How does managing legal technology compare to managing corporate technology? 

A panel discussion at the Strategic Technology Forum in Lisbon, hosted by LegalWeek in Lisbon last month addressed the question. The panelists were David Coates, IT Director of Bond Pearce and formerly of UBS; Jason Haines, Director of IT, Allen & Overy LLP and formerly of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC); and Malcolm Simms, IT Director, Eversheds LLP and formerly of Disney/ABC Television Group.

The panelists pointed out several differences:

  • In legal it’s about words; in corporate it’s about numbers. This makes a big difference in how CIOs present business cases to management.
  • Lawyers resist change, industry embraces it.
  • Corporate management asks “what’s the business case?” Law firm management asks “what are other firms doing?”
  • Legal market software suppliers are few; corporate many. A corollary: legal software vendors are less innovative.
  • Corporations do zero-based budgeting, meaning CIOs have to justify items each year. In law firms, budgeting is a continuous and incremental process without the need to justify each year.
  • “There is no PowerPoint in law firms.”
  • All of these resonated with me. One comment on “no PPT in law firms.” I think this difference has a deeper meaning than many may think. Presentations are not just about content; they are about guiding or controlling a conversation. When I started as a manager in a large law firm, I met frequently with the management committee to discuss tech projects. Discussions wandered and were, as a consequence, often unproductive. So I decided to use a presentation as a way to help guide the discussion. The resistance to my doing so was palpable. I wish I had had a chance to pose this hypothesis to the panelists for confirmation or rejection.