In what may come to be viewed as the start of a new generation of IT leader, Mishcon de Reya’s chief strategy officer Nick West is set to take over the role of chief technology officer, we can reveal, replacing outgoing CIO Simon Kosminsky, who is retiring at the end of the year.
West (pictured) – an ex-Linklaters lawyer who before joining Mishcon was UK managing director at Axiom – will take over from Kosminsky in the new year. He will straddle a strategic and technology role: the four senior managers who report to Kosminsky will now report to West as well as a further senior manager on the strategy side.
West told the Orange Rag: “I very much believe that ‘business as usual’ and ‘innovation’ should operate as one team. The whole philosophy behind [Mishcon’s startup venture] MDR Labs is to drive change at the coal face, with the client at the centre of what you’re doing. Innovation has to be rooted in the here and now: I don’t subscribe to massive blue sky thinking.”
Kosminsky tells us that the change is one of new guard replacing old. He said: “Following my decision to retire, I’m delighted that Nick will be taking over responsibility for the whole IT function at Mishcon De Reya. He’s a lawyer with a deep understanding of both technology and the running of a successful modern law firm.”
IT heads are increasingly feeling challenged because of what is commonly referred to as ‘shadow IT’- IT that enters the firm through routes other than the IT department – which goes against the command and control model preferred by many more traditional IT directors.
Kosminsky said: “I have no doubt that within the next 10 years, all CTO’s / CIO’s in law firms will be someone like Nick. People like me, who came up through the IT ranks, were a good fit for a law firm over the past 25 years. The requirements have now changed, and it is probably time for some of the old guard to make way for the next generation. A lot of the old methods are no longer appropriate and in many cases the IT function has become a barrier to change rather than a facilitator of it. Those that use technology in the law firm are so much more familiar with it than they were even 10 years ago. The work environment needs to be as good as any they encounter in their personal lives, at home or on their mobile devices. Our lawyers need to be playing a very active role (we have seconded some of them to the IT team at Mishcon) in making this happen.
“We now have to take a radically different approach to the selection and deployment of technology within the law firm and people like Nick will drive through these changes.”
West certainly doesn’t subscribe to a central command and control model and says the focus should be on providing a good user experience. He says: “There are so many tech tools out there and if your entire approach is command and control you will lose. You have to deliver a highly flexible modern infrastructure. If you get it right you should have people from across the business coming to you with ideas for new tools to use and you should be discussing the pros and cons with them – how important is, for example, usability vs security vs ability to integrate with the rest of the stack? In different cases you may choose to focus on different things. It should be a grownup conversation.”
The battle that IT heads currently face often revolves around staff using technology from their personal lives for work purposes. West says: “Take, for example, the issue of sending large files. If you don’t provide a good enterprise solution for allowing users to send large files they will use something they’ve got experience of from their personal lives. There is no point in saying ‘this is our way of doing it’ if the user experience is terrible. Users will find something simpler, even if it’s not as safe – something they can use easily under the pressure of their client demands. Your job is to find a solution. People won’t accept radically less usability because they know the alternatives.”
Significant steps have been taken at Mishcon to integrate lawyers and technologists: each department has a technology partner and technology champions including associates and personal assistants. Those people have their hours reduced by around 20% to help them focus on new technology issues.
That swings both ways and West says: “One of my areas of focus for the technology team will be ‘how many of you know how the litigation process works? If you don’t understand, we need to get you out there, shadowing the business users to really understand.’ You can’t be a great technology department if you don’t understand 70% of what provides our revenue.”
West, who held roles as a strategy consultant at McKinsey and various senior executive roles at LexisNexis before joining Axiom, says that the fact that he has no background in very technical cybersecurity and network issues is not a barrier. “The technology organisation that delivers doesn’t do so because of one single individual, it’s a team effort. You work out what users need; what the options are to deliver against the time and budget you have available; and then you build a team with the necessary capabilities and knowledge to deliver. And that’s what we’re going to do – Simon has done a great job over the past couple of years in terms of building the team. I’ll be benefitting from that.
“I don’t believe that I have to have personal experience of every element of our tech stack from start to finish – that’s what we have suppliers and different people on the team for. It does perhaps mean I’m not blinded by some of the limitations of many ‘legal’ technologies – quite frankly some of them are not very good. In some cases, there is a good reason to use a dedicated legal market product and in some cases not.”