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What Can Big Data Bring to a Law Practice?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Big data makes measurable what wasn't measurable before. The more information firms can measure, the better they can manage their practices, predict outcomes, and make informed decisions. So the big data marketing pitch goes.

While data and analytics have been flourishing in the software and financial sectors, they've yet to make big inroads into the legal sphere. Here's what law firms could be missing out on.

It's Not Just Any Data, It's Big Data

First things first: not all data is big data, even if it's humongous. Big data refers to generally unstructured, unorganized data that can be mined for novel insights into your business and practice. You might have tons of data about your firm's web traffic, for example. Reams upon reams of information on who visits your firm web page, how long they're there, and where they're coming from. But even if that data is huge, it's not big data. It's already structured, ready for analysis.

Instead, big data is the mess that you can't readily make sense of -- notes in billing files, emotional context in emails, and the like. Aderant, the legal software company, describes big data as having "low information density" but "huge volume."

Big Data's Law Firm Uses

The typical firm won't have Amazon or Facebook levels of data to sift through, but even little bits of big data can be insightful. Big data could be useful for:

1. Learning from past practices. Firms could start by making use of the historic data they possess, but often in undigitized form. Scanning old case documents, notes, and records can open up a world of potential data that can be analyzed to give added depth to the firm's understanding of typical cases and practice matters.

2. Finding out if clients are 🙁 or :D. Email data is probably the largest form of most unstructured firm data. Big data analytics can be used to survey things like client reactions. According to Aderant, big data analytics could identify emotional responses to client communications, identifying "words or phrases" that negatively impact "clients' acceptance of bills."

3. Speeding up eDiscovery. There have been plenty of companies touting the use of big data for improving eDiscovery. Computer assisted discovery is already the norm. Adding big data tools could make the process even more efficient, by, for example, increasing the accuracy of predicting responsive documents.

Firms Still Need Convincing

Not sure if you're ready to make use of big data just yet? You're not alone. Not only is big data expensive, but many of claims haven't been independently verified. The lack of third-party verification makes many firms cautious when it comes to analytics tools. However, the innovative firms out there, few though they may be, might be willing to take a risk on big data if it helps them gain a competitive edge of their more circumspect competition.

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