The Changing Role of the Legal CIO

The role of the legal CIO is changing. In our experience, too many senior law firm leaders are yet to understand this point.

And until they do, they run the serious risk of being left behind. Experts at Wilbury Stratton explain for Lawyer Monthly.

Most obviously, the new breed of CIO is harnessing technology. “One of my greatest challenges” we were told by one of our sources, “is gaining the buy in from partners to take a risk in committing the requisite levels of investment into new tech.”

But this raises another question. Even if your CIO is smart, forward-thinking and fully informed on the latest tech, is your firm set up to allow him or her to do their job properly?

Several CIOs speak of the competitive advantage enjoyed by some of the Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs), including the Big Four and leading management consultancies. These firms leverage their scale to make large investments in technology and thereby deliver higher and (crucially) cheaper service levels. They also offer an enviable integrated services model that combines consulting, strategy, IT, project management and legal services. Other ALSPs are combining technology consulting with the provision of legal services delivered by a flexible team of lawyer consultants and moving in on work often referred by corporates to external law firms.

So, if the threat is so clear and the opportunity cost so easily calculated, why are more law firms not looking to engage and empower a truly effective CIO? Sources suggest a number of answers:

  • The law firms simply cannot compete with the Big Four in levels of investment in technology.
  • Culture. Partners often consider their key function to be practising law rather than delivering IT services. This can frustrate the best intentions of any enlightened CIO.
  • Service Delivery. Law firms have been slow to adopt an integrated service approach for the delivery of legal services. By contrast, the Big Four and management consultancies have leveraged their C-suite relationships to sell a range of integrated services.
  • Balancing local & global requirements: Decentralized structures often prevail at the Big Four; global law firms, meanwhile, strive for worldwide consistency across their IT networks. This can require the regional CIO to spend time balancing the competing priorities of local and global leaders.

But it’s not all bad news for the legal industry. In spite of these widely recognized challenges, many law firms have made significant strides in closing the IT gap with their professional services peers. Investments in machine learning, predictive analytics and project management tools are certainly on the rise.

But what of those firms who are yet to effect the necessary changes? First and foremost, they need to find the right talent. So, what does this look like? Again, our sources were in broad agreement, listing a number of key attributes:

  • Influence:

The complex, global matrix structures of international law firms require a CIO to be adept at influencing large and disparate groups of stakeholders.

  • External Partnership Building:

CIOs need to cultivate relationships with external partners such as entrepreneurial start-ups, large technology providers and universities to bring new ideas into the business.

  • Client Facing Approach:

Many law firm CIOs are already involved directly with clients to help translate their needs into technological solutions and process improvements. For the majority though, attending client meetings with partners is a new facet to their role.

  • Commercial Acumen & Demonstrating Value

Being able to show that innovation and IT investment has had a direct and valuable impact on a firm’s business will help a CIO gain credibility.

In short, the ideal candidate will combine a daunting array of skills and competencies. And it goes without saying, they won’t come cheap. Finding such an individual is a challenge for any law firm, but if you recognize the need for such a hire, you are already ahead of most of your competitors.

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