LegalTech: What IT Issues Are Keeping You Up at Night?


LegalTech‘s Advanced IT track had a brilliant discussion about key technology issues keeping law firm CIOs awake at night. But I can easily see these issues and this discussion applicable to any type of organization’s IT department. The panel included Jeff Rovner, Managing Director for Information at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Ash Banerjee, Chief Information Officer at WilmerHale, Judi Flournoy, CIO at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, and moderator Gina Buser, Principal & CEO at Traveling Coaches, Inc.


How do I come up with a strategic IT model that has staying power?

The session kicked off with Jeff Rovner explaining that an IT model that properly supports storage, network, application, and support needs must have the following characteristics:

  1. Capable
  2. Reliable
  3. Secure and supportive
  4. Convenient
  5. Device-neutral
  6. Affordable
  7. Meet client requirements for compliance issues
  8. Satisfy regulatory constraints


How do I address change?

Jeff commented that the world is shifting across all eight of these areas and the challenge of keeping our model intact is growing. Ash Banerjee addressed this question by telling us that in order to decide where to go next, his team at WilmerHale developed a strategic information plan early last year with the help of consultants. It’s a comprehensive 5-year plan outlining key initiatives that they will undertake as well as how they will govern them and how they will be maintained. The plan includes a full financial model and benchmarks. Although it took months to gain full acceptance, it has and they are now looking forward to implementing it.


How do I allocate resources to the right projects?

Judi Flournoy addressed this question by saing that first and foremost you should get to know your team members rather than relying on middle managers to determine capabilities. But instead talk to people and get to know their interests and talents so that you better understand what resources you have when new initiatives come up. She mentioned that this also gives staff a better understanding of where the message is coming from and creates accountability for new projects. And she also noted that it’s important to know when to outsource and when to insource technology initiatives. If you will outsource it’s crucial that you be selective with the partners you choose – they should be collaborative as well as capable. And be sure that there is a transfer of knowledge at the end of all projects. At Kelley Drye & Warren they have successfully outsourced their help desk.


How do I retain good people?

Ash commented that this can be challenging due to all of the hours that staff are expected to work at a firm, however they have developed a number of techniques at WilmerHale. First they have a determined a recruitment strategy consisting of panel interviews to gain as much information as possible about prospective team members. All of their managers have been trained in behavioral interviewing technques. They have very progressive HR practices including goal settings, performance reviews – midyear and end of year as well as a 360 review every 2 years. They enable anyone to offer rewards for great service. These rewards are made very visible and are celebrated. Ash works with his team to eliminate uncertainty of future employment through roundtable sessions and other techniques. They also offer a training program in which staff is allowed at least 3 days training which is paid for by the firm. Jeff also commented that turnover makes him lose sleep because the loss of a single key person can throw the IT department into disarray. Because everyone in this day and age is doing multiple jobs, when you have to replace someone there are a lot of skills that must be replaced.


How do I get people to use the technology already in place?

Jeff commented that this has always been an issue, but today clients are demanding a lot more for their dollar so in order to meet those needs the firm must find ways to be more efficient. And one of those ways is through technology, but it must be used in order to reap the benefits. Judi commented that most firms use just 10% of their technology investment. IT is challenged with matching the need to the technology and this can best be accomplished by talking to people and getting to know what their needs are. Ash added that it’s also helpful sometimes to extend to people the risks of not using the technology in addition to the benefits.


How do I get people’s attention?

Jeff shared that when his department rolled out the firm’s new intranet they were given 5 minutes at a partner meeting. Rather than try to explain the new technology and how to use it through a PowerPoint, they took the Apple approach and created an exciting video commercial that showed off the functionality to a Latin music track. This served to whet everyone’s appetites for the intranet and upcoming training sessions. Judi recommended using branded communications that can be quickly scanned within 30 seconds or less so that staff can easily identify the emails and digest them quickly. Ash suggested using videos such as “A Day in the Life” videos which they’ve found very effective. They’ve also found such low-tech techniques as using signage and tent cards very effective.


How do I say no?

Judi commented that it’s helpful to fill people in on the big picture and be as transparent as possible as to why you’re saaying no. Jeff recommends adopting the strategy of saying yes as often as possible so that the times when you say no it won’t be as badly received.


How do I successfully implement organizational change?

Gina Buser recommended that firms get an active invisible sponsor that is a partner or other key decision-maker that pushes your initiative from behind-the-scenes. She also suggested building as much excitement around the change as possible and being trasparent about why the change is occuring. She cautioned not to communicate projects as “IT projects” but connect the new initiative to a pain point and show what need it will address. Another strategy might be to develop a coalition of mid-level managers who are knowledgeable and supportive of the project. Judi recommended The Checklist Manifesto approach and also to identify the risk and reward components involved in each project and make sure your team members understand them.