Firm Intelligence: The Advantages of a Single Source of Truth

Tue 08 Feb 2022

“Lawyers want one place to go for the answer. And the answers have to be definitive.” That was the simple answer provided by Simpson Thatcher’s Director of Knowledge Management, Tanisha Little, when asked what it means to have a single source of truth.

Getting there, however, is not so simple, but a panel discussion at Litera’s Changing Lawyer Virtual Summit 2021 entitled “Firm Intelligence: The Advantages of a Single Source of Truth” provided evidence of the increasing sophistication that law firms are bringing to the use of data to drive their business decisions.

In addition to Little, the panel featured Simpson Thatcher’s Director of Data Analytics Andrew Baker and moderator Cindy Thurston Bare, Litera’s Senior Director, Firm Intelligence and Firm Intelligence Evangelist.

The panel provided many examples of how law firms are taking new approaches to data, processes, and talent to remake the way they practice, and the way they grow their firms.

What is a single source of truth?

It sounds easy enough to define “single source of truth” as Little did, but the devil is in the details. Law firms sit on vast depositories of data – some of it in financial and billing systems, some in client matter lookup systems, some in document management systems.

When thinking of single sources of truth, Baker noted, most people think of data warehouses and bringing together disparate sources of information. But the hard part about most law firm systems is that those data sets have been traditionally created in different systems, by different functions in the organization. Building a warehouse is one thing, but providing the governance structure that can link all those systems together, normalize the data, eliminate redundancy, etc. is the challenge.

Baker noted that bringing data sets together requires investments in the systems that create data, not just the user-facing system. The data itself needs to be integrated because many of the questions that lawyers and law firm leaders ask require data from more than one system.

Bare posed the question, “What has changed? How are you tackling these issues differently?” She noted that departments that create data still want to create and manage their own data, but today they are more open to leveraging it further among other teams. “What one of us knows, we all have to know.”

In the past, the questions that law firm leaders had could be answered from one specific system. However, “we now need to look more horizontally, creating connective tissue between systems,” noted Baker. That approach requires a lot of trust, he added. “Lawyers deal with information that ranges from ‘Holy smokes! sensitive’ to just ‘sensitive.’” KM, technology, data, innovation and legal teams all have to work together to build relationships and processes that everyone buys into, otherwise the useful integration and use of data will fail.

Becoming a data-centric firm requires new, integrated skill sets

Little and Baker returned repeatedly to the theme of multidisciplinary skills working horizontally across the firm. KM professionals, data analysts, innovation and technology teams are all engaged in building out the firm’s data resources. Baker noted that the need for data has gone beyond finance and billing data, and into much more practice-specific data in addition to data about pricing, talent, marketing, etc. No single function has the knowledge or skill to effectively deploy all those data sets, so multiple cross-functional teams are needed to make it happen.

That’s a big investment. Little described the evolving role of KM professionals, which started in the realm of maintaining the firm’s precedents and doing research, but who now need to become trusted advisors to the firm’s practice groups. They are building out more data literacy skills. A practice technology group at the firm has grown from its original focus on eDiscovery to supporting a wider range of practice-specific technologies. The KM team relies on Baker’s data team for analytics work.

“Multidisciplinary teams are now the norm,” as Baker put it.

“Creating a better platform for being a lawyer”

Little and Baker spoke extensively about the need for multidisciplinary skill sets in their respective teams. But what about the impact of all this data-centricity on the firms’ lawyers?

Bare asked how the use of data plays into today’s widely-acknowledged “war for talent.” How can data help retain lawyers and increase their happiness with the work they do?

“Data is central to changing the way lawyers work,” said Little. “We see ourselves as creating a better platform for being a lawyer.” The use of data and technology can eliminate much of the drudgery of being a lawyer by eliminating repetitive tasks and speeding up the process of locating and integrating reliable data into legal work.

“Data solutions let lawyers focus on the intellectually challenging parts of practice, and get rid of the drudgery” added Baker.

And part of the benefit of this growing focus on data can be seen in Baker’s and Little’s own careers. Both started out thinking they’d be lawyers in traditional practice roles, but the growth of data and technology has provided them, and many others in the profession, with interesting new career paths that more closely match their own interests and passions. Those new career paths are tools that firms can leverage to increase professional satisfaction and retain talent.

Future directions? How about AI

Both Little and Baker see a big role in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the future of their organizations. Both acknowledged that much legal work entails extraction of data from documents, and they are on the lookout for new tools that can do that.

Baker noted that the field of natural language processing has made great strides in recent years, including fields like contract analysis. What’s needed, he says, are more AI-based tools that are focused on some very specific legal tasks. Technology that can summarize, classify, extract, and segment unstructured data will be the next wave.

This wide-ranging discussion provided ample evidence that firms pursuing a strong data strategy will be well-equipped for meeting the challenges of today’s legal market.

View the video of this Changing Lawyer Summit session here.

To explore more of the industry insights in Litera’s The Changing Lawyer 2021 research, download the full report. Recordings of the Changing Lawyer Virtual Summit sessions are also available on our YouTube channel.

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