PRO Partners

An Open Letter

Jeffrey BrandtOn June 4th of this year, Kathryn Rubino wrote an article on Above the Law, entitled "Which Biglaw Firm Has Blocked Personal Email?"  In it she noted that law firms Mayer Brown, Latham & Watkins and WilmerHale joined King & Spalding in blocking personal email through the firms' internal network.  I was a bit surprised by her post. 

She quotes one of her tipsters, "[I]t's hard to imagine a more obvious way to alienate the prototypical millennial hire… We spend obscene money entertaining summer associates, then undo all that goodwill by subjecting them to internet content filters which my summer mentee said made her feel 'like a secretary or something.' Meaning, I suppose, a low-level white collar drone nobody respects."  Ms Rubino would seem to think the answer is easy peasy.  "Computer viruses are bad, but some basic online education should shore up that hole." Ahh if only it were that simple!  I might argue that if "some basic online education" worked as well as Ms. Rubino would like, she would never have written this post in the first place. 

PissedShe then goes on to empathize with her "pisssssssed" off tipster, saying, "If all this sounds like folks bitching about a minor inconvenience, well, there is more to it than that. I know something about this phenomenon — my last job blocked all personal email. When it first happened I felt cut off from civilization, I couldn’t chime in when making plans with folks, and my responses to large email chains or group chats were hopelessly untimely. Then there is the paternal vibe that comes from the move and the distinct impression that despite being a professional you are treated like an unruly child. In short, it sucks."

Her post made me really think about all the horrible things heaped upon her by IT department and her firm.  So here is an open letter of apology to Ms Rubino, her tipster and any other millennial (or member of any other generation) who has a similar attitude.

Dear Ms Rubino (and friends),

I was sorry to hear that our information governance policies and computer security measures are interfering with your prolific social life.  I sat down with the CIO, Director of HR and the risk management partner and they all assure me that the rules and policies were not written to personally inconvenience you.  (One Director asked who you were.)  They apply to everyone and were written to enhance the workplace, not detract from it.

I apologize for making you feel isolated from civilization.  Please take my personal assurances that it is still there.  No nuclear holocaust, catastrophic global warming event, meteorite oblivion or zombie apocalypse has occurred since the time you walked through the door.  When you walk out the door at the end of the day, civilization will still be there, pretty much the same as when you left it.

And since civilization will be there after work, please feel free to catch up with your friends then.  After all, their jobs as "low-level white collar drones" means they have things to do during working hours as well.  There is also that strange idea that you could actually talk to or meet up with your friends in-person to discuss your plans.  Old fashioned, I know, but it has been known to work.

Stalingrad?  Well that is a rather strong term for your spending "more time looking down at my phone than before."  But even so, perhaps we can get our expert Human Resources folks to work with you on a more ergonomic position in which to hold your phone.  Maybe one of those plastic windshield GPS holders can be adapted to hold your phone beside your monitor.  Or maybe we can get HR to agree to a phone break (much like a smoke break - just remember to stand at least 50 feet away from the entrance)  Perhaps you should look into glasses or upgrade to a phablet?

I'm glad you noted one firm created separate network for employee personal technology (smartphone, tablet, etc.) to connect to.  I think if you check with other firms you'll find they too have separate employee or client guest networks in place.  It is pretty standard fare these days.  You know that modern technology is pretty slick.  It can remember and automatically reconnect every time you get in range. 


You may have missed it when you had your orientation, but we are first and foremost a law firm.  We don't like to use the word 'business,' but that's sort of how we operate.  While we're happy to provide you a place to sit, rest, catch up on the worlds events, all via a faster Internet connection, in the end, we are a business.  We have to do business-like things.  We have clients.  We like it when those clients pay us to do work for them.  Unfortunately taking their money means we have obligations - ethical, fiduciary and practical to protect our internal systems and the data that our clients have entrusted to us.  Our clients have certain expectations of us and that, in turn generates expectations on our part for our employees (that would be you).

I appreciate your pointing out that "Mobile technology is improving way faster than a firm can hope to keep up."  We do our best, but there always seems to be a rush to support the latest and greatest consumer tech, whether IT is truly ready or not.  We're honestly working on that.  Consumer technologies don't always blend well into the enterprise.  We don't always get the support or budget we need from management to make everything work as smoothly as possible.  We do what we can to patch, connect and make it work without compromising our security. 

The world is not as nice a place as it once was.  Along with the always on, continuous connectivity, comes all manner of other issues.  I might generally refer to them as "bad things."  The bad things are done by bad people.  I mean just look at the email I got the other week from that poor chap, Mohammed Abacha, the son of the late Nigerian Head of State who died.  He needs help to hold those funds for safe keeping.  Bad people are trying to get information from you.  Those geek types even came up with a funny term for it, "Phishing."  We've always offered classes on how to use the technology tools we provide.  Many of us are now offering awareness training on electronic security, phishing, passwords and more.  We do this because it's needed.

Many people don't think before they click on the emails and attachments they get.  They go to web sites that have known malware and infect their computer with all manner of Trojan and worm.  (You know that's another area where technology is improving faster than anyone can hope to keep up.  One statistic says there are an average of 74,000 new viruses created each and every day.)  More than one law firm has seen its computers and client files scrambled in a cryptolocker trojan because of the careless actions of an employee.

Some people create for themselves a work oasis that's optimized for their convenience. They download client data with blatant disregard for its confidentiality and security.  The confidential files are synced to all their wonderful devices, which are sometimes shared and used by both family and friends.  Some of our corporate clients get really cranky when their M&A deals get exposed to people not involved in the matters.  We tried not to have those pesky clients, but it became harder to pay our employees.  There's also this thing called malpractice.  Let me tell you.  It's a real bummer.

I'm afraid the prospects of moving somewhere where you have more freedom to chat with your friends looks bleak.  Things are actually more restrictive with our financial clients, so I wouldn't suggest you look there.  I've talked to other law firms and I'm sorry to say you're going to see more of this personal web email blocking.  You'll also see firms start to restrict the ways their email domains are used, prohibiting users from using them to register for personal banking and other sites.  If some of our more authoritarian clients have their way, you may end up carrying two smartphones, one for your business life and one for your personal life.

So you see Kathryn, sometimes our users act like unruly children, not using common sense, not paying attention to guidelines or caring about firm policies.  They cost us time and worse, credibility with our clients.  "In short, it sucks." 


Concerned CIOdude 

PS As for that "paternal vibe," well sorry.   I am the father of five children.  I've tried to raise them all with the knowledge that there are appropriate times and places for them to use their personal tech and there are times when it needs to be put away.  I'll try to do better.

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