How Instead of What: Takeaways from #ILTACON2022
September 7, 2022
By: Joseph L. Fousek
I am finally catching up from being out at #ILTACON2022 in DC. It has been interesting to hear and read about different perceptions on the content from people like PinHawk.com editor @jeffrey_brandt and some of the other law firm IT thought leaders on LinkedIn. There was a difference this year in the content that continually hit me between the eyes, and I do not see anyone talking about it. Am I alone in thinking that past ILTACONs gave all of us in IT a great education about what we could implement to help make our firms more efficient, secure or productive, but this year’s content was far more focused on how we implement any of this technology in our firms?
Sure, there are companies producing some unique and interesting technologies, and all the vendors at the show were using AI and machine learning to do at least something in their offerings, touting their “unrivaled” solutions. Still, the what was not all the buzz in my conversations. Everyone was talking about learning how from a few different noteworthy perspectives.
Think about it for a moment. Remember when people would fight about which smartphone technology was better? Android phone cameras were so much better than Apple, or Apple had a better app store. Does anyone talk about those things anymore? The cameras on any of the devices now can show you blemishes on a gnat’s bum at 1000 yards, and you can find an app to waste as much of your time as you want on either platform. Instead, people are talking about strategies on how smartphone collections can impact a litigation case but are too often overlooked. Is anyone talking about the big differences between AWS and Azure? Windows 7 vs. Windows 10 or 11? Dell vs. HP? Looking through the Session Grid for ILTACON, for the first time, I see more content focused on how above education on what.
The first big how that drew a lot of attention was Information Governance (IG). Everyone has all this great technology to work from anywhere on any device and collaborate with others in the firm, clients, and other third parties. How do you ensure that records get captured and Teams activity gets saved associated with a client/matter number? How do you get your arms around the mass quantities of data getting squirreled away on shared drives or cloud storage? How do you ensure that all the various Outside Counsel Guidelines dictated by our clients get applied as expected? How are firms ensuring that only appropriate matter data gets transferred between firms as lateral attorneys are moving around faster than a Three Card Monte street hustle? How are firms addressing the 47 different privacy laws coming out from various state and federal governments? I am seeing firms struggling with IG today like they were with security when we all connected our firms to the internet (no comments, please, on how I am dating myself with that analogy). The amount of information coming into our firms, exiting our firms and accumulating under every digital rock you can turn over is still growing exponentially.
The smartest IT executives I know are all talking about their people, process and technology investments in their IG programs. The risks associated with poor, immature IG programs in law firms are just too high. It does not take a mathematician to figure out that exponential data growth means that waiting to get some controls around your data allows the problem to get WAY worse over time. If you are an IT leader in a law firm today, and you are not finding ways to push IG initiatives, I fear for the longevity of your career. The “I” does come first in “IT,” and it is at the center of “CIO.”
There was also much discussion at ILTA about the pandemic accelerating 10 years of technological advancement in two years. Everybody is implementing new cloud phone systems, sprinting to the cloud in general, ripping out old location-focused technology and implementing tools to facilitate mobility and our hybrid workforce. If every vendor that I have heard over the past two years had to pay me a dollar for saying they could help me with my “digital transformation journey,” I could easily retire. The problem is that our attorneys would like to focus on practicing law rather than learning how to use all these great new tools. All the other professionals in our firms would like to have time to do their jobs as well, of course. Thus, how you implement technology changes, new policies and updated workflows becomes as or more important than the quality of the product itself. I always say that IT projects generally do not fail because of the technology; they fail because of poor communication.
Prosci (www.prosci.com) defines change management as “the application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.” There were some great sessions at ILTACON about successfully helping people adapt to all the changes being thrust upon them. We all know that we are not going back to the traditional in-person work models that so many law firm leaders planned to embrace until retirement. The struggle is all too real for them now. To be viewed as a successful leader in IT today, you need to be empathetic to the change overload being experienced by almost everyone in your firm outside of IT (and a few inside of IT as well). You have to help the masses adapt. You need to invest and implement eLearning, learning on demand and be prepared to hold a lot of hands one-on-one. If you as an IT leader, along with your project leaders, are not trained in and embracing ADKAR or another people change management program/philosophy, you will probably be in the same boat with the leaders not pushing Information Governance.
There were also many educational opportunities at ILTACON about how topics like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); sustainability; adapting to generational differences in learning; and working with lawyer personas. While these are certainly important considerations for how we work, I am not really an expert or evangelist on these topics . . . yet. I am sure successful law firm IT leaders will need to be adept in these areas soon as well.