By Lauren Colbeck, Head of Product at Legal Futures Associate Access Legal
This blog explores how law firms can take business intelligence to the next level and why it’s important to do so. It recognises the age-old principle that the legal profession has been built upon: ‘making data pay’.
Of course, the way we generate and see ‘data’ in the legal profession has changed dramatically over the last decade, and it goes without saying that it has become completely unrecognisable over the history of the last century. Looking back even further to when our 14th century solicitor-ancestors were scribbling away with quills by candlelight, at a time when people were only just able to officially study law for the first time, we can recognise, that by its simplest definition, the work of the legal profession is, and always has been, all about the expert handling and exchange of data.
Lawyers are already experts in ‘making data pay’
By its very nature, for the business of law, data is at the centre of everything a law firm does. For example, with conveyancing, there is a whole raft of complex data that must be efficiently shared in a timely manner between a range of parties – including the vendor, the purchaser, the estate agent, the mortgage lender, HM Land Registry, property search providers and so on.
On top of all the data law firms collect about the property and the people involved, the lawyer holds and understands the ever-changing information on conveyancing regulations and how the law must be practised, and risks avoided, e.g. anti-money laundering etc. Equally data-heavy is the process when two people divorce. Their ‘structured’ and ‘unstructured’ data must be captured accurately, recorded carefully and communicated effectively, often during extremely emotional circumstances, before the parties can reach a conclusion.
Again a complex, and highly-regulated area of law, where the lawyer is entrusted with data that is both highly personal and sensitive. Personal injury lawyers gather and review evidence (data) and a whole manner of other data sets that they must present on behalf of their clients, sometimes with life-changing outcomes. The same for criminal law firms, court of protection lawyers, specialists in immigration law, and commercial law firms etc. The expert handling of data of all types goes on, without exception, throughout every single area of law.
Today, the legal profession has got to be up there, close to the very top of the leader-board, of the sectors that are the most adept at handling the most complex, ‘structured’ and ‘unstructured’ data sets, and for making that data pay. For this, the sector should take some well-deserved credit.
Lawyers are witnesses to a digital explosion
However, there is an even bigger data story to be told for the legal profession in 2022 and beyond. In our lifetime, we are witnesses to an enormous, ongoing data explosion. Not just for lawyers, but for all of us as individuals and within businesses. Never before has data been the subject of such discussion, such levels of regulation and legislation (GDPR etc.) and never has data been more recognised for its value.
According to Statista there were 4.66 billion active internet users, around the world in January 2021 and each and every time one of those users makes a click, they generate more bytes of data. In fact, further Google research suggests that in 2020 the average person generated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Thanks to WiFi, mobile networks and smart devices in our tech-savvy world most of us are taking part in this data revolution.
Of course the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the digital needle of adoption more rapidly for all of us, in all areas of our lives, as we’ve embraced video calls, online NHS consultations, and more and more of online shopping / internet banking than ever before. These revolutionary times have set consumer expectations, in terms of digital, to an all-time high. Law firm clients expect to interact with their solicitor and other law firm staff securely online. In addition, the amount of business intelligence available, as a result of the widespread digital adoption, is phenomenal, and pretty overwhelming for law firms, in equal measure.
Many law firms have an appetite for digital disruption
Whilst the legal profession has traditionally been criticised for being slow to adopt technology, many of the law firms that we talk to every day are hungry for digital disruption and greater data visibility.
Whilst many law firms are steeped in tradition, those who are looking at solutions such as ‘Access Workspace for Legal’, we find, are learning from the most consumer-centric sectors, arguably retail and banking, amongst others. i.e. the sectors that have long-benefited from the use of BI (business intelligence) and BIG data analytics, and having a digital ecosystem that brings together multiple sources of data in to one central, online place.
The consumerisation of the legal sector is driven by growing competition and changing client behaviour and expectations. And law firm business intelligence tools have their part to play. Data visibility goes way beyond simply improved decision-making but by connecting multiple systems and information sets, law firms can use it to improve their competitor positioning. How the professional manages law firm data analytics is the answer to many of today’s challenges for the sector. Law Firms are well positioned to take full advantage of business intelligence.
For a profession that has been making data pay for centuries, the current data explosion brings a whole additional level of insight, in terms of client behaviour, needs and expectations.
Data insight on this scale, also brings law firms valuable insight to employee behaviour, employee needs and employee expectations. And in this era of recognition and acknowledgement of the importance of mental health, and the publicity the legal profession has had regarding fee pressures and burn-out, people and HR data has a crucial role to play in the success of a law firm for staff wellbeing and resilience as well as talent acquisition and retention.
Having made a huge success of making data pay for centuries, law firms are well positioned to embrace the data explosion of the 21st century and take full advantage of the huge dividends on offer via data analytics and business intelligence.
Information overload of the legal profession
However, as well as great insight the explosion of data available to businesses also compounds the problem of information overload. Professor Richard Susskind OBE, the famous legal IT commentator has been writing and speaking about ‘information overload’ in the legal profession for almost four decades. His early predictions of the mid 90s continue to be proven right many times over. For example, Susskind’s book The Future of Law, published in 1996, he predicted that in the future the dominant way for lawyers and clients to communicate would be by email.
This revelation was shocking to many working in the legal system at the time. He was called out for saying such a thing by senior legal lights who said ‘he shouldn’t be allowed to speak and was bringing the legal profession into disrepute.’ He also said the wider use of the web would be the first port of call for lawyers and judges undertaking research. For which he was criticised for ‘not understanding the practical and cultural significance of the law library’. Of course, these reactions are completely laughable now, but anecdotes of this nature only give credibility to Susskind’s ‘information overload’ predictions over 25 years ago, when he highlighted that the untapped potential of BIG data and business intelligence for law firms saying, ‘technologies are emerging that focus far more on the analysis and use of information rather than its reproduction and storage.’
The law firms that are able to recognise the value of the ever-increasing availability, volume and insight data can bring, are the ones set to grow and prosper in the new 20s. For those firms that find ways to manage their data, find tools that allow them to easily make sense of their data, and perhaps even outsource their business intelligence to trusted advisors and technology partners, the dividends promise to be significant.
A McKinsey report highlighted in Forbes magazine, just before the pandemic hit, suggested a number of key statistics of which law firms should take heed: “data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers; six times as likely to retain customers; and 19 times as likely to be profitable as a result.”
Tech for law firms that goes way beyond managing case-loads
The sectors that have led the way with business intelligence to improve gain insight into consumer behaviour, needs and trends are regularly reported as being banking, retail and insurance. Many examples have been published showing how businesses have used data to improve customer service, retain existing customers and win new customers have been well documented. With the advent of digital solutions such as Access Workspace for legal, law firms will finally be able to join all the dots, in terms of all their data from multiple systems, and do the same.
Things have evolved quickly over the last decade in the legal IT space for law firms. For more clarity, focus and success, we are finding law firms today are looking for Practice Management software, and business intelligence software, that goes beyond managing case-loads. They want an all-in-one-place solution that offers a collaborative space where crucial data is presented with simplicity giving them the confidence to make sound business decisions.
This article has been written by the legal team at The Access Group which provides award-winning software for law firms.