Peer to Peer Magazine

June 2010

The quarterly publication of the International Legal Technology Association

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Page 19 of 111

Randi Mayes, Executive Director of ILTA, recently sat down at the “virtual roundtable” with three industry leaders/visionaries to discuss what the law firm of 2020 might look like. Their insightful comments are certain to spark your own musings about the future. Many thanks to Sally Gonzalez, a Director in Hildebrandt Baker Robbins’ Strategic Technology Practice; Darryl Cross, Vice President of Client Profitability at LexisNexis; and Preston McKenzie, a Vice President of Thomson Reuters and General Manager of Hubbard One, for sharing their views of the future of the law business. Sally, Darryl and Preston, let me start by asking what types of changes you expect to see in law firms over the next 10 years. Sally: Traditionally, law firms, at least in the U.S., have functioned as professional partnerships, but it seems likely that the law firm as a corporation will emerge as an alternative model. You’re already hearing firms use the nomenclature of corporate structure such as “Board of Directors” for Executive Committee and “Chairman” for Managing Partner. Might we see a very different leadership model emerge? Sally: Absolutely. In a truly corporate model, law firms will have to deal with things like stock price, shareholder value and dividends to investors. You will see leaders with not only legal experience but also MBA backgrounds and skills, and they’ll be thinking about their particular segment of the business as essentially contributing to the corporate whole. They’ll be looking to increase profit margins by improving processes, staffing the work in the most creative manner including subcontracting and outsourcing, and focusing on customer satisfaction. These will be very different leaders willing to take business risks to make profits rather than merely focus on mitigating legal risks to protect profits. Obviously, in that kind of organization, being a good lawyer will not be the sole prerequisite for ascending to a primary leadership position. Leaders with strong business skills will arise. Since we’re talking about leadership in the law firm of the future, let’s spotlight one particular role — the chief information officer (CIO). What might he or she look like, and what skill sets would be required for the position? Preston: The CIO of the future will definitely be different from his ancestors. In fact, they’re already increasing their visibility and engagement with firm partners and clients. It wasn’t that long ago that the CIO’s primary role was simply to keep the technology systems, like time and billing, e-mail and document management, up and running. As long as he was doing that and keeping an attorney’s day relatively uninterrupted by technology challenges, the CIO was considered to be successfully executing his or her role. Obviously, keeping the firm’s infrastructure smooth and efficient will continue to be a big part of the job description. But just as with the law firms themselves, the stakes for the CIO have been raised. I’m already seeing CIOs adapting to changes and challenges across three main fronts. First, they’re being asked to make their firm’s infrastructures more efficient. With law firms outsourcing work, globalization of the partnerships and the mass of applications that firms run, the pressure is on to be increasingly efficient by creating more output with less staff and by squeezing more use out of applications and tools. Considering the declining demand for law firm services, the focus on efficiency can only increase in the coming decade. Second, CIOs are moving from a purely technical role to that of a collaborator on solving business problems. For instance, when a firm’s management asks for more visibility into the relative performance of a practice group via tracking, monitoring and measuring, they’re looking to the CIO to partner with his or her colleagues in finance or marketing and business development to make that happen. Another thing: Firms need to integrate systems in a way they never had to before in order to drive a better overall client experience. So now, rather than asking the CIO to do that purely with technology (new software, faster and more stable platform), they’re challenging the CIO to concern himself with how any particular solution will impact the client. And the third change I’m seeing is that CIOs are taking a more client-facing role around areas like electronic discovery, extranets, even billing and other ways that the firm’s technology is interfacing with clients. CIOs are actually learning to reach out and dialogue with their counterparts on the client side to discuss technological solutions. This is something very different from the “old days” when the technical team was much more back-office, and obviously, future CIOs will need different sensibilities and more people skills than in the past. Podcast: click here to listen to the full discussion with each of the panel members. Peer to Peer the quarterly magazine of ILTA 21

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