part of that volume was shifted to the printers but not all of it.  With more materials born digital or digitally accessible, copiers are nearly anachronistic for most of what goes on in our library.  We have also added a KIC station which has further reduced copier volume — and adds to our list of popular services.
    All that said, I think we can (in time) gingerly transition both the lexis and westlaw print volume onto our digital copiers with students paying the freight.  I’ll really miss the paper.
  • Ben Chapman: We tried and failed to phase out our $35 per year print subsidy last year. I’m hoping that we can have better luck doing that this year. Obviously, the change in Westlaw’s print policies doesn’t help at all. Here’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about: what if we provided them with better tools to read, write, and organize the buckets of material that they get, along with tools that help faculty distribute electronic materials with less pain. I’m wondering if we can use that to justify a reduction or elimination of the print subsidy. So, maybe the discussion is not really about student printing – maybe it’s more about what are we doing to smooth the transition to a paperless law school:
  1. We need ways to make epub, PDF, and other etexts easier to distribute to students. Emory has a great ereserves system that helps with that currently; unfortunately, I hear that it’s old and no longer developed and they may retire it. That will mean that more ematerials will wind on up Blackboard, which never seems to be the students’ first choice.
  2. We have purchased a subscription to FileOpen http://www.fileopen.com/, which helps manage PDF DRM. While we are not generally fans of DRM, it’s helpful in situations where students need access to particular resources for a particular period of time (moot court briefs, for example). As a side-effect of the DRM, we can prevent (stop your snickering, Tom Ryan) most casual printing and copying.
  3. We’ve put in two DLSG KIC scanners (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UO68IT1QIE) to encourage people to make electronic copies of things.
  4. I’m considering funding the purchase of tools like Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php) to help students organize digital materials more easily. We do not yet provide Microsoft Office for free to students, although there is talk of that.
  5. The University (as part of a new Internet2 initiative) is pursuing the idea of Box.net integration with 50GB per account.
  6. The University is investing in Blackboard and the 9.1 update is coming in May.
  7. We preach the gospel of Evernote and Dropbox regularly.
The conversation is still going on, and is interesting to follow, not just from the view of law school IT, but also to think about how these students are taught about the different print alternatives that are out there, and what type of experiences they will be coming to the law firms once they graduate.


My first few posts on this blog were about the coming end of Corporate Information Technology, or the CorpTechPocalypse as I coined it.  Nearly 18 months have passed.  The world around IT has changed substantially, but like the dinosaurs shortly after the meteor impact, IT itself is still desperately trying to understand its role in the “new normal”.  It’s too late. It’s over. I’m calling time of death: early second decade of the 21st century.

The last remaining hold-outs of the former IT department are the Medieval Plumber Dinosaur Zombies.   After all, information technologists were the plumbers of data, concerned with storage, distribution, manipulation, and security of information.  In their waning years, everything took a back seat to security and their mindset was strictly Medieval. Build a wall high enough and strong enough and you will keep the Barbarians at bay.  In certain circles, IT became known as the “Knights who say ‘No’”.  All technology requests were denied unless the requester could prove that the business need outweighed ITs security concerns, or more likely, could convince management to pull rank over IT.

The truth, though it’s particularly hard for Law Firms to appreciate, is that outside Cloud Service Providers are going to soon provide better, more flexible, and more secure services than in-house data centers with the best technicians at a fraction of the cost.

Many MPDZs will stumble on until management takes pity and puts them out of their misery, but just as a subset of the dinosaurs survived the K-T event and evolved into modern birds, I believe some Information Technologists will survive the CorpTechPocalypse and evolve into Innovation Technologists.

Innovation Technology is an enhanced business role for technologists.  Whereas the old IT was its own little fiefdom within the corporate structure, the new IT is deeply embedded in the fabric of the firm.  The new Innovation Technologists are trained in business processes and have a clear understanding of the work their firm is doing.  Having relegated the techno-plumbing to their Cloud Service Providers, the new IT are more concerned with case and deal schedules than server patches and software upgrades.  They follow technology trends and business trends with equal passion, and they use that knowledge to provide a technological edge to their firm.

