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2020 Unsung Legal Heroes: Information Technology

Ayyoub Ajmi

Associate Director of the Leon E. Bloch Law Library, Director of Digital Communications and Learning Initiatives

University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law

Ayyoub AjmiForgot any notion of a quiet librarian blending into the background. At the UMKC School of Law, Ayyoub Ajmi is no less than the “technological heart” of the school, in one admirer’s words.

His nominator calls him “a key player in the university’s collaborative efforts to address critical policy issues at the intersection of law, technology and public policy.”

He combines the “best of librarian, technologist, education and legal skills into one humble and effective leader,” his nominator added. And if that weren’t enough, the native of Morocco, (who’s fluent in four languages) is also studying for his J.D. at UMKC, Class of ’21.

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

In normal circumstances, I help to oversee the library physical plant, ensuring its support of the library’s pedagogical, research and service goals. Nowadays, it’s an exclusively online role.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

With the assistance of colleagues and the support of our amazing volunteers (students and working lawyers), we managed to keep our self-help clinic fully operational online. After closing our library to the public, we couldn’t let down our patrons in a time where they need legal help the most.  We took what we learned from the self-help clinic and applied it again to the Kansas City Youth Court, which is now able to conduct remote hearings and securely manage documents online.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

The reality is that the legal field chose me. After I moved to this country in 2007 from my native Morocco, I had no plan on returning to school, let alone work in the legal field.

But after earning a master’s degree in library science in 2013, I was invited to the UMKC law school for a job interview. I had an opportunity to talk to faculty, staff, students, and learn more about the opportunities in legal field. And I loved the cordiality and the get-things-done attitude at the law school.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the opportunity to work on impactful projects with our community and partners. I also enjoy engaging our students in access to justice initiatives early on their legal careers

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Always do more than you get paid for. It’s hard not to work more when you love what you do.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I played the lottery once in my life. I won a green card to come to this beautiful country.

Curt Beebe 

Director of Network Operations

Stinson

Curt Beebe Anyone who’s felt the helplessness of a crashed laptop on deadline knows the value of a reliable IT administrator. Now multiple the stakes when it comes to shifting a law firm with 500 attorneys in 13 offices to work-from-home status amid a global pandemic.

“In a stressful and often uncertain time, Curt’s work made the transition so much easier,” his nominator said. “He has put in long days, late nights and weekends to ensure that our network runs smoothly and has shown immense dedication and leadership to his team. “

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

I lead the development and management of the firm’s technology infrastructure, communications and audiovisual environment to provide the most effective technical operations to support the firm’s strategic goals. I oversee three talented teams within the information security department. There’s never a dull moment.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

My favorite project with the firm was leading the technical aspects of our Minneapolis office move, a large project that encompassed infrastructure design, build-out and equipment relocation (during a weekend) as part of a merger of two large firms.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

I’ve been in the IT field for more than 20 years and had the opportunity to work in a variety of industries, including higher education, engineering, pharmaceutical robotics and global e-commerce. When the opportunity to work at a law firm emerged, I looked at it as another chance to learn a new business model.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is seeing the teams that I lead develop and grow professionally.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Through the years I’ve been given both good advice and bad. The advice that resonates with me the most is this; “If you’re not willing to risk your job, then you’re not truly doing your job.” I took this advice to mean, don’t hesitate to take risks, and continue to push myself to be better.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I enjoy writing songs and playing the guitar.

Allen Darrah

Head of Information Technology

Spencer Fane

Allen DarrahKeeping a law office running amid a global pandemic is no task for the faint of heart. And when your firm has 19 offices and more than 300 attorneys? Commence Project Exodus.

At Spencer Fane, IT head Allen Darrah shepherded the transition to work from home, with each lawyer receiving their own Office-in-a-Box assembled by Darrah and his team.

Darrah, who holds a graduate degree in executive technology management from Columbia University, was ready for the challenge. As a colleague wrote in his nomination, “His vision and preparation in dealing with an evolving global crisis set him apart from his peers during this challenging time.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

As the head of IT, I act as the firm’s chief information officer and chief information security officer.  Our IT group includes the service desk, IT and network operations, cybersecurity, and training and development.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

At Spencer Fane, IT directly impacts the firm’s competitive advantage through how we enable the business to meet its goals. These include unparalleled client service with sustainable but rapid growth. We do this with cutting-edge technologies in global connectivity and a relentless focus on speed to service. Internally, our IT group offers thought leadership on cybersecurity, privacy and enterprise risk management.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

I was originally headed to law school. During my first undergraduate program, I participated in pre-law as a philosophy major. I went into tech consulting as a side gig and to pay tuition. I enjoyed the engineering and ingenuity required in complex problem solving, not to mention getting to architect technology solutions for a diverse customer base. After college, I spent 10 years in health IT. I was excited when a recruiter reached out about the position at Spencer Fane. It was an opportunity to captain my own ship as the senior IT leader. It also was an opportunity to finally work in law.

What is the best part of your job?

The level of intellect in the industry has always ranked extremely high for me. But hands down, it’s the colleagues here, both in my department and across the firm.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

When I worked in health care, the executive vice president and chief medical officer kicked off new-employee orientation. All employees were told the following, and it set the tone for everyone’s employment in patient care: “What you do here may save or may end lives. You will make mistakes. You must own them. The only mistake we will never tolerate is the one you try to keep secret.” That’s good advice in any setting and sets one up for a lifetime of candor and transparency.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I’m not sure if it would be a surprise, as I use the skills daily, but I was a national champion in college debate.

Tim Heilwagner

IT Director

Brown & Crouppen

Tim HeilwagnerAt many businesses, the shift to remote work was temporary, a stopgap measure until offices could safely reopen. Elsewhere, at firms including Brown & Crouppen, the move could herald a more permanent shift — thanks to the work of IT Director Tim Heilwagner and his team.

“From Day One, Tim had us operating seamlessly,” his nominator said. “So much so, that even after the order has been lifted, we feel no urgency to return to the office and are able to continue to protect the health and safety of our employees. We are working from home with confidence.”

Tell us about your day-to-day duties in this role.

Each day presents new challenges and opportunities. My responsibilities include leading my team in providing all IT services to the firm. We troubleshoot technical and procedural issues, research solutions to improve efficiency and security, and install and maintain all firm hardware and software.

Tell us about your key accomplishment(s) in this role.

In 2020, we successfully migrated to a more robust cloud-based telephone system shortly before the pandemic hit. This enabled us to easily transition all employees to work remotely without compromising our client contact and service. Further, in a short period of time, my team and I were able to purchase, configure, install and troubleshoot equipment to quickly allow 200-plus employees to work remotely.

What led you to choose a career in the legal field?

Prior to joining Brown & Crouppen in 2007, I worked as a contractor for many different types of businesses, including law firms. Brown & Crouppen was a client, and through the years I grew to admire the practice and appreciate the services they provide. When the opportunity arose, I did not hesitate.

What is the best part of your job?

I appreciate the variety of opportunities. I can lead change, find new solutions, provide expertise and help employees perform their best.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

It’s OK to not know. Often people feel insecure about not knowing an answer, particularly if it relates to their field of expertise. Not knowing but then seeking the answer not only helps you grow, it instills trust. Be honest, be open and be willing to learn.

What is something that would surprise people about you?

I really enjoy doing my own auto maintenance. It’s been a hobby since I was a teen. I enjoy diagnosing problems and finding solutions.

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