Can law firms take advantage of explosive data growth? And I am not talking about e-discovery. 

Last Friday, New Ways to Exploit Raw Data May Bring Surge of Innovation, a Study Says in the New York Times explained that both businesses and consumers create ever-increasing volumes of data and that many experts believe

    “Mining and analyzing these big new data sets can open the door to a new wave of innovation, accelerating productivity and economic growth.”

Some disagree with the finding but I’m with the quoted McKinsey consultant who says “Every manager will really have to understand something about statistics and experimental design going forward.”

What might deep data analysis, experimental designs, and an evidence-based approach do in and for the legal market? Let’s brainstorm and ignore mechanical or policy constraints to consider the potential benefits:

  • Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFA) would be based not only on a detailed assessment of prior matters but also evidence-based insight into which lawyers were good and efficient at the tasks required for a specific matter.
  • Litigation strategy would be enhanced by (1) more systematic and automated culling and assessing facts in public and proprietary databases and (2) comparing pre-outcome decision-tree analysis with actual results to refine the art of building decision trees.
  • Going beyond deriving transaction terms from a firm’s or department’s prior documents or from EDGAR documents to statistical profiles of how prior deal terms related to market conditions and party financials at the time of each prior deal. That would help tailor terms to the current situation.
  • Law firms, legal publishers, or alternative legal suppliers would offer embedded law systems that analyze corporate databases – both structured and unstructured data stores – for red flags of pending problems and to develop new preventive policies.
  • The level and type of support that law firms and law departments provide to lawyers would be based on empirical evidence of what mix of support actually maximizes either revenue per lawyer (firms) or productivity per lawyer (firms and departments).
  • Law firms might have a powerful lawyer HR tool, for example: (1) improve candidate screening with a statistical model that compares automatically-generated social media profiles to performance at the firm and (2) prepare early assessments of junior associates and new lateral lawyers based on analyzing a mix of billing data and an automated semantic analysis of the tone and content of e-mail traffic from, to, or about that associate.

Treat this list as a mix of aspirational ideas (some perhaps a bit scary). Some might be possible today, others would certainly require establishing metrics and collecting additional data.

Whatever the future, BigLaw CIOs will certainly have to figure out their role in a world of Big Data. Today, BigLaw CIOs typically focus on collecting and storing data. Will future law-firm CIOs have to develop a team with deep analytic capability? Some might say that finance or marketing are the natural homes but so far, most of these departments perform only rudimentary deep data analysis. Arguably, CIOs can fill a coming void.

If all this comes to pass, it also suggests ways that BigLaw can actually take advantage of their scale. It’s not obvious to me that large firms today do all that much more with data than do small firms. Large firms can collect larger data sets, which provide better and deeper analytic insight. On the law department side, analyzing e-billing data in meaningful ways still seems to be the exception, not the rule.

Once in a while I’ve read about firms that do serious data mining (e.g., See my post Using BI to Improve Leverage about Bryan Cave or Evidence Based Law, which references Kerma Partners’ Moneyball Indeed.) What might we read about in the future?