Photo by Murray Gottheil
By Murray Gottheil | November 14, 2023
This is the fourth in a series about questions that articling students and new associates should ponder in determining whether they have landed in the right place.
This time I will address the chief technology officer (the “CTO”). Of course, being lawyers we need a definition, so let’s use this one from Alexander Gillis and others at techtarget.com:
The …CTO… is the individual within an organization who oversees the current technology and creates relevant policy. A CTO should have the business knowledge necessary to align technology-related decisions with the organization’s goals.
The problem, of course, is that unless you are at a very large firm, you likely do not have anyone in-house with these qualifications. For today, let’s pretend that the person who exercises the greatest responsibility over technology issues is the CTO. Here are some questions to consider:
- What title does the CTO at your firm have? Although a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, sometimes titles matter, because they say something about the attitude of the partners. Calling someone the CTO suggests that the firm recognizes that technology is a crucial component of management, involves the CTO in strategic decisions, and pays them a decent sum of money. Calling them the “network coordinator” suggests that technology is something that has to be kept functional; not an area that has to be managed strategically;
- Whatever title your CTO has, think about where you will find them. If it is under a desk connecting cables, rushing from office to office helping lawyers find documents that have disappeared on the network, or fixing applications that have mysteriously ceased working, they may be fulfilling an essential need, but they are not really a CTO;
- Think about who is fulfilling the CTO function. If it is a lawyer, that is very, very bad. Lawyers do dumb things when it comes to technology: like purchasing software from companies with the most persuasive salespeople without really understanding the product, or jumping on the ChatGPT bandwagon without understanding the technology’s limitations or the ethical issues involved in using it;
- If your CTO is a junior technology professional, that is only a little bit better. What you are hoping to find is a senior technology professional who understands your existing technology and what is available and will become available over the next five years, has the skills to make recommendations to the chief operating officer and managing partner about the investments that the firm should be making, and also has the credibility to sell their vision to the firm;
- Look around at the hardware and software that the firm is using, and the training and support that the firm is giving lawyers. Do you get the impression that there is a very smart person in charge who has a plan to keep current with new legaltech, or that the only plan is to delay spending money on new systems as long as possible?; and
- What is the firm doing and saying about AI? How does it line up with what you are reading about it in the legal and business presses?
If the CTO does not impress you much, working in that firm may not be for you unless your plan is to be a legal paleontologist.
If they do, the firm may still not be for you. There are many more interesting folks to meet at your firm before you can really tell whether you can flourish there or whether you should vote with your feet.
Next time: The Chief Financial Officer.
Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at lawanddisorderinc.com.