David Turner takes over as CTO of Herbert Smith Freehills – We talk globalisation and cultural shifts

Legal IT Insider’s editor Caroline Hill spoke to Herbert Smith Freehills’ new chief technology officer David Turner about his appointment and early plans, which include truly globalising the IT function. 

Herbert Smith Freehills’ Sydney-based director of IT, David Turner, has taken over as global chief technology officer with a mission statement to make IT central to the firm’s transformation efforts and drive cultural change. Outgoing CTO Haig Tyler has in the short term transitioned into a consultancy role and is currently chair of the global firm’s gen AI committee. He will retire at the end of June. 

Turner was previously director of IT for Asia and Australia and had a global infrastructure role. He took over the CTO role on 1 February. His work previously included leading the infrastructure side of a global managed services arrangement with Epiq, which supports the disputes practice.   

HSF was formed over a decade ago from the merger of Herbert Smith and Freehills in Australia and the shift of the most senior IT role to Sydney is interesting, but Turner told Legal IT Insider: “This isn’t strategic, it was just about securing the right candidate for the role to take the firm forward.” Turner says his focus “first and foremost” is on globalising the IT function in terms of “processes, culture and operating mode.”  

He told us: “There are two parts. One is getting the culture set and optimising and industrialising things, in particular the mindset and the way the function operates. I’ll be bringing it closer together and looking at how we do transformation across the firm and how IT supports that.” Turner will be looking at the processes and governance around how IT brings technology to the partnership “to solve a specific need, not tech for tech’s sake.”  

Turner will also be looking at the firm’s AI journey and “making more informed decisions based on data lakes and a tech stack that works pristinely.” He said: “We’re moving more into the cloud as we go, so that’s about taking capital off the balance sheet and moving to a utility price model.”  

Currently around 40% of the firm’s technology stack is in the cloud, including Microsoft 365. HSF announced in 2022 that it had selected iManage Cloud and Turner says that will be complete in June. “It’s not about going to the cloud for the sake of it,” he says, “it’s about looking at the cost of ownership and compliance.”  

He adds: “It’s about bringing transformation and IT into one place and working more closely together. IT is still very closely focused on making sure everything runs but with an intrinsic link to the tech roadmap and on top of that, the requirements for, for example, AI, that may be transformational.”  

Before HSF, Turner work at payments provider First Data Corporation. He said: “I come from a payments business that was run by KKR and in APAC we processed 2.3bn transactions a day. If you dropped just one it was serious. You can have the best IT strategy but for that to succeed you need everything to work as it should do.

“It’s about changing your philosophy: we don’t talk about outages; we talk about lost billable minutes.”  

HSF’s IT team do a lot of client engagement work and Turner has been bringing in outside expertise that will help to focus on running IT as a business. He says: “We’re doing a lot to make the IT team more commercially savvy. To me culture is everything.”