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Work can get you down, not to mention out, especially if you’re in charge of technology at a large firm. The average life expectancy is about three years, according to AmLaw Tech’s informal survey. In the last year, for example, the top technology and knowledge directors of Chicago’s Baker & McKenzie; Dallas and Washington, D.C.’s Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; and New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell have moved on. The departed complain that nonlawyers hit a silicon ceiling at firms. Take Steven Marks. In January he left New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett after a year and a half as CIO to join Aspire.net Managed Systems Inc., an out-sourcer. He says he saw no potential to become a business leader within large law firms. The only way to build a career, says Sally Gonzalez, former CIO of Akin Gump, is to hop from firm to firm and venture into consulting and back. Gonzalez took her own advice. She’s now at Hildebrandt International Inc., and previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers. CIOs say they are rarely invited onto the key policy and strategy committees of firms. There are exceptions, of course, such as Steven Agnoli at Pittsburgh’s Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and Brian Collins of London’s Clifford Chance. Lawyers also operate in turtle time. “Whenever you have a good idea in a law firm, it’s going to take [the lawyers] three to four years to move on it aggressively,” says William Schiefelbien, ex-CIO of Minneapolis’ Dorsey & Whitney, who left for an online university. Schiefelbien thought he was hired as a strategist but spent his days as a janitor qua trainer. “They want to know how to do something from a Palm Pilot in Bangladesh standing on their head,” he says. “If the lawyers didn’t have the newest toy on their desks we had hell to pay,” says Gus Zavos, who left his job as head of technology at Sullivan & Cromwell to become the global head of technical services for Pinnacle Alliance, another out-sourcing firm. Gonzalez agrees: “No one says thank you.” Although CIOs themselves make good money, their staffs often do not. Hours for the staff are often long, and turnover is high. “It can be demoralizing to be constantly rebuilding staff,” says Gonzalez. Turnover at the top has been especially heavy the past year, as technology chiefs wrapped up their Y2K projects. “People were hanging on to positions until 2000, and then they decided to do something different,” says Stanley Wasylyk, who left Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. He is now a consultant at Hildebrandt, where maybe firm partners will finally listen to him.

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