In one of our largest law firm profiles to date, here Clyde & Co’s global CIO DiAnna Thimjon tells us how the firm’s IT team is structured, what its strategy is, what the biggest challenges are, and what changes are being made to the core tech stack.
Clyde & Co IT Team size: “Several hundred”
Leadership: DiAnna Thimjon, Global CIO (took over role in 2018)
Investment in IT: In excess of 6% industry standards and highest in firm’s history
Innovation: Moved back “under one umbrella” under DiAnna Thimjon
DiAnna Thimjon, Global CIO, Clyde & Co
You joined Clyde & Co as global CIO last year. What exactly is your remit at the firm?
The role changed slightly when it came to me because I have a background in both business and technology. It comprises all of the core foundations of IT – applications, infrastructure, project management and delivery capabilities. But it also includes the legaltech teams, which range from something as practical as litigation and dispute services to the innovation board, data lab and the really forward-thinking elements.
Both and I and the board recognised that there was a gap between this legaltech function and the core IT teams. A lot of law firms find there is this tension between the two groups. They don’t always collaborate or integrate well. Bringing them together under one umbrella enables us to make faster progress.
How big is the technology team and what roles and functions exist within it?
We are several hundred people and we operate a dispersed global team. In addition to all the core functions, I look after enterprise data. Information security and enterprise architecture also sit under me.
In addition, I have legal delivery heads that are accountable for the simultaneous delivery of new capabilities across all of our regions. That is something I think is quite unusual. I have worked in several global firms and one of the things that law firms have historically done poorly is the simultaneous global delivery of technology. The traditional pattern is to start in one region and then slowly roll out a capability over three to five years. Here we intend to deliver across all regions at once which means establishing a strong leadership role within each region to oversee delivery.
What are your top-level objectives?
Globalisation is critically important for law firms of our size. We need anytime, anywhere, access, which means a highly responsive and agile tech foundation. I also believe data should be a strategic asset and am focused on leveraging thoughtful data governance that can help us standardise and streamline that data so that we can use it to help our clients and to drive more cost-effective solutions.
The third piece is really, I think, the reason that we in IT all exist. I want to connect more fully with what our lawyers need and to create a set of tools which enable lawyers to spend less time on the mundane, in order to spend more time adding value for clients. It is really important to me that our lawyers, and ultimately our clients, see technology as an enabler, not simply the back office function that law firms have traditionally looked to IT to serve.
As you near the end of your first year in the role, what plans do you have to invest or grow the team in order to meet these objectives?
The legaltech team is expanding as the firm’s demands for innovation increase. We are also investing pretty heavily into enterprise data, as well as the applications space. Legal technology isn’t always well integrated. It can feel, from a user perspective, like you are moving from one destination to another. Bringing experts in UI and UX enables us to create a feel that is more intuitive for our lawyers, so we are seeing some pretty heavy investment there, as well.
There is significant investment in the information security space. With the data that we look after for clients that is, of course, absolutely critical. Some firms can tend to be reactive. But we are looking at new capabilities around automated prevented detection, for example. On the infrastructure side, meanwhile, we are looking at building the capabilities and skills we need around cloud and hyper-convergence.
Finally, we are continuing to ensure we have global representation around the clock. That includes leveraging shared service centres. We have been really successful with our shared service centre in Kansas City and are looking at other non-traditional models that will provide 24/7 coverage for our lawyers and clients.
So, there is a lot going on. How much investment are you receiving from the firm?
I can tell you that the level of investment in technology over the next three years will exceed anything that the firm has done in the past and is higher than the typical industry benchmark of around six per cent. That reflects a recognition that technology is no longer just a back office function but a globally available service that changes the way lawyers can provide value to clients.
What changes do you plan to make in terms of core systems?
We use a lot of the same systems as other law firms – from Intapp, Elite, LexisNexis and myriad others. But I would say there are two key areas of focus for my team. The first is this acknowledgement that we are not a localised law firm. That means we need to leverage partners, and software systems, that are not necessarily used in the legal industry but are used every day in other globalised organisations. That means leaning heavily on the Microsoft suite. It also means looking at globally available software systems that integrate things like payroll, CRM, finance and HR, so that these are not disparate systems but systems that work together naturally. It isn’t necessarily a move off the current path but an evaluation is certainly underway. On the client-facing side, it’s also about integration. It’s about moving away from bespoke, task-orientated, solutions to look at apps that span the whole process.
What is the firm’s approach when it comes to innovation?
I think you need to separate what I would consider radical innovation from fundamental and foundational innovation. We have an innovation board that comprises partners from all over the business. We have invested heavily in those individuals spending time shaping our innovation strategy in order to provide a collection of consumable services that we can provide to clients. We then have the Data Lab where we are investing in internal innovation to enable us to present a differentiated product or way for our lawyers to leverage innovation to automate tasks that were previously manual, for example. That, for me, is radical innovation.
We also look at foundational innovation around our core software and processes. The kind of growth that we are experiencing, puts tremendous pressure on infrastructure. Being able to scale and remain agile is critical. The traditional model of hard site data centres storing a bunch of servers really doesn’t work for a fast-growing global firm working across multiple data jurisdictions. That is where we look at foundational innovation around things like hyper-converged infrastructure. How can we smartly leverage the cloud and how can we bank on that to be a platform for some of the radical innovation I just mentioned?
What is your approach to shadow IT?
Candidly, I think shadow IT is rather an old-fashioned term. It harks back to a time when you had people setting up organisations that looked an awful lot like the core IT function. Today, I look at it more as a challenge of how do we allow appropriate risk around software selections that might benefit niche parts of the business without creating an application portfolio that is thousands deep? When it comes to investment or piloting in these niche areas, all I want to do is put the right controls around that so that we don’t introduce risk to the firm and so that we are spending strategically. I am not precious about it. It’s about working in partnership to create the right model.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
It’s the tension between the need to look after foundational IT and taking advantage of the new technology that’s out there to improve the back office, while at the same time recognising the importance of the client-facing software and capabilities that lawyers need. Frankly, it is my job as CIO to alleviate that tension. It’s a good frustration to have because ultimately it means there is opportunity to evolve on both fronts, which will ultimately give better value to our teams and therefore better value to clients. In short, I wish we could do everything at once, but that’s just the nature of IT.
If we were toasting your success in five years’ time, what would we be toasting?
Clyde & Co would be viewed, even more than it is today, as a pioneer. That blend of human capital and technology would be put together in a way that adds value for clients in a way that it isn’t anywhere else. And it would be completely intuitive. That’s the external view. Internally, our lawyers would see that we stand right alongside them, using technology to take on all the work that frankly they just don’t need to do.