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Tips for Managing Technology from a Chief Information Officer
In this episode of The Digital Edge, hosts Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway speak with Legal Technology Consultant Andrew Adkins about his time as chief information officer for the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. Andy reflects on his 23 years as a technology consultant and gives a brief breakdown of the variables that led to his move to West Virginia and employment with Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. The firm was large and successful when he arrived but, as he recalls, the information technology infrastructure was understaffed and mostly focused on day-to-day problem solving. This lack of needed staff was one of his biggest challenges as he began to expand the law firm’s IT capabilities and integrate new software to help the attorneys improve the services they provided. Andy talks about the process of building relationships among his teammates, learning their strengths and weaknesses, and the challenges he had convincing management of the necessity of continued employee training. He warns other CIOs of potential “upgrade fatigue” within their IT departments and shares how traveling to introduce himself to each branch of the company and incorporating a monthly newsletter to inform staff of upcoming tech changes helped to prepare staff for company-wide tech improvements. Andy closes the interview with an analysis of how he addressed the law firm’s cyber security needs and his list of his best and worst professional moments during his four year employment there.
Andy Adkins has been assisting law firms to improve their services to clients since the late 1980s. His career/journey has continuously led him down various paths, including a four year gig as the Chief Information Officer at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, a large law firm based in Bridgeport, West Virginia.View transcript
The Digital Edge
Tips for Managing Technology from a Chief Information Officer
Intro: Welcome to the Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Galloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon Nelson: Welcome to the 103rd edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. We are glad to have you with us. I am Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises.
Jim Calloway: And I am Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is a law firm CIO’s guide to managing technology.
Sharon Nelson: Before we get started we would like to thank our sponsors. Thanks to our sponsors Scorpion which delivers award winning law firm web design and online marketing programs to get you more cases. Scorpion has helped thousands of law firms just like yours attract new cases and grow their practices. For more information visit scorpionlegal.com/podcast.
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Jim Calloway: We are very pleased to have as our guest today, our long time friend and colleague, Andy Adkins. A pioneer in legal technology, Andy has been assisting law firms to improve their services to clients since the late 1980s. His career, his journey has continuously led him down various paths, including a 4 year gig as Chief Information Officer at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC a large law firm based in Bridgeport, West Virginia and too stands as Chair of ABA Tech Show. Thanks for joining us Andy.
Andrew Adkins: Thanks for having me Jim and Sharon. It’s a pleasure being here with you today. It’s almost like getting the band back together, wouldn’t you say?
Sharon Nelson: Yes it is, as long as it’s not our farewell tour. You know Andy, I always thought you were a country boy, but I was a little bit surprised that you ended up in West Virginia. So how did you end up there as a CIO of Steptoe & Johnson?
Andrew Adkins: Interesting. I have been as you know technology consultant for about 23 years. I established the Legal Technology Institute at the University of Florida College of Law and had probably consulted with over 300 law firms. Back in 2010 I was trying to slow down as you know a lot of travel sometimes gets to you, especially after a few years. But I ended up slowing down and closing down the Legal Technology Institute at the university but I brought it to my own consulting practice. It didn’t take too long before a friend of mine who actually was a prior client and at the time was currently the Chief Operating Officer at Steptoe & Johnson, he had reached out to me and said, listen, we created a CIO position, the first person we brought in was only here for about 9 months, do you have anyone else in mind that you could pass along? And so I send him a few names and two days later he sent me an email saying, what would it take for you to come up to West Virginia?
And like I said, it was interesting conversation with my wife, but we took a trip up to West Virginia and it clicked. Both, West Virginia we loved the state, we are both outdoors folks. The law firm had been around for almost a 100 years at the time, very well established. They had a good crew; they did have some technology challenges that had fit right within my skill set. So, I signed on as a CIO of Steptoe & Johnson and had a great four years there.
Jim Calloway: Well, managing a law firm’s technology is always a challenge, but could you talk a little bit about how the firm grew during your four years there and how you grew the technology during that same time period?
Andrew Adkins: Sure. One of the challenges that we had coming onboard is when I joined, there were 620 total users. There were 10 offices in 4 states and we had an IT department of 12. I was actually number 13.
