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Data analytics: The great transformer.

The future is upon us, and it’s data-driven.  Are we prepared?

In this blog, there have been many posts that opine on the role technology plays (or should play) in the life of a lawyer. We’ve called out that various legal committees see it as counsel’s ethical responsibility to keep abreast of the latest technologies and become tech-savvy, and we’ve explored what certain law schools are doing to move this along.

First of all, we’d like to acknowledge the following: easier said than done. Second: hold on to your briefcase. This is just the beginning, and it will probably be a bumpy ride.

For lawyers, it’s not just a matter of becoming comfortable with the newest eDiscovery or billing or case management tools, although for some that may be all that’s required for now. It’s a matter of being comfortable with the fact that the business and practice of law, in both law firms and in-house legal departments, will be undergoing a major transformation because data accumulation and the rapidly evolving technology to mine it is changing everything else.Lawyer riding a wave of data.

Transforming legal departments with data analytics and a data-driven operational model. 

A discussion of the transformative effects of data and analytics comes in a recent Intelligence Report from ALM: Data & Analytics: Transforming Corporate Legal Departments. The report provides an overview of the “movement of some law departments to embrace a data-driven operational model,” suggesting that in-house legal departments have an opportunity to be transformed and to improve work outcomes by turning to data analytics. The report elaborates on the whys and hows of implementing such a model and implies that this shouldn’t be such a major leap for counsel because “data analytics is a natural extension of the work that lawyers complete.” It requires attention to detail and leads to evidence-based decision-making—lawyerly traits to say the least.

Of course, transformation isn’t just occurring in the legal realm. Data and the analytics applied to them are transforming things everywhere; we don’t even notice it anymore. Our most basic activities—shopping, driving, banking, social engagement, watching TV—are all data-driven. Massive data stores, along with more and more sophisticated tools to mine them, are exposing new and different avenues for business engagement that will require astute, creative, and tech-savvy legal minds. And with the ascent of AI, we’re seeing the evolution of decision-making as it gradually changes hands—from humans to human-driven technologies—which will have an even more profound effect on the very foundation of all business and legal operations, not to mention our ethical choices. Of course organizational paradigms in business and law will need to be transformed! How could they not?

Data. Master or slave?

So, to be a valuable participant in any future business or legal practice will require an understanding of both the data that plays a part in it and the technologies that will be applied to understand it; the nexus of the two will ultimately provide the grist for most business and legal decisions in the days to come. To best serve their clients, then, lawyers in their legal departments and law firms will have to educate themselves, not just in ways to respond to this evolution, but in how to become proactive in fostering a culture of innovation in a complex and rapidly-changing business and legal landscape. The key—and the challenge—will be to focus on business (and human) concerns and use data analytics wisely to gain insight into them, not the other way around. Data shouldn’t be the master, but the slave.

We’ve opened the floodgates and the water is rising around us. If we want to move forward without drowning, we’d better be very sure we know how to swim.



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