They are proactive, anticipating the needs of the users and developing solutions to business problems before business leaders realize the problem exists.  With the proliferation of cloud services, the new IT can provide alternative solutions specific to the needs of the moment, rather than providing a single solution and trying to make it work for every situation.

Security is still a priority for IT, but the mindset has changed from Medieval to Metropolitan.  Just as cities eventually recognized that large walls provided security at the expense of growth and innovation, so too will businesses.  The new paradigm will be one of effective policing to stop cyber-baddies and a laissez-faire attitude toward all otherwise rule-abiding netizens.

Gone will be the ubiquitous IT “No”, replaced by the question, “What are you trying to do?”  Whereas, the old IT focused almost exclusively on the technology, the new IT is focused first on the business and the user’s needs.  Confronted with a user’s inability to send an email, old IT would spend an hour or more troubleshooting the client application, then the server, then user’s machine.  Innovation Technology will first focus on the business need, “What are you trying to do?”  The answer is not necessarily, “Send an email”, it’s actually “Get this information to my client.”  Innovation Technology knows of 5 other methods to get that information to your client.  They will seek to accomplish the underlying business task first, then attend to any problems with technology.

This new IT department will be much smaller, but more effective.  A source of innovation rather than aggravation.  But in order to truly be effective, Innovation Technology cannot be relegated to the second class citizen status that Information Technology formerly held.  The Chief Innovation Officer needs to have latitude to build what needs to be built, to purchase what needs to be bought, and to be present when and where the most important business decisions are made. Most corporations figured this out long ago and put the Chief Information Officer on the board.  Most law firm’s never did.  Even as law firms get out of the techno-plumbing business, technology will play an increasingly important role in the practice of law.  IT is evolving, but before Innovation Technology can truly take flight, law firm management structures will have to do the same.

At work I happily drink from the single cup coffee machine in the pantry, but that’s not coffee so much as a speedy caffeine delivery mechanism. On the weekends, when I have time to make coffee, I Make Coffee.  I put the kettle on to boil, then I pour a half a cup or so – I never measure – of whole roasted beans into my coffee mill, like the one in the picture to the right.  I turn on the radio to listen to the weekend news and begin to grind my coffee by hand.  The mill slowly crushes the beans which slide down the sides of the cup and fill the jar below.  If I’ve timed it right, I finish grinding the beans just as the water in the kettle comes to a boil.  I pour the contents of the mill jar into my gold filter and place the drip filter holder on my favorite coffee mug.  I slowly pour the hot, but no longer boiling!, water over the grounds making sure to maintain the appropriate level of water at all times.  If I do all of this just right, I end up with a cup of my own personal brand of sludge that fully caffeinates and satisfies.

This process is slow.  This process is labor intensive.  And I love it!  Yes, it marks me as a full-fledged coffee snob.  And most other people don’t even like my coffee, which makes it all the better.  You can argue until you are blue in the face that this ritual is a waste of time, that I would be much more productive if I threw a couple of scoops of store ground coffee into an automatic drip maker and set the timer to wake me up on Saturday morning.  And while intellectually I understand the words you are saying, I can’t imagine ever giving up my mill and drip filter.  Because it’s not really about the coffee, it’s about the process.  The addiction is to the anticipation of the reward as much as it is to the reward itself. 

I bring this up because in IT we often make excuses for why attorneys are so averse to changing their process.  “They’re stodgy and set in their ways.”  “They’re luddites who would rather do it the long way, than use the more productive technology.”  “They just don’t want to learn anything new.”  There are undoubtedly attorneys who fit those descriptions, but I wonder if we’ve been thinking about it the wrong way around.  It’s not that they’re stuck in their habits, it’s that they really like the way they do things.  And I don’t just mean, they’re comfortable doing it the way they always have, but maybe they actually derive pleasure from the process of practicing law.  When I waltz in with a great new product that I think will make their life so much easier, they hear “I’m going to destroy your process” and they react just as I would if you said, “I’m giving you a brand new single cup coffee machine for home!”  I don’t want a push button solution for my Saturday morning coffee, but a more efficient hand mill, a better quality filter, or a high performance kettle might be a welcome addition to my current process, making me more efficient without destroying the ritual that I have evolved over years of practice.