Ratios for IT folks to full time employees at the firm was almost 50:1, which is, all these folks that were doing was really putting out fires. There was a great team, and they really just didn’t have enough people and I had told the firm that before they hired me and then they hired me, so that gave me a message that yeah, we know we need more people, we just need the direction.
So, during my four years there, we went from 620 total people and there were 220 lawyers with the growth rate of the Energy field and we had a lot of clients in the Energy that did a lot of hydraulic fracturing, pull off the natural gas. So there was a phenomenal growth. We grew from 10 offices to 15. We went from 4 states to 6 states, went from 620 people to almost a 1000 people. And my staff, I was number 13, and when I left we had 25 slots with 23 full time IT folks.
So it was quite a fast growth and we were able to stay up to it, and that’s the reason why I was there.
Sharon Nelson: Well, I was going to ask you, what was the most difficult task in managing technology, but maybe that was it, or was there more than that?
Andrew Adkins: Well, one think I wanted to let everybody know is that prior to me being there, there was a solid technology infrastructure in place and a great team. The biggest issue was there weren’t enough people. We had one person on the helpdesk; we had one trainer, and again 600 plus people. So, we had to put additional folks on to the support team just to answer the calls. We ended up building out a helpdesk and putting two fulltime people on it and running the helpdesk in the office from 7 in the morning to 7 in the night. And then we provided after hour support until 11o’clock with people that were on call.
So managing that transition, you have got to have good people. This is not something the CIO comes in and says thou shall be done. So this is basically I think leadership in the sense of, okay, so we have got a problem to solve, here are some suggestions, how do we get from here to there. The team jumped in, we were able to increase our budget significantly in order to purchase a technology not just for us in IT, but also for additional technologies that would help include attorney’s services to their clients. So it was a phenomenal growth, we had a good time.
Jim Calloway: Well that sounds quite challenging. You know, one of the problems with growing in IT department is they may not have experienced with your tools and it’s hard to kind of spin them up. How did you grow the IT department in doubling the staff in such a relatively short amount of time?
Andrew Adkins: For one thing that I was able to convince, and again, when you step into an unknown world like this, a lot of it is relationships, building those relationships, not only with your IT department, because they have to learn to trust you, and you have to learn what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. And then also on the other side, I had to work closely with management and the executive committee to convince them that these are things that we need to do. So you gather a lot of outside resources. I had actually created what we call an IT roundtable. There were probably about 20 firms in the roundtable; the firm was already a part of this build the brand roundtable.
But they were typically at the management CRO level, well, I created and got together all the IT department heads, CIOs, IT Directors, got on to the phone every month and we all have the same issues. It really helps understanding that here is how one person solves this. We were able to take some of those arguments back to management and say okay, we know that we need more people, I don’t want to just add people in and throw them, more buds than the seed like I used to call that and I said, here’s the skills that we need in this firm.
And let’s put out a request and pull in the right people for the right job. So we were able to add that. I went training from one person, a training manager, we built the training team of 3, we went from a support of having one person basically rotating every two hours. We had a different person on the helpdesk; we actually built the helpdesk out.
So, getting the skills there and also convincing the firm that we need to send our people to training, we had a really nice budget for IT training and that really helps build morale.
Sharon Nelson: A lot of times Andy, I think that people who are in that kind of position, a CIO’s position, they find that they have a lot of communication difficulty and you have described one kind, but usually we hear folks complain that they can’t get buy-in from all of the lawyers, especially senior partners. They don’t want to do what they tell them to do and sometimes they have trouble with the staff as well. So how did you communicate, what was happening with technology and how the firm had to change over time?
Andrew Adkins: Well, they have been bitten a couple of times in the past with upgrades that weren’t necessarily needed, but somebody had said let’s do this.
There were also some issues between the IT group and the rest of the firm, it’s one of those, what I used to called upgraditis. Just leave me alone, let me do my job, quit upgrading everyday. A lot of people don’t understand the issues that Microsoft has with patches and updates, and then on top of that all of the other software applications that integrate with that.
So I did several things. Number one is I tried to meet everyone in the firm, so even with — we have 15 offices, I flew out to Houston; we have an office in Houston and one in Denver, made the Western Rim trip, as I call it and meet with everybody, let them know, I am the face of IT, you will talk with me at times, but most of the time you are going to be talking with our folks, so I would gather intel from the field.
