Tech Landlords and Innovation Tenants: Navigating the Dynamic Relationship Between Law Firm IT and KM&I Teams 

Written by Amy Monaghan

I recently heard of the relationship between law firm IT and KM & Innovation teams as akin to a landlord-tenant arrangement. IT serves as the landlord for the infrastructure that houses important KM&I efforts.

Historically, law firm IT professionals were the experts on all things tech—servers, networks, software development, and data. Now, the lines are blurred between the roles of IT and other functional departments within firms, particularly KM and Innovation teams. 

Navigating Leadership Dynamics 

Ideally, law firm IT leaders are collaborating with KM&I leaders to figure out how to make progress for the benefit of the firm. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Professional services firms are typically challenging environments from a strategic leadership perspective because these are highly matrixed environments where relationships dictate strategic priorities. This leads to less clear lines of authority and scope of control and more ambiguous roles with blurred lines of function. This also means the onus is on the functional leaders of IT and KM&I to figure out together how they will work together and what they need from each other.  

IT: Don’t Be a Slumlord 

To foster a harmonious relationship, IT must refrain from adopting a “slumlord” mentality. This entails avoiding the temptation to burden KM&I with tasks beyond their expertise out of spite or disrespect. Instead, IT should prioritize support, addressing infrastructure needs promptly and effectively. Neglecting these needs is akin to allowing broken pipes, mold, holes in the roof, and rodents persist and giving your tenant a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels so that they can address the problem themselves. Such neglect not only undermines the effectiveness of KM&I initiatives but also tarnishes IT’s reputation as a reliable steward of technological resources. 

House Rules

  • Provide a habitable environment. Don’t saddle KM&I with things they are not appropriately situated to do in the name of spite or disrespect. 
  • Stay on top of repairs. Do not ignore the needs for infrastructure improvements. 
  • Don’t be controlling. Do not exert control over all things tech, even data, and be a poor steward because you don’t actually have the requisite 360 expertise to truly “own” it all. Don’t be a protectionist to a harmful degree! 
  • Support and collaborate rather than sabotage! 

KM&I: Be A Responsible Tenant 

On the other hand, KM&I teams must uphold their end of the partnership by being responsible tenants. This involves paying their “rent” on time, i.e., utilizing IT resources effectively and efficiently, and not bombarding IT teams with priorities unimportant to the firm. Additionally, KM&I should refrain from disruptive behavior, such as hosting raucous parties that disrupt the peace of the firm. At least invite IT to the parties! Timely communication regarding issues or concerns is crucial, allowing IT to address problems before they escalate. Work proactively with IT to collaborate and strategize on how to get important efforts off the ground and operational. By working as a team and fostering open communication, KM&I can enhance the overall effectiveness of the firm’s operations while bolstering its internal reputation. 

House Rules:

  • Don’t be a crappy tenant! Be respectful of IT’s boundaries.  
  • Pay your rent on time. Find ways to minimize IT’s burden and methodically map out only the critical elements you need their involvement with.  
  • Speak up when there are issues – don’t let problems linger and build up. Have an open dialog about what’s working and what’s not. Strategize together how to move forward.  
  • Communicate regularly with IT leaders on what’s in your pipeline and what projects you will be undertaking. Include them in planning discussions early on so that they have context for what’s needed.  

The Importance of Collaboration 

At the heart of successful collaboration between IT and KM&I lies the cultivation of trusting, collaborative, and sustainable relationships. As leaders of these teams, it is incumbent upon IT and KM&I leaders to prioritize relationship-building efforts. By fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding, they can lay the groundwork for innovation and excellence within the firm. Ultimately, the success of IT-KM&I collaboration hinges on the strength of these relationships and the commitment of both parties to work together towards a common goal. 

Comments are closed.