Gillian Power is the Chief Information Officer at Lathrop GPM. In her role, Gillian is responsible for aligning the strategic direction of the firm’s technology, information governance and management and information services. She serves on the firm’s enterprise risk management committee and culture diversity and inclusion committee. Gillian is an active member of the legal technology community, having served for five years as a committee member, including two as a thought leader for the annual International Legal Technology Association conference.
The views expressed in this interview are those of our guest as an individual and do not reflect the views of Lathrop GPM.
ZERØ: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and the firm?
Gillian: I get asked by many people in the United States about where my accent is from. For those who are listening to this and wondering why they can’t place it, it’s because I grew up in South Africa and spent some time living in London but had an Irish father and don’t have anything that is easily labeled as a particular accent. I’ve lived in the United States for close to 20 years now, and I’ve been working in the technology space and the legal technology space for nearly 20 years. And I cut my teeth originally at Dentons in London and started at the bottom, working on the Service Desk at nighttime and progressed in my career to my current position of CIO.
I’m also exceptionally passionate about equity, diversity, and inclusion; largely as it has informed my identity as a transgender woman, someone who came out in a leadership role and have continued to be publicly out and using my success and privilege to create space for other people in an area where there isn’t necessarily space for people like me. This permeates a lot of my thinking, and it’s a very powerful lens through which I see Leadership challenges and opportunities.
With respect to the firm, Lathrop GPM was formed in January 2020 as the combination of Lathrop Gage and Gray Plant Moody. Both firms have a very long history in the Midwest and beyond, and they came together to r form a very strong and wonderful combination. I would say that, for any of my peers and folks who have worked in law firm technology, they’ll know that a merger of two large firms is by itself a substantial undertaking for people working in the technology and the technical space. And then we were thrown probably one of the most historic curveballs that one could even contemplate. And I’m extremely proud of the team of people that I have the honor of leading, who mobilized on a dime and did everything needed in order to move the firm to a fully remote experience, which has been very successful. And it’s really, in the words of our CEO, has probably helped save lives. It’s not often, as technologists, that we get credited for saving lives, but it is probably statistically accurate to describe it that way.
But for us, as technologists, this just accelerated many of the things that we had already made investments. And so, while it was very pressured, it was well within our wheelhouse to go ahead and put in place and scale up all the technologies that support a workforce that now works wherever they are, as opposed to having to be localized on an office. It’s definitely something that will go down for myself and for many of our peers as defining moments in our careers when we look back.
ZERØ: Before we dive into the topic of diversity and inclusion, I’d like to discuss your experience with facilitating a merger during a global pandemic!
Gillian: We’re dealing with unprecedented times. There is no effective separation between the personal and the business. I argue that it’s never truly existed, but I still remember the old days when you had to call in and be screened by the reception Now, there are no boundaries, and I think COVID has accelerated change on all levels. We’re still making sense of the implications of that. There’s nothing that prepares you to lead, in an emergent situation, in a pandemic, other than preparing for it. And what I mean by that is having a team of people who are highly competent, who are agile in the way that they operate, and who operate at high trust, is the key. But that type of preparation is foundational for any challenge. It’s the type of preparation that prepares you for things that you can’t plan for. Because within that context, you tap the creative resources and the and the and the abilities of people to mobilize around whatever the problem is that that is presented. Those are the investments that I believe we should be making, irrespective of what the planning is. When I saw firsthand how that played out with people that that did not have to be coerced, or forced to put in the hours necessary to, to do a merger and then turn around and respond to a pandemic because the people just inherently knew that they themselves knew that they were cared about in the work that they were doing. And it’s a wonderful thing to behold, and it’s the same old adage, right? It’s, it’s the strength of the team that carries the day, irrespective of the challenges that come. And it’s wonderful from a leadership point of view to see that those fundamentals play out even in extreme circumstances. And that makes me very happy.
ZERØ: What do you think law firms generally need to do more of to drive efficiency in the delivery of legal services and during these times, but beyond that, and what are things that they should stop doing?
