IT and Lawyers — Can’t We All Get Along?

With all of the discussion earlier about II and Lawyers; I was half expecting to hear someone use the phrase … “can’t we all get along?” I deliberated on whether to enter this debate; but, after having gathered my thoughts here goes…

First, to think that this is a problem of IT and lawyers is to look at this through too narrow a lens. Indeed, there is discussion throughout management and IT literature that is looking at the IT-Business problem. What follows here is one person’s view of the problem and some suggestions for dealing with it.

What really is the problem? Is there a re-framing required? Is the problem that IT does not understand the business? Or perhaps we hire the wrong people in senior IT management positions? Or maybe our IT efforts are not aligned with our business efforts and strategies?

If you allow me to postulate, I will offer several points for consideration:

1. Treat IT as partners in the management of the business – not servants. Recognize each other’s expertise. Insist your IT people develop an understanding of the business. And open the “C-level” door to them.
2. Insist IT manage like a true business unit.
3. Talk “to” not “down” at each other.
4. Deal with governance in a formal fashion – See: (Weill & Ross, 2004) (Broadbent & Kitzis, 2005) (IT Governance Institute., 2005)
5. Hire with “I” and “T” in mind not just “T” — too many of the IT Managers I see (inside and outside of the legal profession) don’t think beyond the infrastructure layer at the base of this pyramid; their sole focus on technology leaves a huge gap between them and the business.
6. Jerome Bruner, a professor of psychology from New York University, makes a distinction between the concepts of ‘learning about‘ and ‘learning to be‘; or a distinction between ‘know that’ and ‘know how’. We expect our lawyers to ‘know how’ or to learn the practice of law. We should expect our IT professionals to ‘know that’ or ‘know about’ the business of law in its many forms; from academic law to corporate (in house) practice to the provision of legal services.
7. Realize, as lawyers, that reading a Computer Magazine does not make you a technical expert — more often a dabbler and in this case this is more ‘knowing about’ than ‘knowing how’.
8. Do not accept sloppy management practices from IT folks. Insist on not only technical proficiency and professionalism, but also on managerial excellence. Given the choice, hire a good manager over a technical expert to lead your team. Hire the technical experts for the right role (e.g. network management, security, data center operations) but do not expect them to talk the language of the business. A good CIO or IT Manager should bridge that gap for you. Business skills are needed more than ever, the pressure to cut costs is unrelenting, and for IT leaders, the relationships with business peers could be improved.
9. Focus on alignment – See IBM Systems Journal, Volume 32, Number 1, 1993 – or go here for the complete index.
10. Look for leadership skills not just management. These are not synonymous.


Broadbent, M., & Kitzis, E. (2005). The new CIO leader: Setting the agenda and delivering results. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

IT Governance Institute. (2005). Governance of the extended enterprise: Bridging business and IT strategies. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Weill, P., & Ross, J. W. (2004). IT governance: How top performers manage IT decision rights for superior results. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


  1. I think you could put any administrative department in place of “IT” throughout your message, and the same would hold. Yes, even for the Library. Do you think part of the problem is the promotion of technical people without providing them with business/leadership/management training?

    Stony Brook University (part of SUNY) have a new Executive MBA program for Law Firm Managers being based in of Manhattan starting in April. The first class applications are due mid-March.

    The program looks amazing. As someone who has always wanted to take an MBA program, I only wish there was something closer to home like this.

  2. Connie: you are bang on! Perhaps why this gets more air time with IT than with a department like the library is that, in practice, more librarians play more of a ‘paralegal’ role and as such are closer to the business. IT can be tuned out and focused inwardly on the technology; almost in an abstract fashion. I reiterate the need for both ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ skills and talent.

    One other point: within our firm, I have co-opted the term Professional Support Lawyer (PSL) and changed it to Professional Support Resource (PSR) to recognize: not all support professionals are lawyers; and, there are other professionals in our firms that deserve mutual respect. Note that I said ‘other professionals’ deliberately; as opposed to the professionals and their support staff.