Dan Clark writing for Corporate Counsel reported that '"Frustrated" Legal Department Leaders Want Law Firms to Improve Data Reporting,' published online July 28th, suggesting that 'Law firms that are unable to digitize data and offer it to clients, particularly data around risks and spending, will likely lose out to more cutting-edge competition.'

In the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world we live in, reliable data is essential, for without it we are '...blind and deaf, wandering about like a deer on a freeway' (Geoffrey Moore). 

At Elevate, we work with a lot of law firms, and contrary to popular belief, they are awash with data. Vast volumes of data relating to every six-minute unit each fee-earning member of staff works – and that can be triangulated to tell us ‘who’ (location, level of qualification, specialism, sector expertise, DE&I data) is doing ‘what’ (type of work, type of activity, type of task, type of matter) for ‘whom’ (industry sector, geographic location(s), organisation size, public -v- private). And within their document management systems, they have vast quantities of data around market practice, trends, risk, cause and effect, and outcomes.

As I say, they are awash with data. With help and a clear data strategy, law firms can unlock insight and value from their assets. However, there are several challenges that firms have to contend with and some of those could be easily addressed by those same clients crying out for the data.

Firstly, there is no common taxonomy across the legal industry. The same term is used for a great number of things and/or many different terms are used for the same thing. This has two impacts on a law firm’s ability to leverage their data: (i) identifying commonality and deviations is hugely limited without a common term of reference and (ii) many clients want their data in a very bespoke form – further diminishing the ability for wider leverage. As an example, take ‘task’ and ‘activity’ codes against which a law firm records the ‘who’ does ‘what’ for ‘whom.’ There is a common model, the Uniform Task-Based Management System (UTBMS) codes. However, look into any law firm’s practice management system, and they will also be supporting hundreds of bespoke or tailored sets of client-specific codes, which create an efficiency cost for firms doing more with their data and limiting the impact of the common model. If law departments all agreed to adopt the UTBMS codes, without customisation, they would be able to get more, better data that is tailored at the analytic and visualisation level.

Secondly, law departments should – subject, of course, to proper adherence to legislative, regulatory, and contractual obligations – allow law firms to mine data that arises from their working with those law departments. Data that removes personal identification and that is aggregated at a level where personal data is impossible to identify can still provide huge insight around the ‘who,' ‘what,’ and ‘whom’ and will answer all of the questions law departments need answering. However, this is not common practice.

Law firms can give law departments the data they need. Law firms will need help from experts, such as the specialist team we have at Elevate, and will need their clients to embrace both commonalities of inputs and access to data. Only then can we avoid the freeway with our eyes and ears fully functioning.