Gillian: I think businesses, in general, have their control point efforts in the wrong place. What I mean by that is measuring the control points at the inputs, as opposed to measuring the outputs, is the fundamental shift that we’re being forced into here. So, to put some framing on that, requiring rigid office hours of employees is controlling for input: saying to people, “Thou shall be in the office these days of the week between these times,” and “You shall be at your desk between these and these times.” And you shall only step away to have a meal or to use the bathroom at these times, right? This pandemic recognizes the foolishness of this method. For instance, people who have care responsibilities in their lives need to be a lot more creative about when they work and how they work. And what most people have been saying to businesses is measure me by my output, and don’t measure me on the input. It is far more efficient, to be concerned about the outputs than to control the inputs. Right? It’s a very fundamental shift that has implications for the way that we have traditionally worked. What the market has been telling law firms for the longest time is that clients don’t like the billable hour and that the billable hour is a poor proxy for the value of the services that they receive. What they care about is the most efficient risk management that lawyers can deliver to them. But the industry has a business model that struggles with finding other ways to demonstrate value. And just as we’re seeing a shift in the way that individual people are being measured on their value, now, so too, will just accelerate the shift towards measuring outcome-based value. And this is going to accelerate the shift, and it’s going to feel seismic to a lot of people. As a technology leader, I often think about how to support that and how to encourage it.
ZERØ: Can you tell us about your work on D&I within the legal sector?
Gillian: Last year, Joy Heath Rush, the CEO of ILTA, reached out to me and said, “We want to form a diversity inclusion task force because ILTA is choosing to have her chosen to add diversity and inclusion as one of its central operating pillars.” Joy and I have known each other for a very long time. And as I jokingly but truthfully have said, “When Joy asks you, you say yes,” because it’s a joy to work with her (no pun intended). I’ve often railed against the lack of diversity within technology and legal technology that there’s a lot of really bad structural problems with you know, within it’s there that you know, the culture can be very exclusionary to minorities to women, and to gender and sexual minorities.
With any technology problem that we might encounter, there are more solutions than most people on a team can conceive of. The worst outcome for me as a CIO is to keep solving the same problems in the same way, because the intrinsic business value of any particular solution to a problem tends to diminish over time. So if you keep solving a problem, in the same way, every time, you’re actually taking value out of the business, and what I’ve observed in my time managing and leading people is that teams that are less diverse tend to promote far more homogenous answers to problems. This has a tendency to drive innovation out of the problem-solving process. So doing everything you can to build diverse teams, where people feel included with it, where they have a real sense of inclusivity about their position and their opinion, where difference is respected and honored, has a direct correlation with the quality of the solutions and the outcomes that people have. It also gets rid of groupthink and it also gets rid of the suppression of ideas because no one has a lock on insight. Insight is a fundamental human gift that everyone has. So if your culture tends to exclude opportunities for insight, your results over time are going to be fundamentally suboptimal. This is the business reason, and the one I like to lead with.
Even more important is ultimately the moral reason, which is not unrelated to the business reason. When you indicate that you substantively care about diversity, that you substantively care about the work of improving inclusivity and raising equity, people realize that it’s not just about the transaction of running a business. It is about a set of standards and a set of moral imperatives that inspire people and produces engagement and alignment in what people do. Now the challenge is that you have to manage through some of the discomforts because people tend to want to gravitate to people that are like them or think like them because it’s easier. It’s easy, but in a business context, doesn’t stretch people. Right. It doesn’t, it doesn’t cause them to, to step outside of themselves and really listen to the perspectives that other people have. or from a leadership point of view, you have to model that. You have to say, as, as I’ve said before, you have to disrupt the flow of bias. And you have to show people that that difference is valued, differences of opinion and differences of expression are valued. And that ultimately, from a business point of view, what you care about is insight. What you care about is creativity. What you care about is curiosity. What you care about is innovation. And nobody has a lock on those. Everyone has access to them, but they have to be given the space to be able to manifest them in the work that they do.
ZERØ: How do you address the importance of D&I to someone at a law firm who really doesn’t seem to understand its value?
Gillian: In my firm, I don’t have to. I’m incredibly proud to say that so I don’t know how I would actually answer that if I was confronted with it. I would certainly try and argue the business case, and then if the business case wasn’t listened to, I’d still influence my own hiring practices, because it’s just so fundamental.
