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The rise of the data-driven lawyer

David Curle  Director, Technology and Innovation Platform, Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute

David Curle  Director, Technology and Innovation Platform, Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute

Data has always been a foundational part of the practice of law. However, the convenience, accessibility, and speed of digital mediums is transforming the discipline from within.

Because of the benefits offered by data-driven analytics, maximizing the potential of data is something lawyers and other knowledge workers should learn how to do.

The ubiquity of data in our lives

The prevalence of data-based applications in consumer technology is an important part of this story. For consumers, data is already all-encompassing. Ordinary people are accustomed to and welcoming of the convenience that insights derived from data bring to their lives.

Lawyers who have, for one reason or another, not implemented data-driven changes into their professional lives are still witnessing it make their personal lives more convenient and fulfilling.

  • When driving, real-time data about traffic congestion is piped to mobile applications such as Google Maps or Waze.
  • When consumers use their computers or mobile devices, algorithms crunch information about them and about people like them, and present to users choices that match what the algorithms think they want to see.
  • When individuals seek medical care, health care providers can access data about outcomes across millions of patients, and use the data to support decisions about treatments and diagnoses.
  • When consumers use a credit card, they’re facilitating the expansion of a big database of their personal habits.

In order to advise clients, lawyers engage in predictions about the future. In an influential article about legal prediction, Professor Daniel Martin Katz of Chicago Kent College of Law laid it out simply:

“Do I have a case? What is our likely exposure? How much is this going to cost? What will happen if we leave this particular provision out of this contract? How can we best staff this particular legal matter?”

A trader is reflected in a computer screen displaying the Spotify brand before the company begins selling as a direct listing on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Using data to make predictions

How do lawyers make those kind of predictions? The primary model has been through expertise and experience. As lawyers practiced and gained knowledge over multiple years, they relied on their personal experience and judgment for how these questions should be answered.

The stock in trade for lawyers has always been the complementary forces of expertise and experience. But now another one – data-driven decision making – is part of the repertoire.

Today, data is not only a set of static reference points on which a human can make decisions. It’s a dynamic asset they can use to root out previously unseen relationships and conclusions.

The data a lawyer has might now be applied to the predictions they are asked to make about the future, particularly if the data exists in a consistent structure.

Just a few areas where data can fundamentally improve some common predictions lawyers are asked to make include litigation planning and strategy, document review, and pricing and budgeting.

Building a data-driven legal practice isn’t going to happen overnight. But starting down that road isn’t the Herculean task that it may seem.

Here are five good starting points:

  1. Walk before you run, and start with the low-hanging fruit

The place to start with using data to enhance your practice is probably in comparatively mundane applications like your own billing and matter-management systems. They hold a gold mine of data about productivity, value, talent, results, and outcomes.

  1. Identify and organize your data

This step involves getting data structured in the right way; getting it out of, for example, disparate and unwieldy spreadsheets that law firms maintain for data-collection processes and into an organized and structured format that is both secure and shareable among those with the appropriate access permissions.

  1. Clean up your data

Data hygiene is a critical step. Docket data from state and federal courts are enormously valuable for analytics applications, but are also notoriously messy.  While not as unkempt, billing and matter management data in legal organizations may also require some tidying up, but can be incredibly valuable when properly sanitized.

  1. Collaborate with those who know data well

There is no getting around the fact that leveraging analytics in a legal organization requires lawyers to work side-by-side with people who understand data and data structures. But crossing that divide and building trust and subject-matter expertise across professional boundaries is a necessary mindset shift facing the legal industry today.

  1. Build a data-driven culture in your organization

Building a data-driven legal practice is not something you assign to a task force, department, or an individual. It requires a buy-in from everyone from the top leadership down.

None of this comes easy and it all comes down to building behaviors and practices that support the idea that “this is how we do things now, and it’s better than prior practice.”

Creating a data-driven legal practice is a matter of competitive survival. And it’s much more than simply the adoption of a new tool or product. It requires a shift in mindset for individuals, and a significant cultural change for their organizations.

Learn more

Learn more about the rise of the data-driven lawyer with our white paper: The Legal Professional’s Competitive Survival Guide.

And, explore insights on how AI will impact the legal profession.

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