Paul Obernuefemann began his career in IT before IT existed. Back then, he was the ‘computer guy,’ employed to keep the servers up and printers humming.
Now, as CIO for Lewis Rice, he leads the law firm’s high-performing IT strategies, inseparable from business success.
We recently sat down with Paul to discuss the evolution of IT from service provider to business driver and what he considers the most pressing matters for today’s firms.
What are the main challenges facing the legal industry?
Legal is a different vertical than most other verticals. The change factors in the last 10 years have been fairly high, but overall they haven’t moved the needle far in legal. But expectations are changing due to several IT visionaries and CIOs that came from the business world: like a corporate entity, they are aligning business needs with IT to better serve the client. As opposed to being a service provider, you’re a business driver.
One driver that did change a lot in legal was the advent of eDiscovery due to the fact that most communications are conducted via email or chat nowadays. So, instead of having boxes of paper, now you have gigabytes of .pst files laying around that people are going after every time. Another driver is the automation of the workload and artificial intelligence (AI). The American Bar Association (ABA) is still debating on what the actual rules are for the application of AI in law, but I think the automation of law, especially in the eDiscovery space and eventually other practice areas…is going to allow attorneys to do higher-value work.
Another piece is the integration of business requirements due to security needs. Law firms, by their very nature, have a lot of proprietary and insider information that other people would like to access. So you run into a double-edged sword – you’re trying to run an operation where you’re allowing access to information that other people and some firms would be happy to get their hands on. The dichotomy is you’re trying to secure your data against all others except those who you give access to.
What does the future legal workforce look like?
Some of the older attorneys love the new technology, but most younger attorneys understand leveraging technology can make your life easier. The always-on environment now basically requires lawyers to have the ability to work when they want to work, so they can play when they want to play – that’s a heavy cultural shift for big law. If you have a Lewis Rice laptop, you can work from anywhere in the world. All you’ve got to do is get to the Internet. Culturally, our attorneys understand that.
Looking 5-10 years into the future, what excites you most?
Firms are understanding that the number of documents that you have in your document management system is a vast source of knowledge both from the past and your future work. Our OpenText™ eDOCS system is our bread and butter. Ford makes cars, Lewis Rice makes documents, and with eDOCS we make them cheaper and more efficiently.
Looking forward, the automation of law is going to allow attorneys to do higher-value work, as opposed to the day-to-day drudgery of going through 5,000 documents by hand or digitally. And the sooner folks realize that, the better off their firm will be. We recently moved to OpenText™ Axcelerate™ for eDiscovery, which has immediately given us a competitive advantage to other law firms that our litigation department is looking forward to leveraging for our clients.
A lot of firms will be slow to take on automation because it’s a tough task. You’re changing the way your firm works. The trick is to keep the friction to a minimum, to make incremental changes as opposed to dumping it all on them at once…spoon-feeding advanced technology in the legal vertical is much easier than pouring it on.
I think in five years, they’ll be far ahead of the firms who waited until the last minute and try to stick it into the process that they presently have. As artificial intelligence comes in and value increases, it will become an abilities game as opposed to how long it takes to do something. It may be the final death of the billable hour.
If you had an unlimited budget, what would you try to implement first?
I would invest more in automation, especially browser-based automation such as bots, mobile apps, and APIs to migrate data from one place to another automatically. Then, training of staff and attorneys on the new functions of what the technology can do. Number one, it increases efficiency; and, number two, it allows them the added time to do higher-value work.
What guidance would you give to an IT professional entering the legal industry?
Understand how the process of law works. It’s just not about IT; IT is about the business. Also, always make sure that whatever change you make improves processes, increases production, or increases profitability. If it doesn’t do those things, then don’t do it.
To read more about how Lewis Rice supports industry excellence with the OpenText eDOCS document management solution, visit our website.