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Have some unbillable hours? Make time for IT education and training

Will the economic recession result in an uptick in IT education and training? That seems to be the case at some high-powered New York law firms, where attorneys with unbillable hours on their hands are showing an increased interest in how their IT systems work.

Karen Levy, director of global technology for Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, said that getting face time with the law firm rainmakers is a perennial challenge. They were too busy jetting around the world to talk to you, said Levy, a panelist at the Chief Information and Technology Officers Forum in New York this week.

Recently, Levy’s trainers were asked to do a presentation on Excel at a small subpractice group luncheon they assumed would be attended by junior associates.

“There were 25 partners in the room,” she said, adding, “which gave me a stomachache.” But the sea change gives CIOs an opening.

“I think for the past 15 years at these conferences we have had multiple sessions talking about how challenging it has been to get good training to our lawyers, who are so busy billing hours that it is actually too expensive for us to train them, because there is such opportunity costs,” she said.

“We now have this window of opportunity where they have a little more time, they want to be busy and we can tailor some training classes and keep their professional development going in the period of the downturn,” she said. Her team is developing specific IT education and training for the firm’s lawyers, as a result.

The flip side of that, chimed in Peter Lesser, director of global technology at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, is that because the attorneys are less busy, “they call us more.”

His team is seeing an uptick in the number of calls to the call center. “People have so much spare time. If I was to do the math on the number of hours I’ve spent with our technology committee members, in the past eight weeks the hours have gone up tremendously, because even some of those partners are just less busy and they are trying to find ways to fill their time,” Lesser said, adding that it is incumbent on CIOs to take advantage of that time to educate their customers and build stronger relationships with power brokers.

“We have an opportunity to get in front of people that it was hard to get to before,” Lesser said.

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