In the wake of a string of hacks into law firms, Blank Rome has hired Faegre Baker Daniels’ former IT head, Andrea Markstrom, as its new chief information officer.
Markstrom said her number one priority in her new role is data security although she’s responsible for overseeing all technology initiatives at the firm.
“I only see the security side of our budget increasing,” said Markstrom. “The bad guys are being more and more creative in terms of how they can access our data or how they can get to our data.”
The past month alone saw a ransomware attack against DLA Piper, which knocked out most of the firm’s phones and computers for a day, as well as insider trading charges brought against the husband of a Linklaters associate who is accused of trading on information he gleaned from her work at the firm.
Markstrom cut her teeth in the field managing technology infrastructure for all of Target’s retail locations. She departed in 2005 and later joined Faegre Baker as its director of information technology.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Big Law Business: You’ve worked in information technology and security in two widely different industries: retail and law firms. How do they differ?
Markstrom: Frankly, they were quite similar. We were concerned about the same pieces of information. Where it differs from retail, when you’re working in a corporate environment, you’re protecting corporate data. In a law firm you’re protecting not only the firm’s, but client data. But at the end of the day we’re focused on and concerned about the same technologies and the same information, and from an infrastructure standpoint, we want to run the technology department like we would run an enterprise. Both environments are focused on providing stable and reliable technology solutions that meet the client’s needs, protecting the organization’s information, and operating an efficiently-run technology organization with a priority of providing excellent customer service.
Along those lines we need to make sure we’ve got similar infrastructure, similar design and architecture, focused on running our law firm technology department much like an enterprise.
With that, I would say, what can we bring? What [Outgoing CIO] Larry [Liss] has done here at Blank Rome and what I will continue to do is to make sure we continue the process development and discipline and rigor with which we run our IT operations.
BLB: Where do you see things headed for legal tech and what technologies are you looking to implement at Blank Rome?
Markstrom: Our focus area needs to be not only on the mobile workforce, that they can access information at any point in time, but also that we’re providing tools so they can be collaborative internally and with their clients. It’s really focused on not only what can we do from a compute standpoint but also from an applications standpoint. What can we do to get information to the tips of our fingertips?
A few of the specific technologies that we will be evaluating fall under the collaboration and artificial intelligence or machine learning categories. Also, we are focusing on implementing workflow and automation technologies to streamline and improve day to day work processes.
The other piece we’re taking a look at is the amount of data we’ve got in-house and how can we assimilate it and analyse it so we can make some better business decisions, provide predictions and see patterns. Ultimately so we can cull data down and provide information faster for our clients.
BLB: Are you looking at any new types of technologies?
Markstrom: I would take a look at how can we provide great service to our clients, and with that it’s partnering internally with my firm’s leadership and practice group leaders to understand what needs their clients have and how can we provide that information and that service faster? How can we beat our competition, essentially. How can we be the best law firm that suits their needs. That ranges from a wide variety of technologies, like automation, workflow, process management, a number of technologies that are going to the cloud. Any technologies that allow lawyers to be mobile and work anytime they need to be.
With technologies in the cloud, we will always be focused number one on security. We are currently using cloud technology for some of our marketing, HR and finance systems. We will continue to evaluate SAAS providers and cloud technology and implement it in areas that it makes sense.
BLB: What are the top cyber security challenges for law firms right now?
Markstrom: I would say really two things. One is to make sure we’ve got the right tools in place that we can protect our firm and client’s data. You’ll hear the term defense and depth, but it’s even more than that. It’s defense at all levels, everywhere you look. We have to be ever vigilant, continually monitoring.
We have to be creative at educating our lawyers. Phishing attacks are on the rise, ransomware attacks are on the rise. [We do] whatever we can do to raise awareness and educate our firm. Any information, be it an email, a document, even a telephone call, a video conference, can be hacked. How can we be aware and smart about how we are sending information and communicating information and protecting data?
From an investment standpoint, looking at our budget, I only see the security side of our budget increasing. The bad guys are being more and more creative in terms of how they can access our data or how they can get to our data.
BLB: Lawyers and law firms sometimes have a bad reputation of being behind the curve when it comes to new technology. Have you found this is the case?
Markstrom: As far as a different demographics within our staff, I don’t find that. They’re very open to listening and learning, specifically in light of the front pages of the newspaper. Any day you open the newspaper and there’s going to be a security breach, that’s noted. People are very aware and I haven’t found that we’ve had any issues with any demographic in terms of education. As soon as we find out something that’s going on, we’ll share that with the firm so that they’re aware.
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