Dolaw firms need chief technology officers or is this again some new trend that in couple of years will turn out to be completely invaluable and thus redundant? What is the added value that chief technology officers bring to law firms, which often continue to believe in their old business models and refuse to invest into technology? Is there any value? I believe that there is and I believe that only those law firms that understand the scope of the most recent and up and coming technology will be able to reflect on their business models in time.
There are many abbreviations that start with “C”. CEO, CFO, CCO, CIO, CTO and many others. We might understand the abbreviation, but do we understand what this position entails? Chief Technology Officer (CTO) as such does not have a standard definition and CTO’s role will depend greatly on the industry and type of an organisation that he or she represents. Sometimes, position of a CTO can be somehow similar to Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO), but usually the CIO is a person responsible for developing a technology strategy, ensures the efficacy of enterprise’s computer and software systems and support the organization’s grander designs. The CTO is more of a visionary and strategy position. The CTO is a person in an organisation, in our case a law firm, who is in charge of technology, which is crucial for organization’s structure, operations, services and future. The CTO should be fully aware of the organization, its processes and business model, while being constantly updated and informed on the most recent innovations, new technology and new designs that could make the organization better. Better in all diverse meanings, as technology does not only contribute to organization’s efficiency, but also can enhance communication, transparency, trust and reliability within as well as outside the organization. All extremely important in today’s world.
Hiring a CTO for a law firm is a strategic decision that shows not only an awareness of that technology is extremely important for the legal industry, but also shows a vision that the law firm itself aims to play a role on the future legal markets. The CTO should play a strategic and integral role for law firm’s technical vision and technology development, whether in house or outside. The CTO is a person who understands technology, due diligence, M&A and sees the path in front of the company for the next year as well as five years.
Looking at the fifteen biggest law firms (by revenue) from the US, UK and China, which are present almost in all jurisdiction globally, they all have established a position of a CTO, CIO, Manager of Technology or a position of a Global Chief Innovation Officer. Yet, when you look closer, many officers have been with the firms for several decades, being responsible for internal operation systems, digitization and technological support (what CIOs usually do). Very few law firms or officers themselves clearly stipulate their vision and eagerness for innovation, new legal technology and new solutions for their clients. On the other hand, those that have such vision, have already established special units (e.g. Clifford Chance or DLA Piper) that design and develop new solutions. Others have funded separate legal entities (Dentons) which do not only look into existing technology, but look for innovation. And that is the substantial difference in the approach and the vision in the law firms: either you look out for enhancing the operation systems or you look out for enhancing the entire operation of a law firm and possibly altering business models. The existing CIOs in the law firms need to be supported by CTOs or CKOs, who understand that the innovation comes in more forms than just new software update.
Let me know your thoughts on the CTOs in law firms in the comments.