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Veteran Firm CIO: It’s All About Data Governance, Access and iPods

Christopher Zegers, former chief information officer with Lowenstein Sandler and current director of Consulting-Legal at Ivionics.

Christopher Zegers can remember a time when he knew the password of almost everyone who worked at his firm. That is no longer the case for a myriad of reasons, the most obvious being that in an age of robust cybersecurity, people are no longer handing out passwords like they are candy at Halloween.

After more than two decades working in an IT capacity at multiple law firms—including Herrick Feinstein, O'Melveny & Myers and most recently the national firm of Lowenstein Sandler, where as chief information officer he and his staff provided support for over 600 users—Zegers is walking a different path.

He's just joined IT consulting firm Ivionics as the head of legal consulting. But he still has a lot of thoughts about how law firms will be continuing to grapple with tech-related challenges in the years to come.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Legaltech News: Based on your experience, what do you think are some of the biggest IT or cyber challenges that firms face today?

Christopher Zegers: Cybersecurity and privacy is the underlying current that is going to move everybody in the right direction. The real important thing is data governance and getting a control over your information, not just because it’s the right thing to do from a cybersecurity and privacy standpoint, but then there’s a lot you can realize once you’ve got normalized data, a lot more information that can be gleaned from it.

Is the enticement of that data enough or do companies need the stick of breach concerns and the GDPR?

Well that’s a very big stick so it’s useful. The other place that they’re going to be threatened with a stick is from their clients. And the big firms have experienced that already with the Fortune 1000 companies. But as everybody starts to get more control over their informational environments I would expect that the smaller companies are going to start asking more of their law firms as well.

It feels like today everybody has a million Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Do you think that has changed the level of vigilance that’s needed from a law firm IT perspective?

I think that we should be going towards sort of the web access cloud model where data only resides in one place and everybody goes there to get it. When they access it like a web page there would be a temporary cache possibly that’s brought down to the local drive if necessary but the more we can get away from having to duplicate email or documents or anything to satisfy the different repositories that people access, the better off we’ll be. We’ve got to get the control back because this data can end up on so many different devices and home computers and it’s all just holes.

How have you seen the approach or role of IT departments evolve at firms over your career?

It’s definitely evolved into a strategic business-relevant conversation about technology where as before it was just about having what everyone else has and making sure that things stay up and running. Security is a lot of the impetus for this clearly. Nobody really worried too much about it in the past and so I think the CIO’s and the leaders of the IT departments have to. Back to the data governance, they have to get more in the weeds about how information is used, why and in what ways.

Lawyers get a rap as being a little bit tech-phobic. Has the relationship between the IT department and the individual lawyers at a firm changed at all?

It has. For me, it all changed with the iPod. When the iPod came out and partners started getting it for birthdays, Christmas, Chanukah, they wanted to grapple with a technology that was going to be fun for them. And that was the first gate that opened for me. ... It took some of their fear away because of the enjoyment and the entertainment factor I think is what really got to them.

Do you think that there’s a technology out there that’s poised to be the biggest disruption to the way firms do business today?

I think that the biggest change is going to be in access to information so its going to be less email and more centralized, curated repositories with easier access for the client. ... AI will clearly help across the board. It will help everybody with legal research, with going through all those volumes of laws and changes to laws. On the business side the firms are going to try to use AI models to predict various activities in the future to aid their market and hiring strategies, how they will serve their clients best and what sectors, industries, and regions will be most profitable.