Law Technology News:


How to Rent a CIO


By Jo Haraf

THERE you were -- content with your firm's technology, comfortable that things were running well. You were almost smug with confidence. And then it happened -- the big thing. The big thing is something so far out of the ordinary that your current in-house resources can't support it while maintaining their current duties. Big things might include:

  • Opening, merging or moving an office.
  • Realizing that DOS isn't the operating system of the future.
  • Waving good-bye to your head of technology as they take their lottery winnings to Tahiti.
  • Seeing a large software vendor's audit team in your lobby.
These conditions and their close cousins require that you do something out of the ordinary. You need to call in the armed forces and not just the infantry either, you need the big guns, you need to call (drum roll, please) "Rent-a-CIO." What follows are hints to help you unearth the right short-term technology guru to move your office, revamp your desktop infrastructure, fill-in for your M.I.A. head of technology and deal with that software audit team before Mike Wallace and the 60 Minutes team hear about your problems.

1. Where do you find them?

Just like parking places in the city, spare CIOs are never handy when you need them. Here are some places to start looking for candidates:
  • Consulting firms of all sizes and qualifications will be delighted to help.
  • Your accounting firm may have ideas-- probably their own staff.
  • Trusted colleagues at other law firms can share their good and bad experiences.
  • Your trade association, including the American Bar Association or LawNet, are great places for references.
  • The binder from that last legal conference you attended.
The Internet is a place to start but while "Rent-A-CIO" found 139 hits, "CIO." reaches 924,000 Web pages, "CTO." finds 288,000 hits and "Technology Director" locates a mere 26,200 relevant pages. A bit more selective search for "technology consulting legal {your city here}" might narrow the field to under 10,000 -- if you're lucky.

2. What to look for in your rental.

Test your rental CIO's cultural pulse. In general, your match should be outgoing, hands-on, comfortable in new situations, great oral and written communications skills, have experience that's balanced between business and technology and above all, they should have a strong focus on accomplishing your goals, not theirs. In short, poised professionals are best; thrill seekers polishing their resumes at your expense need not apply.

How about legal experience? That depends if you are installing a new local area network, legal experience doesn't mean a thing. A packet of data doesn't know if it carries a legal brief or a pair of cotton briefs. However, if you are looking for a new conflicts system, you'd best find someone who knows that a conflict goes beyond reports of gunfire on the evening news.

Most rental CIOs charge by the hour and you should expect rates from $100 to $250/hour. That can get pricey over time, especially with modest scope creep on their assignments. Consider negotiating a fixed fee for your project. A limited pile of money can focus your contractor's time. If you are hiring for a long-term effort, consider an annualized salary. $100,000 to $400,000 is not uncommon for longer term expert help.

3. How to get rid of them.

Anticipate your consultant's departure before they start. Include a "technology transfer" clause in your contract to make sure your team learns the new systems during implementation. Most rental CIOs aren't looking for a full-time position. They are the technology equivalent of a M.A.S.H. unit come in quick, fix the problems, move on. Just be sure they don't leave before they train your team on the new tools.

If you're lucky enough to find a good consultant, you will develop a never-ending stream of projects for them to accomplish. That's great if a full time person at a high annual salary is what you had in mind.

One of the best ways to keep your consultant focused is to have a clear written understanding of the project. Make sure they understand that you will only pay for efforts that contribute to reaching the stated goal. Now, if you want to add new projects to the original contract, go for it. Just make sure that you clearly authorize each new effort. It's all too easy for your casual comment that "it would be really nice to have four-digit dialing among all our offices" to turn into an expensive and time-consuming mission.

A sure-fire way to get rid of your rental CIO is to assign a fixed fee project to find their own replacement. Don't forget to add a little overlap time to jumpstart your new person. It's all part of a solid plan for technology transfer.

Finally, best wishes to you and your Rent-a-CIO for a short, mutually rewarding experience!


Jo M. Haraf is chief technology officer at Morrison Foerster L.L.P. (and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board).



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