A Chat With Littler Mendelson Info Chief Durgesh Sharma

In this monthly series, legal recruiting experts Amanda K. Brady and Amy B. Mallow from Major Lindsey & Africa interview law firm management from top Am Law 200 firms about how they are navigating an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.

Next in this series is a conversation with Durgesh Sharma, chief information officer at Littler Mendelson PC.

Durgesh Sharma started his career working with Fortune 500 consulting firms, including Oracle Corp., Hitachi Consulting Corp. and General Electric Co., leading large-scale global CRM and ERP system implementations around the world. Prior to joining Littler Mendelson in March 2016 as chief information officer, he was the CIO at Colliers International Inc., a global commercial real estate services provider.

Q: How have cyber security concerns changed your role as CIO? What steps have you taken to protect the firm against cyber breaches?

Cyber security has become a major priority for all organizations regardless of industry. A few years ago, cyber security, or information security in general, was seen as a basic necessity. But over the last few years, we have seen an increasing number of significant breaches and creative ways in which cyber criminals are getting inside systems. As a result, information security has become one of the top board-level priorities.

At Littler, in addition to investing in security against breaches, we are utilizing our security investment and focus to differentiate the firm from the competition. To that end, we have been working on a number of steps to enhance security for our firm and our clients’ data.

We did a full reorganization of our security team and added staff to help boost our cyber security programs and tools. We also placed a great deal of focus on educating our staff about phishing scams and the importance of keeping a sharp eye on incoming emails that look suspicious.

Littler also places a great deal of focus on internal software development, so we moved toward a secure development operations approach (DEVSECOPS), which includes specific practices and tools that allow us to look at our code as it is being developed and test it to make sure that the code is secure. In addition to building secure applications, we have started implementing a closed security model to secure our client data; this means only those who are working on a particular client matter have access to the client’s information.

Finally, we are selecting and migrating to industry-leading cloud technology platforms that can help improve our security offerings to our clients.

Q: What aspect of your role have you found most challenging?

A: In rolling out new technology projects and systems, building consensus and getting internal buy-in is a key area of focus for my team. We can implement projects pretty rapidly from a technology perspective, but securing buy-in and addressing adoption issues requires leadership from the top. At Littler, we are fortunate to have leaders who understand the importance of investing in technology platforms and solutions. In a constantly evolving legal services market, it is critical that law firms are focused on driving change and reinventing the way they deliver legal services to meet and anticipate the changing needs of clients. Our external clients frequently change their expectations of us, so we need to be agile, and our lawyers can also be more agile when they understand the reasons for proposed changes and technology investments.

Q: How has your role evolved since you joined?

A: When I joined the firm, my focus was mainly on the structure of the internal IT department, reviewing and understanding our current technologies and investments.

Over the last few months, it has shifted to the external side of our business — working with our clients and the products that our clients are using. When we talk to clients, we are offering them innovative products and services, not just our legal expertise. We’re talking to them about technology solutions they’ve never seen before.

Q: How has increased competition in the legal industry impacted your approach to your position?

A: We’re always looking for new ways to grow the firm and differentiate ourselves from the competition. In addition to our traditional legal services, we are developing products and services and creating partnerships with clients who are open to our technological innovations.

Q: What attracted you to the legal industry?

A: Honestly, what attracted me to the legal industry was Littler itself. Littler is an innovative, disruptive firm that invests heavily in technology. When I first met with the leadership of the firm and spoke to them about bringing on a CIO from outside the legal industry, it was immediately clear that they wanted to bring the innovation that is happening outside the legal industry to their firm. That showed a different kind of thinking and was very attractive to me.

We’re starting to see companies like Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. pay attention to what the legal industry requires and create appropriate products and services. This disruption in the legal industry will push some of the noninnovative players into a corner, allowing for larger, more technology-friendly firms to get more market share over the next few years. It’s an exciting time to be working in this industry.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

A: Leadership means a number of things to me. Importantly, leaders need to be able to inspire trust, credibility and confidence, and they need to be able to get things done. That is key to being a successful leader. It’s important for the firm to be confident in my team and know that we can accomplish our goals.

Successful leaders also need to be able to create a vision, strategy and roadmap. They have to have a plan, an idea of where they want to be and a strategy for how to get there, while demonstrating the ability to execute on the plan and providing results year over year.

Leaders must also do the right thing. At Littler, we had to make tough decisions about letting go of some of our old, sacred applications because they were no longer right for us. At times, we ran into resistance, but we figured out a way to do the right thing and stood by the decisions we made.

This article was originally featured on Law360 April 13th 2018.


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