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The Changing Legal Landscape for IT Professionals

Rebecca SattinThe Legal industry has reached a crossroads. Changes in the economy, client demands and technology are driving some of this change and the ability for firms to adapt to these changes may determine their survival. Clients are demanding lower costs, efficiency, increased security along with greater accountability.

In my own experience, I have seen some of these changes occurring gradually among our customers. Having worked in law firms for 25 years, I can remember the days when very few lawyers actually had computers.

The explosion of consumer technology caused a shift in that paradigm as lawyers had the resources to have the latest greatest widgets that appeared on the market immediately. It took some time for some of them to understand that there are distinct differences between consumer technology and business technology and the skills required to effectively and efficiently use them.

Another change that has occurred is that the current generation of law students and associates have grown up in a world in which technology is ubiquitous. There has often been an assumption among law firm management that because they grew up with technology, they would be experts at using it. People who work in technology may be fascinated by every new thing and motivated to learn it, but the generations who are growing up with it look at technology as a tool – a means to an end. Just as not everyone is an expert at using a hammer or a screwdriver, not every young person is an expert at all technology. They have learned what they need to know to do what they have had to do. Some may be more adept at learning new technology quickly, but it is not a general rule.

Security is also something that, when it comes to technology, is often outside the scope of what the new generation of law students and lawyers know. Young people who are adept at the use of social media and who have grown up sharing information may not be thinking about whether certain technology is acceptable for transmitting client data without waiving privilege.

Law firms have not been known to use cutting edge technology. On the contrary, they have often lagged behind in part due to the sheer number of applications required to produce complex legal documents efficiently and the subsequent need to ensure all of these applications work with the next generation of Microsoft Office. Over the years I have observed that some IT Departments have not always changed with the times. Often there has been an “us vs. them” culture in firms where the legal team does not feel comfortable bringing their concerns to IT for fear of hearing “no” when they make requests. During my tenure at law firms, I strove to change that perception by meeting with practice areas to understand how they worked. However, not all IT leaders have been able to make that transition and I have encountered some who do not want to make it. They are happy working on back end systems. Their strengths do not lie in their communication abilities and, as a result, they do not have the desire to get involved in business process optimization. I have seen recently that some firms have gone so far as to bring in IT leaders from outside of legal in order to initiate a more collaborative experience between the legal team and the IT staff. In some cases, they have found their new blood from within the industries they represent.

Facilitating change in the legal industry involves slow progress. IT leaders and their staff should take notice of the client-driven shifts in demands. Recognizing client needs and either using existing technology more efficiently or investing in new technology that supports this changing culture is necessary for firms to thrive. As technology changes, there will be a new breed of technologist required to understand it and work with it. Some of these new positions may evolve from those coming from the IT department with skills involving business analytics and project management. Others may come from the paralegal world. Those who have kept abreast of the changing trends in e-Discovery technology will be perfectly positioned to make the transition. The new generation of IT leaders will have to understand their firm’s business needs and, through communication, facilitate cultural change towards a more collaborative environment.

Rebecca Sattin is Chief Information Officer of Worldox/World Software Corporation. She has more than 25 years of experience in law firm technology and has spoken on topics such as cybersecurity, collaboration and deployment planning at ILTA, LegalTech and other technology forums. Prior to joining World Software, she was IT Director of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP.

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