“Just go away.” “Get out of my face.” “I don’t practice law so would you please stop thinking you can practice IT?” You cannot deny that you have thought these things, more than once. Although, given the bright person that you are and your strong sense of job preservation, you’ve never said them so they could be heard. But all of us in law firm management, whether in IT or elsewhere, deal with the frustration of lawyers who are happy to tell us how to do our jobs, and are fully confident that they are knowledgeable enough to do so. Even when they aren’t.
Get over it. They own the place and that’s not going to change. They, especially the partners, have every right to want to know how their money is being spent, how their resources are being used, and what they are going to be expected to do to practice law. So the challenge for us is to work with the lawyers in a productive way that gives them confidence, and us freedom.
There are two steps to this. First, you must establish your credibility. Many CIOs and IT Directors complain that they don’t have a seat at the table. That is not something that is given; you must earn it. You earn it by telling the unvarnished truth, not what people want to hear. You earn it by being open and accepting, not closed and defensive. You earn it by being authentic and telling them that a project has slipped before the deadline passes, not afterwards – their clients expect the same of them. You earn it by being completely transparent with budgets and projects, not covering up what you don’t want them to ask about. You earn it by being a business person first, and a technologist second – the lawyers have absolutely no obligation to learn what you do, but you have every obligation to learn what they do.
The second step is to leverage the partners’ and lawyers’ interests for good, not evil. Setting up a Technology Committee to discuss the latest version of iOS or Office and whether this feature should be turned on or off is not helpful. And it is not governance. What is helpful and what you should encourage is senior level partner interaction and oversight when it comes to policies and fiscal matters surrounding technology. You need to present them with business objectives and how those will be achieved by leveraging technology as a viable tool. Then listen to what they have to say. Listen and respond accordingly.
If done right, your IT Governance Committee will be the best support you could ever have. But you need to convince them that you understand their needs, and that you are there to support them and the firm’s clients. Nothing else should matter to them or to you.
Do it wrong, and they will be in your face. Until your face is leaving the premises for the last time.