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Practice Innovations — Managing in a changing legal environment
Gray Rule
October 2016 | VOLUME 17, NUMBER 4
Gray Rule
Exploring New Roles in Law Firms
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Exploring New Roles in Law FirmsBy Jeffrey Brandt, Principal, Brandt Professional Services, Ashburn, VA
The world continues to change and technology continues to advance. Smart organizations take the opportunity to not only upgrade technology, hardware, and software, but also reexamine their workflows, their personnel structure, and the roles inside those structures.

Sometimes structures need to change. Sometimes old positions evolve and take on new roles. Nowadays it pays to be a trend spotter, a negotiator, an information weaver, and process innovator, on top of your other duties. But sometimes things change so much, evolve to such a degree, that new positions emerge.

As with many things, the corporate world adopts these positions well before they get to Big Law. Some of them eventually filter down to the midsized and small firms.

What Now In Legal?


Security has been elevated to a new level in law firms. While some firms are curious or not sure what to do, many are taking the subject seriously, and some firms are taking it super seriously. Attendance at ILTA’s LegalSEC conference was up 20 percent over 2015.

While not ultra-scientific, I often search the ILTA database to see what is trending and which titles different organizations use. My last search for “security” oriented roles netted one or two roles in mega firms. My most recent search shows many large firms with job titles including Global Director of Information Security, Director of Information Security and Assurance, Manager, IT Security & Risk Management, Client Security Auditor, and Director of Information Security. The next tier of firms has its titles too, typically Network Security Engineer, Systems Security Administrator, or Manager of Security Technologies. And these don’t include the positions where security is a secondary duty or not reflected in the job title.

Any firm planning to be in business in 2020 is taking the subject of cybersecurity seriously.

Pricing and Analytics

Law firms may not yet be playing with big data, in the sense of the corporate world, but several have started playing with medium data. With the rise of alternative fee arrangements, value billing, fixed fees, and other creative and complex billing options, figuring out where you are is more complicated. Knowing where you stand in order to craft better and more accurate proposals is key. I would say this isn’t your father’s billable hour computation anymore. Law firms responded with Pricing Directors, Directors of Practice Economics, and Managers of Pricing & Profitability. Toby Brown is widely recognized as the first of these, starting around 2012. At the time, Brown was Director of Pricing with Vinson & Elkins. He has been leading and expanding the community of pricing experts ever since.

The rise of costs and complexity of eDiscovery is another area where advanced analytics are in demand. In 2015, Littler hired Dr. Zev J. Eigen as the firm’s National Director of Data Analytics. According to the press release, his job was to focus on identifying successful and unsuccessful litigation strategies, analyzing case filings, staffing, duration, costs, data, and statistical issues that arise in Littler’s representation of clients, and developing data analytic strategies and services focused on the HR and employment law fields. Dr. Eigen joins many others in law firms and corporate law departments with analytic jobs like Director, Legal Data & Analytics, Managing Director for Strategic Analytics, and Senior Manager, Business Analytics. Data driven decision-making is beginning to make an impact in many big firms.

What Next in Legal?

So, what potentially lies on the horizon for law firms? We can look to the business world to see which new roles might potentially make their way into the legal market.

If we look at a study CompTIA conducted, there are some very different and interesting roles emerging. Some companies are looking to add Blockchain Engineers and GPU Cluster Engineers to their rosters. They are looking to add Bitcoin’s core technology, the Blockchain, to all sorts of things. Optimizing code to run on the GPU in addition to the CPU can make applications blazingly fast. As most law firms do not develop software at this level, I could see legal vendors looking to incorporate this technology into the platforms they sell law firms.

While law firms are getting into security, one of the newer roles is that of computer security incident responder. This person has a broad understanding of security information and event management (SIEM) and can deal with the effects of an exploit or attack. While there is a worldwide gap in experienced security personnel, this kind of role may be priced out of the reach of most firms for some time.

Even IBM may not know exactly what a Cognitive Computing Engineer or Machine Learning Specialist might do, but you can bet with all the Watson initiatives out there, the role will be an important one. IBM is even helping universities develop cognitive-related course materials. Some law firms are currently bandying about the terms “artificial intelligence” and “robot lawyer” but without any real substance. But law firms will get more sophisticated and we will see true AI in law firms.

If you think Virtual Reality Engineers are only for the gaming industry, think again. The world of trial preparation and presentation is hyper technology intensive. While it’s nice to see the mockup of how a fire spread, room-to-room and floor-to-floor, it would be nothing compared to being in the building virtually and seeing the fire spread around you. It’s entirely conceivable that future law firms would employ engineers of this type.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing at an insane pace. Businesses are starting to look for IoT Architects to develop and deliver services around integrating a myriad of devices. I think law firms’ IoT architects would have a slightly different role. I think they would sit on the security team and architect solutions to protect the firm from the multitude of additional attack vectors created by IoT devices on users’ home networks.

One of the roles I know for sure we’ll see in law firms is that of Cloud Architect. As firms move more into the cloud and reorient themselves from “on-premises mentality” to “cloud mentality,” they’ll start fundamentally changing. One of the things I’m saying to my staff is that we need to “run at the speed of cloud.” That’s my way of saying that the cloud, when done correctly, is a radically different world than on-premises, complete with new ways and timetables to do things. And, in order to be successful, we need to modify our processes and our roles to match. As you shift to the cloud, you get to begin to exit the plumbing business. Plumbing, while important, doesn’t add to the bottom line of the firm. If you want to make serious advancements and impact the bottom line, you need positions that integrate into the business and practice of law.

So, law firms are seeing new roles emerging and will continue to see even more new roles in the future. Survival into 2020 and beyond will require firms to look past hardware and software upgrades, and change and adapt the support roles, themselves.

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