How Big Data Is Transforming the Legal Industry

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In this special guest feature, Jennifer Roberts, Data Scientist at Intapp, observes how many industries have, by and large, figured big data out. Retail, manufacturing and financial services are just a few of them. Legal will figure it out, too. That day is coming, but not fast enough for most firms and their clients. Jennifer has spent the last six years studying the application of data science in the professional services market. At Intapp, she is responsible for the analytics and research component that supports thought leadership and new initiatives. Leveraging her skills to advocate, evangelize and build data-fueled products and insight, she examines the legal industry to drive analytical intelligence that informs strategic decisions and solves organizational needs. Jennifer received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, focusing on anthropology and applied statistics.

Across many industries, “big data” is being used to drive more informed and better decision-making. But its use in the legal industry is relatively new, mainly because most law firms are resistant to both change and new IT expenditures on unfamiliar initiatives.

Many firms are also reluctant to embrace big data solutions because they only possess data that is incomplete, inaccurate or outdated – aka “dirty” data (or even “filthy,” as some firms have described it to me). The result? Wavering confidence in data and cultural barriers within the firm provide little momentum for firms to believe they can achieve ROI from big data solutions.

Additionally, regardless of what shape a firm’s data is in, it’s worthless without analytics resources to turn it into insights and actionable information. Albeit a growing role within the firm, it is another area where most firms fall woefully short, as this analytics staffing chart from ILTA’s 2018 Technology survey shows:

Also notable is the fact that most firms believe that using data-driven insights is important, but few are actually backing that up with action and resources, as a recent survey by The Lawyer demonstrated. One example has to do with the critical task of managing client terms, where 90 percent of firms believe it’s important but only 16 percent are using technology solutions for this purpose.

The big data reality check I’ve described here is a huge problem for the industry given that basic implementations can drive efficiencies in firm processes; for example, leveraging workflows to drive more efficient internal procedures and data capture, leading to faster and more proficient client service.

On the flip side of this “glass-half-empty” view is the current environment, where costs are falling and data collection technologies are becoming more effective. The result? Big data now offers tremendous potential for law firms to improve their entire business model, exceed client expectations and increase profitability.

One area where big data plays a critical role is case/project management and preparation. Thousands of cases are filed annually in the U.S. alone – and the numbers are rising. Each matter requires tracking information on jurisdiction, rulings, precedents, interpretations of legislation, witness statements, court logs, judge summaries, and more.

In addition to improving the experience throughout the customer lifecycle, big data is helping law firms achieve efficiencies in time management and billing, including developing a deep understanding of the most profitable matter types and attorney teams for various matters in order to predict the most profitable client teams and pricing models.

Big data is also being used strategically by savvy firms for business development and marketing efforts. The better solutions inform more targeted and effective marketing and customer relations strategies; driving ROI while enabling overtaxed business development teams to focus on the most lucrative opportunities.

Some advice for getting started on the road to a big data solution that will win over even the most skeptical of partners:

  • Data reigns king. Outside of legal, most other industries have embraced the powerful insights driven by data and operationalized those findings, resulting in major gains to efficiency and profit. The time in now for legal.
  • Start small and build momentum. Be the agent of change, starting with a small guerilla team; the members don’t even need to be “full-time equivalent” colleagues (FTE) as there are more non-legal resources with analytics experience available. Focus on a practice or industry with a group that is more data-inclined. This could be a team using phase and task codes as a part of client compliance, or perhaps the nature of the work requires additional coding.
  • Don’t put off productive uses of data. There are valid excuses around data ownership, problems, and politics, but they are not insurmountable. Additionally, you don’t need a data scientist to put the data to work. By starting small with a savvy team, you can get to something consumable (albeit static).

Other industries have, by and large, figured big data out. Retail, manufacturing and financial services are just a few of them. Legal will figure it out, too. That day is coming, but not fast enough for most firms and their clients. In the current market, empowered clients expect more from their law firms and are willing to leave when their needs aren’t met. It is ultimately the clients who will drive this change, along with firms which embrace modern technology. Invest in it and plan for the long term.


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