I would also start developing those relationships between those who are actually using the software and pushing it. And as you both know, in this world of IT technology we follow the 80/20 principle. 80% of the users only take 20% of your time, but that 20% of the users require a lot of time, a lot of handholding, a lot of convincing.
We had a couple of real high power attorneys that were not necessarily the easiest to get along with, but once you reach out to them and try to talk with them on their level about what are the issues you are having, and one of the people that I really admired, I really tried to get him on our team, which he did, and was able to help us push ourselves in the use of technology. And so focusing on those types of thing where you are actually talking with the attorneys and working with them one-on-one was very phenomenal.
I also started doing what I called a CIO Update every month. It was a newsletter and saying, here is what’s going on now, and by the way, here is what’s coming up in the future, so I can start planting seeds to let people know that, hey, we are going to be implementing or changing our two-factor authentication, or we are changing our voicemail system. So give people a little bit of heads up, and people appreciate that. They like to know what’s coming down the pipeline.
Jim Calloway: Well, to shift topics a little bit, since you are the CIO you have responsibility for cyber security, I wouldn’t say did, I guess I would say how did your cyber security needs change for the law firm during your four years there?
Andrew Adkins: Well, we had a really good shield around us. We had a couple of guys who were topnotch in security, so we had all of the typical devices you would have; not only the antivirus software we had at the server level, we were monitoring all of our networks, we were doing all of the right things. We had to put a couple of policies in place, which some people weren’t really happy with, but it is what it is.
But cyber security definitely changed. The biggest thing that we noticed was from our clients. A firm this size has some fairly significantly large clients in the financial industry and those were the ones that were hit, and because of those issues that they were experiencing, they wanted all of their companies that worked with all their law firms to follow certain rules and regulations, so we actually received like a 33 page security audit, which took a couple of months to get through.
Most of it we were doing; a few things we weren’t, but we used that as an example to go to the management and say, okay, our client, our good client is telling us this is something we need to do, here’s how much it’s going to cost, and by the way, we can knock this out in a few weeks.
So I kind of tried to take charge and used that as an example of moving the firm a little bit further along and not forcing people to follow the security rules, but using that as an example of this is what we need to do.
Sharon Nelson: So did you — during those four years, was that when you brought on board things like intrusion detection systems and data loss prevention software, hardware?
Andrew Adkins: We had some of that in place. We actually had a company that we outsourced with to manage our data intrusion. They provided us monitoring. Our network guys; there were actually three of them, who would all get an email when there was an intrusion that was detected, we would monitor it and then we would shut down certain ports, if that was the thing to do.
They also, on request, performed audits for us because that’s something we can turn around and provide back to the clients almost immediately.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to the rest of the podcast, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Welcome back to The Digital Edge on The Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is A Law Firm CIO’s Guide to Managing Technology and our guest is Andy Adkins, who spent the last four years as the Chief Information Officer at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, a large law firm based in Bridgeport, West Virginia.
Jim Calloway: You have alluded to this briefly but a lot of chief information officers have trouble getting buy-in from the partners in a law firm, did that present any difficulties for you?
Andrew Adkins: Not really. I actually had been a consultant to this law firm four years prior, they had gone through a major forklift upgrade and we are having issues and questions and they wanted sort of a second opinion and so they had hired me at the time and I spent several days with them, got to meet most of the main players there. So I had some history with this particular firm.
There were some issues of trying to get buy-in from some of the partners but again when you develop these types of relationships, you kind of know who other people listen to, so while one partner may not necessarily appreciate what we do in IT, other partners do and they help bridge that particular gap. Did that sound politically correct?
Sharon Nelson: Yes, it was well-stated, eloquent and didn’t say too much. Well done.
So what I hear all the time from CIOs is that they want to tear their hair out because they are faced with rogue employees who evade policies and technology restrictions on what they do. Did you ever run into any of that?
Andrew Adkins: Oh yeah. It’s kind of sometimes it was fun because when we had — one of our network engineers had a series of monitor where we monitored all of the bandwidth and West Virginia is not the best infrastructure State and got to be with them these days with all what’s going over there but the infrastructure, I used to point out a study that West Virginia was number 51 in broadband connections and spectrum states, we were actually behind the law.
