Data (Big Or Not) And Its Potential Value To Large Law Firms

August 6, 2014

Internet BackgroundIn the first few sentences of her chapter in July’s ILTA white paper, Thomson Reuters’ National Manager for Enterprise Content Management Kim Stein poses a simple, but provocative, query: Is Big Data present in the legal industry or not?

On its face, it seems like a basic question. However, the paper, which Stein wrote with Fox Rothschild’s Chief Knowledge Officer Catherine Monte, shows it is not one around which the industry has developed a consensus.

Stein and Monte first set out to define the term “Big Data.” They spoke with several high-level sources at Large Law firms and came away with different answers. However, there was one commonality running through all the variants: Big Data is a wealth (or perhaps even overabundance) of information that offers significant business development opportunities if it can be harvested and refined in the proper way.

Not every law firm contact Stein and Monte spoke with thought the legal industry generated Big Data. Some thought the term applied best to situations in which there was just a greater quantity. Others thought law firms generated sufficient amounts of data, but thought they themselves were not the right parties to try to make something of it.

After reading Stein’s and Monte’s chapter, one thought that occurred to me is that whether the data a law firm generates amounts to “Big Data” does not affect how valuable the extractions from it can be.

One source Stein and Monte spoke with pointed out that law firms have a unique advantage in that every matter they deal with is automatically assigned a client number or other unique identifier. This makes unraveling the threads of the data and weaving them into a bigger picture much easier. So, law firms that want to track types of cases, industry trends, common themes across clients, case results and attorney performance already have something of a blueprint for doing so. Gathering the kind of information I just mentioned would help a law firm position itself as a lean, self-aware and efficient organization – the exact kind of organization law firms need to become in the face of new pressures being put upon them by a thinning market and cost-aware clients.

Many law firms just do not try to collect this data, and so miss out on the opportunities it presents. Call it “Big Data” or call it something else entirely, but the sooner Large Law firms realize the goldmine of information at their fingertips and start to do something with it, the better.

Access the full July ILTA White Paper here.