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ANALYSIS: ILTACON’s Three Tips for How to Leverage Data in Legal

Sept. 9, 2022, 9:00 AM

The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) held its annual conference at Maryland’s National Harbor at the end of August, with over 3,000 attendees—including leaders in legal operations and legal technology, law firm and corporate professionals, and academics.

The week included an array of educational sessions, a large vendor exhibit hall, and many exciting reunions as renowned legal professionals from around the world gathered for the first time in-person since 2019.

As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, legal departments continually face new challenges keeping up with the changing legal landscape. It follows, then, that access to data, improving legal operations strategies, professional development opportunities, and DEI initiatives were big themes discussed at this year’s ILTA.

While many legal professionals are beginning to embrace and improve upon these areas, there are still great strides that need to be taken to get the profession up to speed. Each theme referenced above and tips for implementing them will be discussed in greater detail in our three-part series on the ILTACON conference.

All Things Data

The first theme in our ILTACON series is a pressing one: How to bring data to the forefront of the legal industry and to embed it into the practice of law.

Developing general data literacy, hiring data-specific employees, and initiating data collection are three concrete steps legal organizations need to take to accomplish this. And panelists at the conference emphasized that firms and legal departments shouldn’t fear data, but instead need to be collecting and effectively incorporating it into their practice in order to maintain a competitive edge.

For those legal professionals seeking to begin their data journey, ILTACON highlighted three steps that legal departments can take to leverage and collect data to make the overall process feel less overwhelming.

1. Pinpoint Any Business Needs.

The most difficult part for many firms and legal departments when it comes to data is getting started. With the amount of data circulating within the legal profession, it’s understandable that the entire data collection process can seem burdensome.

But it’s important to remember that collecting and maintaining the data—while critical—is only so helpful: Organizations also need to think about broader goals of the data collection in order to set the team up for long-term success. According to ILTA presenters, focusing on the potential impact of the data—or the “why”—will allow for an efficient, consumable collection.

More likely than not, data collection is driven by the need to answer a business question, such as what attorneys should be assigned to which matters, or whether employees are using software efficiently. Figuring out what business questions need to be answered should be the first step in an organization’s data journey.

Nailing down the “why” also allows organizations to assess what sources they already have in place to answer these questions. Luckily, firms and legal departments have dozens of data sources at their disposal, such as external data from vendors, intake information from clients, and case documentation from attorneys.

Employees are also valuable resources. For instance, support staff is often responsible for maintaining the dockets at a firm—making them prime resources for case data like venue appearances, attorney involvement, and case and motion outcomes. Therefore knowing who does what in the organization can be helpful in data collection, said Yaniv Schiller, President of CourtAlert, during a discussion of breaking down data silos between departments.

It’s also likely that someone at the organization has already started collecting and maintaining data in some capacity. Take advantage of this by using that data to kick-start the collection and strategy development to make the overall process less intimidating.

2. Develop a Proper Strategy.

Once the business questions have been developed and the data sources have been located, developing a coherent strategy for data collection, ingestion, and analysis is essential.

Data collection strategies should be personal to the firm or legal department, and be designed to address a present need in the organization. This approach allows the collection strategy to remain flexible and adaptable to future uses. Key principles to consider when developing a strategy for collecting data are: governance, quality, access, and management.

Ensuring that the strategy is developed collaboratively across departments is crucial in avoiding data silos, which happens when one department controls data, rendering it inaccessible to others. Working under these conditions makes cross-departmental use of the data extremely difficult. Too many inconsistencies—such as different collection methods, inconsistent language, or software that doesn’t integrate with other department resources—can make data unusable.

Developing a strategy for all departments to implement from day one avoids these potential headaches in the future.

3. Work With People Who Understand the Data.

Understanding the data and how it helps to address the business questions developed in step one is another critical aspect of leveraging data at legal departments.

Lawyers aren’t often regarded as “data-savvy,” and therefore, implementing effective ways to communicate about data will be important. This could be achieved by adding data-specific positions to a team, such as data analysts or data scientists, or by focusing on improving the data literacy of the existing team.

Data literacy is generally understood as the ability to read, understand, derive meaning from, and communicate with data. Without this, data is only so useful. Training for all employees utilizing data should be a priority for organizations to ensure that everyone in the data-collection process is on the same page. (Tips for developing effective training and professional development opportunities will be discussed in our final ILTACON piece.)

While hiring an outside data specialist may not be the right move for every firm or legal department, one conference session on data scientists discussed how many legal organizations could benefit from developing “Citizen Data Scientists.”

Panelist Lisa Mayo, director of data & analysis at Ballard Spahr, explained what a Citizen Data Scientist is and how they can help an organization. Finding a Citizen Data Scientist can be as simple as working with someone at the firm who is already technically proficient, and training them to understand and subsequently use data in a more advanced way, Mayo said.

Because these employees are already at an organization, there’s no need to on-board someone new, so it’s a time- and cost-saving measure for the company. Adding data-specific employees to the team takes data comprehension to the next level and eases the process for all involved.

Be on the lookout for the next piece in our ILTACON series next week, which will discuss effective change management and legal operations strategies.

Bloomberg Law Subscribers can find related content on our Legal Operations, In Focus: Legal Technology, and In Focus: Lawyer Development resources.

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