Technology is all about change. The job of the CIO is often as much about change management as it is about technology. Sometimes change occurs so continuously and gradually that we do not realize that whole systems and environments have been altered. The role of secretaries in law firms illustrates what I mean. 

Legal Secretaries: Numbers Wane, but Demand Does Not on reports on a study by a staffing agency on the changing ratio of secretaries to lawyers. It confirms that more firms are moving to a higher ratio of lawyers to secretaries. The study also finds, however, that despite the relative decline in demand for secretaries, it is still hard to find good ones. Moreover, the demands on secretaries have increased given their expanded coverage.

Clearly, the advent of PCs and lawyers typing their own documents combined with voice mail and fax delivery to PCs has changed what secretaries do. In my view, there has been enough gradual change in the role of secretaries that firms should re-think the role and organization of secretaries. I have previously argued in The Future of Legal Secretaries (published in the Legal Times, May 2003) that law firms should consider adopting a team approach to secretaries.

My idea about secretarial teams may or may not be right. The point here is to observe a phenomenon – the gradual evolution of the changing secretarial job – and not just assume that incremental organizational adjustments suffice. Forward-thinking CIOs and other senior law firm managers need to consider whether a systemic change may be required.

There are other examples of where “gradualism” can give rise to “wholesale structural change.” Some clear-thinking firms now understand that with the advent of Blackberries and inexpensive home PCs, it is probably no longer necessary to equip every lawyer with a notebook PC. Economics, security, and convenience may mean reverting to less expensive and easier to manage desktop models.

The general lesson is that firms need to “step back” occasionally to look at the big picture, to see the accumulation of gradual changes, and to consider potentially new and different real change rather than mere incrementalism.