This is just a guess, but I suspect that most of us didn’t get into the legal industry because we love data, right?

If we loved data, we’d be elsewhere.

But…bad news. Data is one of those things that we have to start embracing as the industry changes in order to stay relevant. It sounds terrible and cumbersome, but truthfully, once you invest the time to put processes in place to collect and mine your data, the return you’ll get is huge. You’ll see where you can be more efficient, create more value for clients, and identify ways for the firm to be more profitable. More value AND more profit? Data doesn’t sound so bad after all, does it? 

What’s more, clients want you to have control of your data. They’re keeping tabs on the matters that you’re handling for them, so when you say things like “well, this is very specialized work, so there’s no way we can compare this to anything we’ve ever done before,” they know that’s not true. Because they have the data to show trends, efficiencies, lack thereof, etc. And then they wonder why they can keep track of your data when you can’t.

In HighQ’s latest ebook on SmartLaw, Andrew Baker, of HBR Consulting addresses this very thing in his chapter:

At a time when there is an increasing focus on ‘big data’ outside of our industry, we’re lagging severely in our use of data and missing opportunities to create significant value and modernize services.”

As we discussed above, the risk of this is two-fold.

  • The data gap “hinders organizations’ abilities to manage work, mitigate risk, maximize value, enhance decision-making and proactively respond to trends or patterns in the work being done.”
  • “Buyers of high-end services are increasingly restless, partially driven by the stark contrast between how legal services are provided, the ways in which other businesses operate, and the elegance of the technology and services individuals use in their personal lives…Mature corporate legal departments have more (and indeed better) data than their firms, and many are investing in ways to extract new meaning from that data.”

Okay, so we need data. But what does that mean?

There are three key things to keep in mind when you consider data for your firm:

  • Strategy
  • Analysis
  • Visualization

Data Strategy

As with any initiative you undertake, there needs to be a strategy behind it. Baker points out that firms need to identify both at the practice (and industry) and the client/account level, “new strategies for both discerning what data they should collect and for determining how they will organize it.” He points out that most firms are already collecting information on their hours and fees, but they don’t take it a step further to describe the legal services being provided or received. Defining what other data is needed, based on what the goals are is a first step.

As part of this, firms also need to look at how they will collect this data. Some data may need to be collected manually, while there may be technology solutions to source other data. This may be where you need some assistance. We’ve talked before about using technology to solve identified problems, and this may be the right place for that, in addition to bringing in a data scientist to help you unpack what your strategy can and should be.

Data Analysis

Great, so now you have all of this data, but what do you do with it? That’s where the analysis comes in. Here, you may use the technology tools that you’ve employed in the collection of data (depending on what they are) to analyze the data that you’re collecting. This is about making the data more meaningful and drawing out those efficiencies. This will be where you identify better ways to manage work, mitigate risk, maximize value, enhance decision-making, and proactively respond to trends and patterns.

Data Visualization

“But we’re lawyers, not data scientists!” I can hear you cry. That’s where visualization comes in. Baker says firms need to do a better job about making data and its subsequent analyses accessible to lawyers – when it’s presented just as a bunch of numbers and information, the impetus to change and improve doesn’t come with it. That’s asking your colleagues to do the work of making the leap themselves. That’s where visualization comes in. “Sophisticated data visualization is key to ensuring lawyers (most of whom are not likely mathematically inclined) can absorb, understand and interact with meaningful data.” Again, this is another area where you will likely need some outside assistance from a consultant, or to bring someone in-house who is a data expert (remember when we talked about growing firms to include different kinds of professionals? This is one of those areas).

This seems like a headache and a huge challenge, and it can be – but when you hand it over to the experts who love data, rather than trying to be all things to all people, you “weaponize” your data, as Baker says. As long as you are committed to making the changes and improvements that the data reveals are necessary, this is a huge opportunity – so few firms are taking advantage of the wealth of data that they have at their fingertips that now is the time to get on board with investing in it. Data will soon be something that your clients demand – wouldn’t you rather invest at your pace rather than cede to market demand?