Meet a Fellow Member: Eugene Stein
From Cop to Lawyer to IT Leader
A former New York cop with a penchant for computers, Eugene Stein has become an IT leader in the legal profession.
By John Karle
Eugene Stein began his career as a police officer in the 1980s, patrolling some of New York’s deadliest ghettos—a far cry from the white-shoe Boston law firm where he now serves as Director of Information Technology. Despite the vast difference in surroundings, the main focus of his work was using cutting-edge technology to solve challenges in the field of law, and has remained consistent for most of the last three decades. During those years, Stein, 50, has become known as a pioneer and thought-leader in the field of Information Technology in the legal profession.
A native of Queens, New York, Stein knew early on that he loved computers, and majored in computer science at the City University of New York-Queens College. But instead of going into a computer-related job, he joined the police academy—largely because many of his neighborhood friends went, he says. “It was just the thing to do.”
As a patrol officer, Stein was thrown tough assignments—including the Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of Brooklyn, which he describes as being at the time “like a war zone.”
Meanwhile, he attended night classes at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and received a B.S. in Police Science in 1988. He was also promoted to Sergeant, and in this role, Stein first combined his love of computer technology with the law.
‘There must be a better way’
“In those days, the police department, still used pins in a wall-map to track crime,” recalls Stein. “I thought, ‘there must be a better way to do this.’ And so I tried to find ways for computers to help out in policing in order to find patterns in crimes.”
Stein began the project for his own benefit, but soon he was showing results, and he began advocating that computers be employed widely throughout the police department. Impressed, his superiors put him in charge of an initiative to create the first citywide computer system for the New York City Police Department’s Housing Bureau. He ended up supervising the construction of computer data centers in police precincts, coordinating the training of over 3,000 police and non-police employees, and managing re-engineering to incorporate automation. He also was responsible for budgeting, strategic planning, and personnel management.
“It was like a start-up business—making proposals, hiring staff, and trying be nimble—within a bureaucracy,” says Stein.
As a result of his successes, Stein was tapped for the job of Assistant Inspector General at the New York City Housing Authority, the largest housing authority in the United States with more than 600,000 tenants, 343 apartment complexes, and 13,000 employees.
At the Housing Authority, Stein’s mandate included conducting high-level investigations into computer crime under Federal, State, and City laws, assisting in criminal prosecutions, and developing pro-active monitoring programs to flag potential issues. Two years later, he was named Deputy Chief Information Officer, and his responsibilities broadened to include development of agency-wide data repositories, information retrieval technologies, and the creation of a long-term strategic plan for IT.
“I loved it,” says Stein. “I got to use technology to while helping people who lived in city housing.”
At night, he had been attending law school, although he had no intention of being a lawyer.
“The CIO title was still new in the early nineties,” Stein explains. “A lot of people had MBAs or law degrees to strengthen their qualifications for this new field, and that’s why I studied law.”
But, after receiving a J.D. from St John’s University School of Law in 1994, he thought he “might as well try” to enter the practice of law, and found himself an associate at a prestigious Wall Street law firm. For the next four years, his practice focused on internal corporate investigations, civil litigation, and white collar/regulatory representations.
At this firm, he continued to tinker with computers, which were still not widely or significantly used in law firms, to find ways they could streamline legal work. He recalls one particular antitrust case requiring 125,000 boxes of legal documents, while the judge, who was experimenting with the new notion of the “paperless courtroom,” barred them from court. Stein realized that the data from the thousands of papers could be stored electronically instead. As with his use of computers at the police department and the city housing authority, Stein made innovative use of technology to solve professional challenges in efficient and innovative ways.
Stein was now a successful lawyer at a top Wall Street firm, but, he says, “I began to find the work repetitive.” He returned to the IT field, spending the next decade as director of knowledge and technology at two other highly prestigious corporate law firms. By now, Stein was receiving recognition for his IT expertise from the legal profession, and was speaking on panels and serving on advisory boards for industry conferences. During this period, he continued to hone his professional and management skills by attending the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University.
Then, in 2009, Stein left the IT field. Given the opportunity to take a step up the corporate law ladder, he decided to “try something new,” accepting a position as Executive Director at a smaller law firm with a focus on financial markets and the business community. During Stein’s four years there, his focus was less on information technology, and more on the broader responsibilities of the executive director position. Stein describes it as challenging, but, as with lawyering, not as stimulating as his work with computer technology. He knew that he wanted to move on, but now he was at a loss on what direction to take. “I knew I needed help,” says Stein.
At this point, he joined GetFive. Still, he was hesitant, he says. “I wasn’t sure if its methodology would work for me, but boy, did it work.”
Leaving his comfort zone
Stein met with his coach, Bill Belknap, at GetFive, and went to small-group meetings, which he likens to “a peer-group keeping
you honest.” He completed the Club’s Seven Stories exercise, in which members identify experiences that have provided them with the most personal or professional satisfaction.
All of this was “out of my comfort zone,” says Stein. But he felt that in the past he had “just been moving from job to job serendipitously,” and now he wanted to thoughtfully consider his next career step. “The Club’s methodology allowed me to think more carefully about my career, to be self-analytical, and it was quite helpful. Most of all, the Club helped me focus on what I wanted.”
At the Club, he saw that from the start of his career he’d shown a gift for working with computers, and he enjoyed trying to find ways for them to help problem-solve. He realized that he wanted his next position to be directly focused on the IT field. As a result, he changed his interviewing approach. “I was interviewing the interviewers as much as they were interviewing me,” he says.
Stein had several job interviews, but none seemed quite right, and he was looking for “something more appropriate.”
The club had also encouraged Stein to improve his networking, which led to his being called by a recruiter, and ultimately to his current position at yet another prestigious law firm.
Back on track
At this firm, Stein finds much professional satisfaction in overcoming the challenges of being responsible for Information Technology, Knowledge Management, Litigation Support, and e-Discovery. All of which he says provides the variety he had missed as a lawyer and executive director. He also enjoys the change of city, having moved to Boston, where he and his wife, a school teacher, live in the suburb of Needham.
These days, when Stein isn’t solving computer technology problems at the office, he enjoys relaxing with his hobby, running model trains, which provides him with smaller challenges in technology. “I love them,” says Stein. “I have the old-fashioned trains and the latest ones. As long as it has a lever and switch, I’m happy.” ■