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George Rudoy, Global Practice Technology & Information Services, Shearman & Sterling

Date: 04 Jan 2008

Citywealth

George I. Rudoy, the Director of Global Practice Technology & Information Services, who by his own admission has a long job title, works at Shearman & Sterling LLP in New York. Just back from San Francisco, he has a schedule that would barely allow most of us to breathe.

Speaking at Legal Tech NYC next week, he says his theme will focus on a new age in legal technology. “Although we might already be in the middle of that age.” He says laughing, allowing us a glimpse of his substantial sense of humour.

The new age for legal services and law firms will, or has arrived he says, because there is a realization that technology is an absolute must in law firms. “It’s not just your generic technology like DM or email systems, but more specific technology for the business of law. It is a new notion but I believe people need to be both technologists and business analysts, as well as understand end deliverables.

He and fellow practice management heads, came up with the idea of a new headline job title ‘the Head of Practice Management’ for this role. “It fits with some firms but not others, so it may get refined.” He adds. George believes there should be much more to technology than isolated litigation support, library or KM functions. “It’s a combined effort of technologists, ex-legal assistants who became technologists and ‘recovering attorneys’. These individuals appreciate the challenges and the deadlines and tend to be more outward looking.” George paints a scenario where lawyers won’t have to search for solutions by contacting different departments around the firm, but instead have someone like the Head of Practice Management analyze their business problem, develop a strategy, coordinate departments, and carry out the solution. “Tell me what service or solution you want and I will translate that into a vision.” He confirms.

“It’s not just about a liaison; it’s more than that. We sit in with the attorneys and attend their ‘business pitch’ meetings to highlight capabilities like speed of service, deliverables, and cost management to clients. Attorneys are comfortable with the idea that we participate in case discussions, and it gives us an opportunity to give each case the proper assessment and consult on the use of technology it requires.”

George says he would typically expect to deliver ‘the full service package.’ “Although the idea isn’t new, I believe we, the technologists, should work very closely with the legal assistants. Some firms even decided to merge the technologists and legal assistants under the umbrella of Practice Management. At the end of the day, we must be a business orientated group that is strongly aligned with marketing and business development initiatives.” He says the idea is picking up steam, and more firms are appointing directors or chief executives of practice management.

At this time, he says there are no more than ten such people in the world, with only four or five being officially recognized as Heads of Practice Management. I asked if it means the techies should get MBA’s, but he doesn’t think it is essential. “We are business savvy and earn our working MBA’s by being close to the economy of the law firm.” He suggests the real skill is in being able to understand how to help a client beyond just supporting a case. “You can see how it is put together. I go along to client pitches these days and have an opportunity to tell our clients that Shearman attorneys are much more efficient and effective in delivering their legal services because they are strong users of technology. No two pitches are the same so I focus on understanding the client’s unique business needs to get their full attention.” George says this is a good way to differentiate Shearman & Sterling from other firms competing in their space.

George believes today’s legal technologists even have an opportunity to provide some of the solutions for the economic problems currently being experienced in the USA. “It’s more than evident that we are in the middle of a recession. We’ve already seen an AmLaw 100 law firm recently lay off a significant number of attorneys, and the others will most certainly follow. The more progressive thinkers have already started to downsize, which could prove to be crucial. In past down cycles, the litigation and bankruptcy case load arrived to balance the books. However, this time it is not happening yet, or, according to some sources, will not happen at all. The government is in rescue mode, so not only is transactional work down but the bankruptcy work isn’t appearing, and companies save money and settle litigations rather than go to trial.” This highlights how difficult it may eventually get for law firms. “The current economic conditions might influence the way that legal services are delivered, as well as the degree of technology used to augment these services in order to stay competitive.”

Continuing he adds. “It will influence not only the choice of internally used products, but also creates an interesting environment for the industry vendors. We can make a difference with clients with improved technology, but vendors are going to have to be sensible; they can’t just keep raising their prices. “If I have a department of twenty people and little work in the pipeline, the first answer isn’t to lay off staff that took significant resources to hire. We may get a new case the next day but I can’t buy all the necessary software on the fly. However, if I have a relationship with a vendor who could work in the way most suited for case needs and be hired for the duration of the case, then that is what I am going to do.”

George doesn’t hold out much hope that the question of technology helping attorneys during difficult economic times will get much air time at Legal Tech and other Legal Technology events because he says it takes time for majority of people to catch on. “I spoke about Unicode compliance and cross-border document collection challenges for more than a year before others picked up on the notion.” He stresses the point. “But I hope this one will be recognized fast – technology will help firms in tough times. It will help win and keep clients if you can say you apply technology against the practice of law to stay effective and efficient, especially in fiscally challenging times.”

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