But one of the things that we were able to do is we monitored all of our bandwidth and so we would notice a particular office hogging too much bandwidth than what should have been normal. So we would drill down to that and eventually be able to find out what was going on. I love sending an email to a person in a particular office saying, tell me what’s on Netflix today, and immediately bandwidth increases. So I love to be able to do stuff like that.
Sharon Nelson: Yeah, you really have a wicked street, Andy.
Andrew Adkins: Well, it’s all in fun too, because you know these people, and I one time went to an office and somebody was asking me a problem with their iPhone, and says, it’s really slow and I looked at it, and she had 13,368 unread email messages, and I didn’t think that little red bubble could grow that.
Sharon Nelson: But we have seen over 40,000, so — the answer is, it can.
Andrew Adkins: I know, but you have to deal with it at a professional level and you have to not make people feel bad. So that’s one of the skills that I can worry, it might try to bite your tongue and say, well, I know the reason, I know this, because it happened to me before or whatever excuse it be like.
Sharon Nelson: You know what John used to do when he worked at Mobil Oil? He used to take the name of the CEO and he go around and people who didn’t have screen savers he’d start to write a real nasty email to the CEO and he would just leave it on their screen. That really, without hitting Send; and that really encouraged the use of screen savers.
Andrew Adkins: Yeah, we did that too when we were working on black box and so to speak.
Jim Calloway: I think you are a little judgmental, Sharon. One rogue employee is just views themselves as an ambitious end-user.
Well, Andy, what was the best professional moment of those four years, and if you dare say, what was the worst?
Andrew Adkins: Well, I think being at this firm and seeing its growth, and being able to help the firm grow and help my IT department grow, we brought on fairly healthy technologies to solve problems. It just didn’t exist, so we took an existing database system and had the developer modify it and it took a long time for this particular group, this practice group to accept it and use it, but what a phenomenal growth they have experienced once they start using it and they accepted it, because it’s one of those things you can only so much with spreadsheets, and when you have multiple people at multiple offices needing same spreadsheet then you have to schedule its use.
So migrating that into this Oracle database was one of the great things, and seeing the transition, seeing the peoples change. The worst probably when I decided it was time to leave. That was a pretty difficult time. There was lots of reasons; most of it was personal, we needed to get back to Florida for aging parents, because you just couldn’t deal with that type of thing being 13 hours away in a different State.
So once we decided that it was time to go and in kind of going through that transition in my own mind that was probably the toughest thing. But God leads us in different directions and that’s why we are here.
Sharon Nelson: He surely does. Well, first, that’s a wonderful thing that you love to take care of aging parents because a lot of aging parents don’t have that. So that was certainly a wonderful thing to do. When did you actually leave the firm, Andy?
Andrew Adkins: September 30th of last year.
Sharon Nelson: Of last year?
Andrew Adkins: Last day, yeah.
Sharon Nelson: Okay. Okay, well I know you, you are not a couch potato, you are not going to be sitting watching reality TV all day, so what have you found to keep yourself busy?
Andrew Adkins: Well, the first time I tried to retire five-six years ago, it lasted a year; this one lasted about two months. I am actually involved in a project. I am starting a software company. We are building an application for the initial legal field at eDiscovery, Early Case Assessment, and about the only thing I could tell you it deals with social media, and we are hoping to start development and have a product, probably in the fall.
Sharon Nelson: Well, that is very interesting indeed. You have an ongoing entrepreneurial spirit which I share as you know, so I don’t think either one of us is going to wind up being retired anytime soon.
Andrew Adkins: No.
Sharon Nelson: You probably agree with that?
Andrew Adkins: I do.
Sharon Nelson: Well, we want to thank you so much, Andy, for being our guest today. It’s interesting, we’ve never really had a CIO on this program and that’s a worldly different perspective; one that’s very useful and different to think about the problems that a CIO faces versus the other folks in IT or even in cybersecurity. It is a different role.
So thank you for sharing both that country twang and your considerable wisdom on the subject matter.
Andrew Adkins: Thanks. It’s been great being here, and I just always love talking with you and Jim.
Sharon Nelson: Well, thank you, that goes both ways.
Andrew Adkins: Absolutely.
Sharon Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology.
And remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com or on iTunes, and if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on iTunes.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye, Ms. Sharon.
Sharon Nelson: Happy Trails Cowboy!
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