How to Align Your Technology Department to Your Law Firm’s Strategic Plan

Aligning IT to Your Law Firm's StrategyIn a survey of mostly AM LAW ranked firms, 97% of law firms claim to have a written strategic plan, and 70.4% of firms invest at least 3 months in creating that plan. However, only 3.2% reported achieving almost all of their strategic objectives. The reporters of the survey estimate that larger law firms invest approximately a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of partner time when creating strategic plans, yet so few of these plans actually get implemented fully. So how can you be one of the 3% achieving their strategic goals? One part of the equation is ensuring your technology efforts are aligned to your strategic plan.

As technology has become integral to every area of a law firm’s function, the responsibilities of a CIO have evolved. Gone are the days when CIOs were responsible solely for managing their law firms’ technology teams and implementing and upgrading technologies. CIOs are now additionally responsible for focusing on helping firms deliver strategic value and competitive advantage through technology. It was always important for a law firm’s technology plans to be aligned to business objectives, but it has never been more essential to a law firm’s success than it is today.

How do you align your technology function to your partners’ strategic plan and avoid the pitfalls of misalignment? It is simpler than you might think:

Do You Have The Right Technology Leader?

Puts the Firm’s Needs First

Whether your firm has a CIO, a Director of IT, or a CKO leading your technology efforts, you want leaders who make technology decisions based on what’s best for the firm. Your leader of technology should have a proven track record of learning a firm’s strategy and helping the firm achieve their objectives through technology. You’re looking for a leader who, when talking about their accomplishments, demonstrates the ways in which their work helped the firm meet their goals, increased revenue, improved the client experience, or improved efficiency for lawyers. If they’re only talking about how great their technology implementations were, they might be more interested in their own career trajectory than in meeting the needs of the firm.

Strategically Selects Trends

Your CIO should be aware of trends in technology and strategically think about how these trends might apply to your law firm to help attorneys grow their revenue and win cases. This means that they evaluate upgrades and technological advancements in the context of what it will bring to the partnership. For example, will it save attorneys time and effort so they can focus on more important aspects of the case? Will it mitigate risk for file security or help you deliver information to your clients in the way they want? They should be proactive in their recommendations and clearly demonstrate the value tech changes would bring to the partnership.

Communicates Clearly and Effectively

It’s also essential that you have a strong communicator in your technology leadership role who can clearly explain the strategy and objectives of the firm to their technology team. A skilled CIO is capable of explaining the various needs of the attorneys to their technology team and in addition, can clearly communicate any strategic goals associated with an implementation of new technology, as well as the specific value of the work they are doing. Conversely, your technology leader’s communication skills should include the ability to demonstrate to the executive committee how the work that the technology department is doing contributes to the success of the firm and aligns with the law firm’s goals.

Do They Get A Seat At the Table?

Understands the Strategy

Partners can ensure their technology leadership is aligned to the firm’s strategic plan by inviting them to participate in executive committee meetings. This doesn’t mean the individual necessarily gets a vote, but involving them in conversations around the law firm’s strategic plan and the needs of the practice is a great way for firms to improve the alignment of technology with the firm’s objectives. When they hear about your goals firsthand, they are more likely to buy-in to those goals and fully understand what your firm is trying to achieve. CIOs who truly comprehend the needs of the partners will be motivated to examine their technology options more carefully and only implement what will truly benefit the law firm.

Impacts the Strategy

When you invite them into conversations about the law firm’s strategy and business objectives, you also give them the opportunity to make recommendations based on the needs of the firm. Perhaps one of your objectives for the year is to improve efficiency. Your CIO might suggest a new AI solution that could cut document retrieval time in half, or an upgrade to your email server and storage system that would minimize downtime and increase download speed. If your CIO isn’t in the room, it’s less likely that your technology team will be able to help you achieve your objectives, and more likely that they’ll take on technology advancement projects simply for technology’s sake. In addition, technology now impacts every area of your practice, from client interactions to how discovery is handled. With the right CIO in the room when you’re discussing strategy or issues to overcome, you’re likely to find better solutions based on their knowledge of current and upcoming technologies.

Executes the Strategy

Finally, giving your CIO, Director of IT, or CKO a seat at the table helps demonstrate to your firm the importance of technology to the practice’s success, which will allow them to better execute the technology requirements connected with your law firm’s strategic plan. Many law firms fail to make it clear that leadership and attorneys recognize that the work the technology department is doing is important and valuable. This can leave a technology team feeling unappreciated, which can lead to retention problems. When given a seat at the table, your technology leader has the opportunity to help that value be understood. Even more importantly, the leader can share with the technology team stories of their efforts being commended by the executive committee. In addition, because they’ve had a voice in the law firm’s strategic planning, your CIO will be invested in that strategy and eager to get buy-in from their managers and individual contributors. With everyone working towards the same goal and understanding the meaning of their work for the firm (which is highly important to millennials), your chances of strategy success soar.

The Right Technology Leader in the Right Seat (At the Table)

A lot can go wrong if your technology plans are misaligned with your law firm’s strategy. For example, you might incur unnecessary expense with an upgrade that doesn’t add value to your attorneys. Or your technology department might spend time and resources on projects that do not do anything to help you meet your strategic goals.

It may sound simple, but the best things you can do to align your technology department with your law firm’s strategic plan is to have good technology leadership involved in the strategy conversations. In fact, you’ll get much more than alignment: your business strategy will benefit from having the right technology leader, who thinks strategically, puts the law firm’s needs first, and communicates clearly with the CEO, COO, other department leaders, and their team.

The right CIO on your team can help you implement your strategic plan. Don’t wait to find the right technology leader for your firm.

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