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Law Firms Dismantle Data Silos to Save Costs, Attract Clients

June 28, 2021, 9:30 AM

Big Law is stepping up efforts to destroy data silos and make information readily accessible to lawyers on a single platform, realizing their business depends on it.

Winston & Strawn has created a digital repository with hundreds of millions of pieces of data ranging from time management and billing information to human resources and marketing data—to details about new clients and projects.

“It’s been a long, serious, hard journey, but it’s been necessary,” said David Cunningham, Winston & Strawn’s chief information officer. “Most firms are at the beginning stages.”

Firms recognize that attracting and retaining clients can hinge on attorneys having immediate access to data. The race to organize information could spur a revenue realignment among the country’s leading firms, with those that have mastered their data streams leading the way.

The pandemic, and the resulting work-from-home arrangements, deepened the need for firms to simplify how lawyers access firm information, said Andres Hernandez, co-founder of the Wingman Legal Tech consultancy.

“It made firm leadership realize, ‘We need to centralize our data. We need to do this out of necessity,’” he said.

Lawyers with easy access to good data use it when pitching business to clients, said Ralph Baxter, an adviser and former chairman and CEO of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. It helps them explain what types of similar matters they’ve handled in the past—including how they were staffed, how much they cost clients, and how they were resolved, he said.

“It’s critical that attorneys be able to gain ready access to all of their firm’s information,” Baxter said.

Winston & Strawn three months ago used its data warehouse to decide which prospective and existing clients should get a health care-related briefing paper, said Amy Wisinski, the firm’s senior manager for marketing data analytics and technology.

The marketing team then culled the list, based on which recipients had likely read the paper, Wisinski said. Health care partners then narrowed the list further and engaged in “old-school, personalized outreach” via emails and telephone calls, she said.

The result was multiple new pieces of regulatory work that will likely to earn the firm “significant” revenues, Wisinski said.

Skyrocketing Growth

Firms have had to contend with a skyrocketing growth of data over the last decade. Internal investigations, eDiscovery, and due diligence projects require sorting large numbers of text messages, emails, and other forms of digital data.

The firms for the most part have learned how to store that data digitally, Baxter said. The information, however, is often housed in different silos, making it difficult to access quickly, he said. That has led many firms to realize they need to break down the silos.

“The progress is uneven,” Baxter said. “The early movers will realize a competitive advantage in the post-pandemic market.”

Ballard Spahr three years ago started creating an enterprise data warehouse that would be considered “the source of truth for all information,” said Steven Magnuson, the firm’s business intelligence manager. It took about a year for two members of his team, and part-time assistance from two others, to complete the project.

The warehouse paid off, helping the firm close clients and turn away “bad work” that could have mired lawyers in projects with little long-term upside, Magnuson said.

Firm leaders need to have faith that up-front costs of organizing the data will pay dividends, Magnuson said. A benefit for Ballard Spahr is that the firm can more easily implement artificial intelligence and machine learning because of massive amounts of “clean” data the firm has collected, he said.

Breaking silos down can cost firms millions of dollars for outside contractors or thousands of hours spent by in-house teams. Legal tech tools that have been designed to help present streamlined data from broken down silos include Microsoft Corp.'s Power BI and Litera Corp.'s platform called the Foundation.

“We know we must continue to leverage our data to support new levels of client service and aid business decision-making,” said Nick Bagiatis, Reed Smith’s chief operating officer, in a written statement. “Addressing data silos is critical” for building a strong data culture at the firm, he said, premised on data sharing, fluency, and hygiene.

The urgency of the issue is reflected in the name of a panel discussion to take place during an August conference sponsored by the International Legal Technology Association. It’s entitled, “Data Silos are Killing Your Business: Identify, Plan, Unify.”

Though contractors or in-firm IT teams often have taken the lead dismantling silos, law librarians play a role “connecting the pieces and content,” said Emily Florio, president of the American Association of Law Libraries.

“Removing data silos is indeed key for every institution to succeed,” Florio said. “But I’d say it is a continuing work in progress, and I know AALL members strive to be part of this solution every day.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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