In a recent post (see Electronic Discovery) I raised the often troublesome relationship between lawyers and IT folk in law firms. One of my jobs at Osgoode Hall Law School over the past few years has been to mediate between the IT people and the faculty, and so I know a little about this vexed meeting of minds, but I’d imagined that somehow things would be better worked out in the professional context of practice than in the sometimes quirky academic world. Seems I may have been wrong.
Do your IT people talk to your lawyers? Do the lawyers respond? However the dialogue is managed, does each understand the tasks and constraints of the other?
Perhaps for the information technology people an email is preserved if the data in it is stored in a database; perhaps that isn’t what lawyers imagine, needing the form in which it was received as well as the actual content data; perhaps that request makes no sense to the IT people, who understand that the email the lawyer reads is always the output of a database even though it appears to be a distinct document… etc.
Whether this problem chain is accurate or not, there are bound to be real and serious difficulties for a firm if not everyone is on the same page. It’s been my experience that most lawyers, certainly those of the managing partnership generation, lack the confidence with IT issues and knowledge necessary to make good policy without lots of advice. And the authority relationship between the partner-lawyers and the IT team can cause communication to be less than fluid. Large firms have bureacracy to contend with as well, which muffles communication as much as it keeps order. Small firms have budgetary difficulties that may find expression in poor IT/practice coordination.
Ideally, there might be a CIO or CKO who has the status of a partner, whether or not she/he is in fact a lawyer-partner. This person would understand both worlds enough to know what questions to ask, what issues to pose, and what policies to impose or recommend. If this truly important mediation role is left to chance, such as when it’s dependent on the fact that Mary or Ali, otherwise a librarian or an associate or an office manager, happens to have a background that facilitates things, the firm is vulnerable and may not be putting things on the best footing.
How are these things managed in Slawyers firms? Is this an issue that is receiving discussion and thought? What sort of best practices might we develop to help firms get it right?