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Legal Technology

ILTACON 2023: How 5 law firms are putting their data to work in new ways

Zach Warren  Manager for Enterprise Content for Technology & Innovation / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 7 minute read

Zach Warren  Manager for Enterprise Content for Technology & Innovation / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 7 minute read

At the 2023 ILTACON conference, several law firm leaders revealed their strategies to make sure their firms are wringing the most value and advantage out of their collected data

ORLANDO, Fla. — Collecting and using data within a law firm can be easier said than done. Despite all of the matter, billing, and other data that lives inside law firms, often this data remains incomplete, untransferable between systems, and simply unreadable or lost to the majority of the firm.

As a result, many law firms today have undertaken initiatives to not only clean up their data but find ways to put that data to work. At the International Legal Technology Association’s yearly ILTACON conference, five law firm leaders revealed unique and creative initiatives that can serve as a model to others looking to get the most out of their firms’ imperfect data.

Frost Brown Todd: The amazing race

For those not steeped in reality TV, CBS’s The Amazing Race is a show where contestants race around the world to solve challenges and reach the finish line ahead of their competitors. So, when Cindy Bare, Chief Data & Innovation Officer of Frost Brown Todd (FBT), began looking for a way to encourage attorneys to complete matter surveys in order to get more data into the firm’s system, she decided to “make data fun” with a play off the show.

FBT’s version of The Amazing Race was a weeklong competition in which teams of attorneys would virtually “travel” to different locations by completing five-minute matter surveys online. These teams would compete for the highest survey completion rates, and each day would be rewarded with a different exotic location (such as Mayan wonder Chichen Itza) that had some relevance to the attorneys (the firm had recently opened offices in California that had significant experience in Mexico).

Bare noted the initiative had a number of goals, including getting wide buy-in from across practice groups, solidifying the firm’s taxonomy of different industries, and most importantly, getting leadership buy-in. The clear focus from top-down leadership allowed not only tech-centric attorneys, but the entire firm, to see the importance of inputting matter data. “If it’s not tied to strategy,” Bare adds, “why would anybody care about doing it?”

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe: Apples to apples

Cal Yeaman, Project Attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Analytics team, had a problem. His team had a number of current and prospective technology vendors, particularly in litigation and e-discovery, and collected metrics from them all. But in many cases, the metrics they collected weren’t necessarily comparable, with differing contract terms and pricing, and varying qualitative experiences based on an individual’s personal experience.

The firm turned to a data solution that may seem simple yet turned out to be highly effective: an Excel sheet. Yeaman and the Orrick Analytics team created a sheet that analyzed seven different e-discovery pricing models for each vendor, allowing for direct comparisons on what each offered. The sheet also allows for qualitative KPIs, such as who has a project management team, who has a great tool for image collection searches, and more.

“Being able to not only have the data elements speak to each other… but being able to marry that with the qualitative factors that make somebody a winning collection,” says Yeaman.

From there, the Orrick team can drill down to make more discrete decisions — such as which vendors and pricing models will work for each practice group. Having this source of truth “really opens a dialogue and a collaborative way of working with our vendor partners,” Yeaman explains, adding that it’s no longer all on one person to be the e-discovery vendor expert in the firm. “Having this kind of complex and scary and expensive thing translated into terms that are easily understood and comparable, and having the expert in the room, helps alleviate a lot of that stress.”

Crowell & Moring: Diving into diversity

When Alma Asay started as Crowell & Moring’s Chief Innovation and Value Officer about two years ago, she says had a few distinct goals. The first was structural: She wanted to argue for a data warehouse that could be the single source of data truth for the firm. Then, once that was in place, she wanted to build new applications of that data that was now collected in one place — such as for firm diversity and utilization metrics.

The first piece was difficult, Asay says, explaining that creating a warehouse from scratch took a lot of manual searching and engineering, such as finding pieces of data across the firm and how to combine them. Where there were no data points, it was on Asay’s team try to define the data they needed and how to gather it.

From there, the team design reports and leveraged existing data for new purposes. With the data warehouse, Asay said, data movement became fast, accurate, centralized, and fluid. For example, the firm’s old diversity policy said that the firm could use employee data, but only if the firm checked with the individual first — a process that was inefficient and unhelpful.

So first the firm created new policies that were clear, simple, and easy to administer and standardize. The result: an increase from 70% of attorneys self-reporting their data to 96%. The new policies “gave people the comfort level needed to share that information” while still giving the data team what they needed.

Troutman Pepper: Bringing it together

Working with Troutman Pepper’s high-volume transactional group, Director of Firm Intelligence Keli Whitnell had a unique problem. The group actually had excellent data hygiene for collecting deal data, with a repository stretching back years. The problem: The group didn’t have much insight into that data or ways to make direct comparisons using the data.

The question became, Whitnell says, simply “how can we bring this information together, so we have actionable insights for our attorneys?”

The answer is the result of a 10-year journey. The firm started a migration to a client management system (CMS) to manage information, which has evolved to create new forms for matter opening and integrate client data nightly. Whitnell’s team then created a dashboard with the CMS, building out an overlay that includes both financial information and the firm’s matter information, allowing the firm to better understand overall matter value as well as the value of potential referrals.

Now, Troutman can actually uncover business development opportunities, allowing it to pinpoint areas of lucrative business. “Not only do we understand the value of our own matters, but we can really start to leverage those referral relationships,” Whitnell says.

Goodwin Procter: Match game

David Hobbie, Director of Knowledge Management (Litigation) at Goodwin Procter, believes firms have data that can help solve one of the oldest law firm dilemmas: the work their attorneys are assigned to do every day. For example, Goodwin’s United Kingdom office noticed that some associates would get asked for work over and over again from the same partners, while others would fall by the wayside. Some associates would also only ever work with one or two partners, eschewing potential career development.

The several of the firm’s offices felt more data could give insight into how the solve the problem and created the Goodwin UK@Work project. While previous firm dashboards had allowed insights into attorney work at the individual level, Hobbie and his team developed an online visualization tool that allowed insights into practice groups, offices, and other slices of the firm as a whole, allowing for direct comparisons between attorneys.

Now, the latest iteration of the tool allows breakdowns by client, billable hours and matters by client. The work-tracking dashboard allows search by practice group, individual search by detail, and creates a heat map that shows which associates are working on which matters.

The project was a success, Hobbie says, with broad, consistent usage over last six months. And not only did his team solve a distinct firm problem, but it also raised their profile within the firm as well. “They’re using it a lot, which is great,” he says. “I also got a nice atta boy! from the head of the London office to the COO.”

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