ACEDS Interview: Randi Mayes, the "Mother of ILTA"
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Posted by: Jason Krause
As hundreds of lawyers and legal professionals will meet for the annual ILTACon in Washington, DC, they may not realize they are witnessing the end of an era. ILTA, the International Legal Technology Association, has become a leading association for law firm technologists. However, the association will soon be without its long-serving executive director, Randi Mayes, who will step down from her position in 2017. Known as the "Mother of ILTA", she has guided the organization from humble roots to worldwide prominence. We talked to Randi about her decision to step down, where the organization is headed, and how an informal group of law firm support staff became an international force for change.
How did you get started in this career? What inspired you to get involved with this organization in the beginning?
My beginning is the organization’s beginning, as I am one of the founders. We were a group of law firm employees, generally the administrative staffers or executive directors, from around the country. Our firms had just made a major investment in computerization of our accounting functions (we didn’t call it “technology” then), and we were having lots of difficulties. We were in communication with each other and created a two-day meeting in Phoenix Arizona, primarily to meet with the software vendor and work toward resolution of our problems.
Following that first meeting in 1980, we carried on with regular meetings, usually informally, until 1985 with the incorporation of the organization. Very much as we are today, we were law firm professionals coming together as peers to share ideas and solve problems.
Was there a name? Was ILTA called something else in those early days?
Yes, we were the PSS Users Group, which related to the name of the accounting software product. By the time we incorporated in 1985, that product had already been bought and sold a couple of times. Wang had taken ownership, and it ran on the Wang VS computing platform. We were the VS Legal Users Group (VSLUG).
I want to take you back in time to that era. This was the first time law firms were spending huge amounts of money on computer systems and the software was quite buggy; there were hundreds of issues. Many of our meetings with the vendor focused on prioritizing bug lists or working through support agreements. We even created agreements for the sharing of source code if the software vendor had a catastrophic failure.
We were helping drive the development of the product. The modern equivalent is a client advisory team; I’m sure e-discovery vendors have advisory teams within their client base. That’s precisely what this group was doing. And all that while, we continued to expand our member base, network, share our successes and support each other with difficult issues.
Did you anticipate going from a small user group to a broad-based, international organization?
Not really. When we were entrenched in the Wang arena, we certainly hoped for Wang’s continued growth and success, and we felt our growth path would be parallel. But the world changes, and like any organization that grows and changes over time, there are many inflection points. Inflection points can be painful, and the organization had to make serious decisions along the way. We’ve had great volunteer service from our many boards of directors to guide us.
There was a very big inflection point that really put us on the path to where we are today. I take you back to the early 90’s; law firms were moving away from Wang “centralized word processing” to local area networks and personal computers. The organization followed its members as they embraced that change in computing platforms. We place service to our members above all else, and by supporting their changing needs, we changed to LawNet and shifted our focus from Wang to the network environment. You can well imagine the world of new technology that was opening up, and we supported our members through those changes and challenges.
Our growth across all the years has largely come about because our members and sponsors have told other people about us. Our growth has been organic.
Why is technology and the law such a complicated area to navigate? Lawyers have a reputation as technology laggards. Why do you suppose that is?
I don’t want to broadly lump millions of attorneys into the same bucket, and I see two very different ends of the spectrum and numerous points between. The practice of law is steeped in tradition, with deep roots and noble purposes, and we see those traditions at one end of the spectrum. But at the other end there are influencers and forward thinkers driving change. It’s popular to call much of that change “disruptive technology.” For most lawyers, I think the truth sits somewhere in between. Within ILTA, I’m able to access the ideas of so many thought leaders, but I also see how slowly firms are able to adapt to change. One of the intrinsic difficulties with driving change within law firms, especially if we’re talking about cultural and technological change, is that many traditionalists sit on “innovation” teams. It’s oxymoronic, in a sense.
I know ACEDS and the e-discovery space is one of the important, innovative areas of the law, and the practice of it has changed litigation support practice forever. There were traditionalists who resisted that change, but the change has happened. I know in many areas lawyers are infamous for being laggards, but that’s not necessarily an accurate portrait.
What are the most important successes of your time at ILTA?
I think our most abiding success is that we are very adaptive to change. At any inflection point, we’ve recognized our members are changing, and we’ve responded appropriately to those changes. Even as we’ve grown larger in our size and scope, we’ve tried to maintain a culture that is adaptable, fun and open to new ideas. I don’t think anyone would find ILTA stodgy or unapproachable.
Our members and vendors have been generous in sharing their experience and expertise; and we celebrate our culture of respect for each other. We want to be a part of every member’s success and growth.
I know people talk a lot about change over time, but what has remained the same during your tenure?
Well, I’ve been around for a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of change. I’ve had my ILTA gig for a couple of decades, and I’m often surprised when I read or hear about some issue in a law firm, and I think, “Gee, sounds just like what I was experiencing 30 years ago.” What hasn’t changed is the view of the practice of law as a noble profession, and that the traditional practices, like time entry, are still a critical component. You would think that with all of the technology and pressure from clients to change, that things would be different, but many things aren’t. You still hear about the same frustrations and challenges.
So why leave now?
It really is a retirement, and I hope to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to more time with my grandchildren and lots of simple pleasures. I don’t have any big plans, but I have lots of little plans.
I am leaving at a point where we have a solid structure to nurture the next generation of leadership, to see our programming content evolve and flourish. I am thrilled to have witnessed many of our professionals involved at the executive level in areas all across the law firm. I know my successor will be walking into a great opportunity, supported by passionate volunteer leadership and the most remarkable staff anyone could imagine. We are still feeling our way around our international expansion, and the organization will have to make some big decisions there and the ever-present challenges of managing growth. This is an exciting time.