“Data is the new science.  Big Data holds the answers.”

Pat Gelsinger, COO of EMC

 Everywhere you look, there is story about “big data” and how it is changing healthcare to national security, raising the question of whether there is a role for big data in the practice of law.  Your typical law firm or legal department has terabytes of electronic data in its possession — from email, to court filings, client documents and other work product, but do data analytics have the potential to help lawyers deliver better and more cost effective legal services?

For most law firms and legal departments, a threshold question is whether they can even access all of their data in a way that enables use of these new tools.  A lot of legal knowledge is locked up in isolated data silos, ranging from PCs to document management systems, billing systems and practice group specific silos such as trademark, patent and litigation databases.

This “Balkanization” of legal records has historically prevented a global view of a firm’s or legal department’s electronic data, which is the fundamental starting point for most data analytics.  Fortunately, there are new software tools that can connect to, crawl and index all of your firm’s or department’s electronic data regardless of location or format, enabling the deployment of a range of analytics on your years of historic work product.  For lawyers with part of their records in paper form, there are also a variety of tools that can digitize these documents making them accessible to data analytics.

The key feature of data analytics is its ability to look across huge sets of data and uncover patterns, trends and insights that would not otherwise be discoverable, at least not without a lot of manual work.  So the question for us as lawyers is whether data analytics holds the potential to help us improve the practice of law and the delivery of legal services.

One potential area to apply data analytics is to improve legal processes, such as the negotiation of standard forms.  If you are a corporate legal department and can look across your all of your data and quickly determine that 70% of the time you modify a particular paragraph of a widely used form, you could start a data informed discussion about the merits of changing that particular provision to speed up and de-lawyer the process of getting that  form signed.  Data analytics could also inform you of the language you most often end up accepting, which could then guide you with respect to what your new form might look like.

A global view your entire work product would also give you the ability to determine what your best practices are in a given area.  You could also look across your historic data to gain pricing and cost insights into particular types of legal work.  Such data might help you move to a flat fee model in the case of a law firm, or it could it help you pick your most efficient outside law firm or lawyer in the case of a legal department.

Through data analytics, it might also be possible to better predict likely outcomes.  If you can determine that 65% of the time you loose summary judgment motions in a given type of case, you can better advise your client on the merits of bringing such a motion.  With enough data, you could even bring this analysis down to a particular court or judge.  Similarly, for corporate legal departments it might be possible to recognize data patterns that lead to litigation, which could then form the basis of an early warning system that could help prevent claims and litigation.

Big data’s ability to give you a 360-degree view could also add value for lawyers in a number of other areas.  For example, an automated, contact management system could be built that looks at all of your data (think email, PC documents, file shares, billing systems, etc.)  to determine who has had the most, or most recent, contact with a given client or potential client.  Such a system could also give you a comprehensive view into your work for a given client or by a particular law firm.  A key benefit of such a system would be that it utilizes the data you already have, rather than having your lawyers and secretaries take the time to enter this information into a dedicated client information system.

What do you think, is there a role for data analytics in the practice of law, or are we still more of an “art” versus a “science” profession in which data analytics doesn’t have a role?

What do you think about the opportunity to use "big data" type analytics in the legal profession?

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