Maybe what I’m suggesting is just a semantically different way of looking at the issue.  And maybe all attorneys got their JDs to please their overbearing mothers, actually loathe the practice of law, and secretly long to be baristas.  But as I’ve seen one attorney after another reject terrific new products that I feel would greatly enhance their practice with minimal disruption to their process, I reflect on my Saturday morning coffee ritual.  What seems a “minimal disruption” to someone who doesn’t fully understand my process, might be an unconscionable alteration of the ritual to me.

On the other hand, if I go into a coffee shop and it takes them 25 minutes to get me a cup of coffee, and they charge me $50 because their process was labor intensive.  I don’t care how good the coffee is, I will probably not return to that store anytime soon.

Just thinking out loud.
Image [cc] lemurdillo

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.

Many ground breaking, earth shattering, paradigm shifting solutions have begun with the words, “wouldn’t it be really great if…” Great ideas and solutions require people of vision with the ability to see beyond the current reality and dream fantastic possibilities for the future. Unfortunately, many stupid, dead-end, wastes of time have started exactly the same way.  How do you know when someone speaks these words which outcome will result?  Well, there’s no way to be entirely sure. Geniuses make mistakes and blind chickens occasionally find seeds, but asking the question in the title is a good place to start.
What problem are we solving?  If the answer is clear and obvious to everyone present, then go for it, there’s a good chance you will create value for your firm.  If the question is met with silent contemplation, then run screaming from the room with your fingers in your ears.  The phrase, “wouldn’t it be really great if…” usually precedes an idea that is undeniably cool. While there is value in cool, that value is rarely sufficient to justify the time and expense required to see the project through, unless it also solves an existing problem.
IT and KM are first and foremost problem solving disciplines. Like the old adage says, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  Likewise, if we’re not solving problems, we are usually creating them. An IT or KM project that meets the cool criteria, but fails the “what problem are we solving” test is almost guaranteed to create more problems down the road. 

Oh how I long for the days when I would boot up my IBM 8086 PC off of the dual-floppy drives and not have to answer any security questions in order to get to my word processing program. Granted, it was slow… but it was simple. It wasn’t connected to a fast Internet connection… but I was just happy to be able to see the three emails that came in each day. However, time marches on… speeds increase… software upgrades… networks expand… some idiot decides to hack into the system… then the IT world’s version of the TSA begins its march to make sure “our systems” are not hacked. It’s too bad we’ve stopped having “smoke breaks” at work, because each time we log in to our computers, open email, load a template in our word processors, or try to watch YouTube an online training video, we could go outside and light up.

I know, I know… IT Security is needed to keep the bad guys out (and it seems that there are many bad guys out there.) The drawback to this constant war on hackers is that we have all suffered the effects of the long slog against an enemy that simply won’t die… won’t surrender… and adjusts their tactics whenever we’ve had any reasonable success against the existing attacks.

It seems that every year a new layer of security is added. Here’s just a few that come to me off the top of my head:

  • Username/Passwords
  • Advanced Password Requirements (where you have to add CAPITAL letters, Numb3rs, and Sp#cial Ch@racters)
  • Bio metric readers (finger print scanners)
  • Digital Codes on key chains that change every 60 seconds
  • Anti-Virus Software
  • Network Security Devices (anti-sniffer, sniffers)
  • Remote mobile devices wipers
  • Encrypted hard drives
  • Secure WiFi
Everyone of these (and the dozens or so I’m sure I didn’t list) are reactions to security threats that have either happened to your place of work, or to some other place of work and your IT staff doesn’t want to happen to them. Each of these is a burden upon the IT Group, the computer you’re using, the network you are on, and on you and your work production. The end result is that we have a fight between Moore’s Law and the Red Queen’s Hypothesis:

Speeds Double Every 18 Months…
But, We Need Them To Double Twice That Fast To Get Anywhere!!

I would have hoped by now that we would have things like automated security, instant boot-ups, programs that don’t move slower than their Windows 95 versions, tri-corders and food replicators… but alas, we do not. We seem to be stuck in an information world that is stuck marking time in a battle where winning is defined as simply not losing. I have to go now… my email program finished loading… and I have to make sure Postini didn’t capture any emails that I actually need to read.