Trending for comments: Guest post: The Legal IT Department of the Future

Our world is changing fast but is this a massive opportunity for legal IT professionals or the end of life as we know it?
In big picture terms we all know the job has radically shifted. In the past projects like implementing DMS, CRM, Case Management or upgrading a Finance system were perceived as hard. In many ways they were. In terms of positives though they could be implemented with a relatively small pool of people, they would benefit our firms en masse and were relatively easily deliverable by leveraging Legal IT team’s traditional skillsets. We all felt the responsibility, but life was on our terms and the projects fitted well into neat project programme methodologies.
Today’s legal landscape though is now very different with other market forces dictating law firm’s needs. Every firm now wants/needs to implement multiple projects which go to the heart of the delivery in their legal teams. This requires greater subject matter expertise, more people (ie there is a greater number of small projects), greater stakeholder management skills and importantly a knowledge of transformative and disruptive technology such as AI, RPA, Analytics and Blockchain. Project management is more agile by necessity and experimentation more of an accepted norm. Apart from initial views on data governance and light touch project management what can, or should a modern day legal CIO contribute? Is it realistic to expect them to have expertise on algorithms or how every one of the 100 teams in their firm work? In reality is the only route for a supplier to work directly with a legal team on “new world” projects with a legal IT team’s input being minimal? Is being on the sideline of huge technological change the somewhat ironic new reality?
To add to this, Cloud based infrastructure is gradually taking over – yes integrations and APIs are still not what we would like but the direction of travel will radically commoditise the job. Tools like Zoom are deskilling video conferencing and low/no code tools like Clarilis, Work 10, Manzama and Kim Technologies are again simplifying what law firms (and clients) need in this space in terms of technological support.
For years many legal CIOs have been disappointed by the low level of engagement of their lawyers with technology. This is a lesson in being careful what you wish for – lawyers now have suppliers engaging with them directly and the instances of shadow IT are increasing. Demand is growing exponentially. A byproduct of cloud based service delivery with strong UIs is that more can happen under the radar. Legal IT Departments could be cut out of the equation with well received projects happening around them.
And so is the death of the Legal IT department or CIO on the horizon? Definitely not as far as I am concerned but it is vital to adapt and lead this change in focus. The future will be more about strategic advice, decentralised management, managing third party experts and partnering. There is massive opportunity for CIOs and other legaltech professionals to bring completely new operating models to their firms. To persuade at a time when technology is gaining traction. Delivery of new client facing/revenue generating products too present huge potential but making the right calls will be key. Experience will be key and Legal Tech professionals have it in spades.
Notwithstanding the waves of approaches from software suppliers, lawyers will still need to be educated and kept up to speed in this space and who else will do this? They will need advice on making projects happen and won’t know what they won’t know – also in a very active market who is keeping track of what is really happening to enable smart choices to be made? Where does/should this knowledge sit? CIOs can lead from the front, to help deliver valuable business focussed IT strategies and to be the source of real magic dust where needed. Boards crave strategic and smart advice in this space and so who better to deliver it? Who better to assess start-ups and the upside/risk? Senior tech leaders need to rise to this challenge and perhaps find new ways of dealing other things which hold them back?
Plus, the basics will still need to be managed – cost control will be key with consumption based cloud models and outsourced services. Security issues will only go one way and data knowledge/excellence will be a key differentiator. Protecting and managing data will be even more vital. Also with technology becoming a much more critical component of every business, IT budgets will need to reflect this, and every firm will need someone with great commercial acumen doing the very best deals and protecting their interests in this space.
Traditional budgetary metrics such as 4.5% of Turnover or £X per desktop are dead and are merely quaint facts from history. Senior IT leaders need to articulate what the new metrics and numbers should be? Savvy CIOs will already have the answers for their firms even if with strong “non-crystal ball ownership” caveats and Boards really want to know. As well as new technologies leaders will have a good idea of what will become obsolete and what our new delivery models should look like and so Legal Tech leaders should be modelling and articulating this.
And so in my view we are entering a golden era for tech professionals but we need to shape the future if we want to be one of them. Be radical – work out what great looks like for your firm, you and your team working with other key stakeholders. Communicate, win people over, plan and make it make it happen. Recognise that the challenges ahead are true business challenges though, and so it is the time to partner with others – whether it be team leaders, KM experts (data and information being the new oil) heads of digital and innovation, suppliers and radically thinking and savvy lawyers. Everyone has something to bring to the party and no one person will have all the answers – it would be a huge mistake not to listen whilst leading. Above all recognise these are very challenging and fast changing times when firms need advice from the best people out there – those people are probably just like you providing you are willing to adapt in the way some of our lawyers already are. The future is bright but looks very different from today.
By Derek Southall (pictured), head of innovation and digital at GowlingWLG, founder of Hyperscale Group and chair of
This post first appeared in the November/December Orange Rag. For your free monthly newsletter click here: