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How To: gear up for big data
Big data analysis has developed out of the corporate world, where it is particularly effective in the banking, healthcare and retail sectors, identifying patterns of behaviour and outcomes which shape security measures, product development and marketing strategies. Law Tech Camp London was one of the first legal sector events to include dedicated sessions on big data. Although these highlighted cutting-edge developments, the legal sector has been dealing with big data for years – in the form of e-discovery.
One of the challenges of e-discovery is also a key characteristic of big data. Bob Tennant, chief executive of search and e-discovery specialist Recommind, added another crucial element to the ‘three Vs’ of big data – volume, variety and velocity – value. Adam Page, e-discovery consultant at Control Risks Group, agreed, defining e-discovery as reducing volume to value. Paul Caris, chief information officer at Eversheds (read about Eversheds’ big data project), added a fifth – visualisation.
Forecasting costs and outcomes
Law Tech Camp London discussed how firms and corporate counsel can apply quantitative analysis to predict case outcomes. Dr Jack Conrad from Thomson Reuters explained how each case can be transformed into a series of data points, and multiple cases can be analysed to predict the outcomes of similar cases. Dr Daniel Katz, one of the event organisers and associate professor at Michigan State University College of Law, outlined several uses of quantitative methodology in legal services – e-discovery, legal procurement and predicting case outcomes. Ron Gruner of Sky Analytics explained how corporate counsel can use quantitative techniques to predict the cost of cases.
As Katz observed, what clients want to know is whether they have a case and the likely cost of pursuing it.
Forward-thinking educators are already introducing quantitative analysis into legal training. This was reiterated at Law Tech Camp by Katz and Guido Boella from the University of Turin whose analysis of the relationship between law and artificial intelligence has developed into a combined qualification in law, science and technology. At July’s Legal Education and Training Review Symposium in Manchester, Karl Chapman, chief executive of recent market entrant Riverview Law, underlined the importance of non-lawyer roles in business analysis.
Business intelligence – and beyond
Law firms are thinking differently about how they use client and case data to boost efficiency and respond to client demands. In today’s legal services market, clients expect law firm billing to include a more detailed breakdown of work. As firms move away from hourly billing, they too need to estimate costs more carefully. So there is a sharper focus on business intelligence. At Avanade’s roundtable, Simmons & Simmons’ finance director David McLaughlin explained how the firm’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system brings together information that traditionally resided in different silos. People, matter, client and billing information is available in real time and used to support project management and high-level management decisions.
ERP systems such as Avanade facilitate business intelligence, which can benefit firms of all sizes. For example, Peppermint Technologies’ relatively new practice management system, which is gaining popularity in the mid-markets, is based on a single underlying database.
Other tools, such as Recommind’s Matters & Expertise, analyse lawyer and client interactions across international/multi-office firms to develop a better understanding of internal expertise and client relationships. Although these systems enhance knowledge management and business intelligence, the data they work with could be used to support wider analysis designed to identify patterns and significant factors affecting sectors, practice areas, case outcomes and client behaviour.
Law firm data and big data challenges
However, adapting big data techniques to law firm information presents particular challenges. Mark Webber, technology transactions partner at Osborne Clarke, believed that most law firm data does not allow for big data analysis, which would be particularly useful in relation to pricing as firms shift from the billable hour towards capped and fixed fees. As Webber observed, true big data analysis depends on cloud technologies, where the highly regulated legal sector is lagging behind other industries.
Stuart Walters, IT director at Taylor Wessing, highlighted the paucity of in-depth data – historically, law firm information did not contain the depth of information required for complex quantitative analysis. Big data analysis draws together raw information that could include transactional and geographic data. ‘The challenge is to bring together the different information we collect – phone calls, internet logs, recorded time, as well as matter and billing data – and understand how various elements interact,’ he says.
Data integrity is crucial. Page explained that in e-discovery this is around how the data is initially handled, stored and used. This is relevant to big data analysis, which is based on identifying patterns in raw, unadjusted data – not previously manipulated.
Although there is untapped potential in applying quantitative methods and big data analytics to legal services – notably in relation to predicting costs, guiding corporate counsel and decision-making within firms, and in relation to litigation funding decisions – Walters highlighted a critical issue that is not going to change: the qualitative and subjective implications. ‘Although we secure assets and transactions through contracts and documents, law is an intrinsically emotional business,’ he said. ‘A first step is to separate time and value – for example an interview with a key witness could take longer than anticipated, but be crucial to the outcome of a case – but we still have a long way to go.’