But I’m incredibly proud of my firm because we have a CEO and leadership who are all actively and demonstrably engaged in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s really part of the DNA of how we function. I saw this personally when I came out. At the time, I had colossal fear; there is no other word to describe it. There was no precedent for what I did when I came out in 2014. I certainly had done my research and found a handful of attorneys in some New York firms who had come out, along with examples of their coming out letters, but there was zero template from an administrative leadership point of view. It’s also not really something you can test. It becomes a leap of faith in a certain sense. But the day that my coming out letter went to the firm, my mailbox blew up with an outpouring of kindness, support, and genuine sharing. That gives me so much encouragement.
I also want to address the recent Supreme Court decision, which affirmed that discrimination on the basis of sexual expression or gender identity is considered discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII. It’s a huge relief for many people. In effect, I waited for a long time to come out because I felt that I needed a lot of political capital. But hiding one’s gender identity and sexual orientation is an incredibly expensive thing to do personally. It fractures your ability to function in the world. So knowing that employees are legally protected in all fifty states will allow people to move on with their lives and live them more authentically without needing to wait until they feel like they have enough sufficient political capital to be themselves.
ZERØ: It must have been very difficult to live this double life. No one should have to do that.
Gillian: Yes. and from a leadership capacity point of view, it’s really expensive. When your cognitive processing is being mediated through thinking about who you are and how you need to present, and you’re constantly living in translation, it becomes very inefficient and expensive.
ZERØ: I like the way you phrased that. Businesses often think about initiatives and policies in terms of costs, but there are many hidden costs that seriously impact the business. Mental health and burnout are two of those problems that have a massive impact on law firms, but it’s like if you can’t see it on a financial statement, it doesn’t exist.
Gillian: You actually can, but you need to be intentional about measuring it. Burned out associates represent a loss of a big investment, which is very expensive. And in the technology space, that burnout is not just expensive, it’s dangerous. Because when people who have system access make mistakes, it can be very expensive for the business. Managing and measuring burnout is very important. It’s very challenging in this remote working situation because you need to really listen to how people are day-to-day to be able to see when someone is at capacity or beyond their capacity because the odds are at minimum is going to take them longer to solve problems. In a worst-case scenario, they’ll make an error in a configuration and cause some kind of outage, and then you can spend days cleaning it up. But apart from that, do you really want to be that boss? Do you really want to be that person that doesn’t care? All right. I mean, some people do, and they ultimately need to live with themselves.
ZERØ: What do you want to see in the next generation of lawyers?
Gillian: I think it’s important for more lawyers to understand and engage with technology during their education, even if they’re taking electives along the way that gives them some exposure. If they can’t do that, then reading and thinking about the way that technology can increase the value that they bring and understanding how value is actually produced within legal services. They should think about what they can do and the skills that they can gain that will increase that value. Invariably, a lot of the time, it’s technology or the application of technology that will increase their value. Relevant skills may include applied statistical skills or even learning some Python or understanding some of the fundamentals of AI and machine learning. These skills are increasingly central to the delivery of many legal services. But even more fundamental skills, like knowing how to format documents in Word, are useful as well. It’s so easy to learn these days.
ZERØ: What do you think will characterize the law firms of the future?
Gillian: It’s a big landscape, and I will come right back to the fundamentals. In my view, the practice of law is a very sophisticated application of the practice of risk management. Risk management is an incredibly large domain, and firms need to develop a lot of tools to aid in predictive risk management and get better at understanding and predicting risk. The clients of law firms at the end of the day are essentially buying risk management labeled as legal services. If you can shift your frame of reference and say, what does it mean to apply risk management to the delivery of legal services, I think that is the true north.
I am trying to approach this with a bent towards technology. The systems of predictive risk management are becoming so sophisticated and so accurate, and there is increasingly a shift towards the delivery of a legal product that is made up of products and services. I don’t want to diminish the service aspect, but ultimately, law firms need to create a product that empowers their clients to better manage risk within their portfolios. It’s not rocket science.