Data management and the quest for knowledge

As law firms grapple with the complexity of handling data, the challenges of GDPR compliance and leveraging the potential of artificial intelligence, data management can be pivotal, says Andrew Lindsay, general manager at LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions.

“Data is king,” asserts Andrew Lindsay, LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions general manager, crystallising the crucial role of data management in modern law firms. He talks about a broad range of data challenges SME law firms face — from storage to security and deriving greater value from it.

Law firms need to really consider how to use the data they have across the business, Lindsay advises, pointing to artificial intelligence (AI) as the “golden chalice” to exploit the innate knowledge captured in this data. The quest to achieve future success is to ensure law firms have a strategy in place to manage this data and guarantee its future value by making sure it is correct, compliant, curated and captured in a systematic way.

One of the biggest reasons firms need to store their data efficiently is to avoid legislative breaches. Lindsay says they must prove they’re adhering to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with the ability to find all data related to any client in every case. “How do you comply if an individual requests to have their data erased under the ‘right to be forgotten’?”He also notes that clients are now deeply concerned about how their data is handled: “Where is it? How are you holding it? Is it secure? Is it leaving the country?” This shift in client awareness puts immense pressure on law firms to demonstrate secure and robust data management practices.

Lindsay advises firms that have a reliable case and matter management system are in a good place because they’re already capturing data and organising it in a structured way. On the other hand, firms that don’t will probably have data scattered across multiple locations — Outlook, Word documents, shared drives, OneDrive, Excel sheets etc. This fragmentation not only elevates the risk factor for the business but poses significant challenges for future management and effective leveraging of knowledge.

Capturing legal decisions

An advantage of digitising file management is having instant access to a transparent pool of data containing real-world experience based on years of decisions made by senior lawyers. Lindsay suggests this knowledge can be surfaced with the help of AI and can inform future generations of junior lawyers or other new employees to improve their productivity and enhance their learning opportunities.

Steps taken and decisions made at any given point during the case are all saved for future use, “If I’m a senior lawyer and I’ve been using the system for the last five years, my decision points and essentially my legal brain, have all been captured within that system,” Lindsay explains.  “Even when I retire or leave the organisation my knowledge and experience can be utilised by the next generation as my tactics and know-how can be presented to other users at key decision points in their matters.”

This data also becomes crucial in training talent, particularly in a post-pandemic era where increased remote working presents a challenge to traditional mentorship methods. “In this way, the system can provide support, training and offer advice at particular stages in a case. If you’re not sitting in an office, you can’t tap somebody on the shoulder to ask what to do next, but by harnessing historic data with AI, the echoes of previous successful lawyers’ choices can be offered to support the decisions of the next generation to come, ” Lindsay observes.

With AI able to build output on past data, it can also support a firm’s ability to target and win files versus the competition, helping to analyse competitors’ tactics, Lindsay says. “This knowledge and know-how, once exclusive to the lawyers directly involved in a case — typically stored in their heads or paper files — can now be shared and exploited across the entire organisation.”

The 2023 LPM Frontiers research found that one-third of SME law firm leaders wanted their firm to be more data-driven in its decision-making. Efficient data management and future AI capabilities can also simplify profitability analysis and help to identify areas that require improvement in firms, according to Lindsay. Having this knowledge at the business leaders’ fingertips will influence decisions that significantly enhance operational efficiency and profitability.

Informed by the data, firms can choose which processes to automate and allocate tasks more effectively. “By capturing data and analysing it, you’re able to determine who should be doing what in any legal process — and at what price,” says Andrew, highlighting the opportunities for cost-saving, efficiency gains and increasing the competitive edge.

Shifting mindsets and adopting new technologies

To stay ahead of the game, firms need to adapt to exploit new technology and ways to manage data efficiently. But Andrew highlights that when adopting new systems and processes, it cannot be viewed as a one-time effort but an ongoing quest. “It’s not a case of implementing a new system and saying, ‘That’s it, we’ve done it’. It’s about continually questioning what you’re doing and how you’re improving it,” he says.

He adds that many firms might need to make a cultural shift to “get people to buy into the idea of continuous development to ensure that as a business, you make the most of the latest advancements in technology.”

This itself requires ongoing training, support and a mindset shift for all. But it comes with myriad benefits if you get it right, “If you’re continually improving, you’re always a step ahead of the market. Your clients will continually enjoy the best service available, and your bottom line will always benefit from adapting and exploiting the latest advancements to meet the demands of this ever-changing industry.” He advocates for a proactive stance in adapting to changes in the legal sector, suggesting firms shouldn’t wait for external pressure to drive their progress.

Lindsay paints a picture of a future where data and AI not only streamline operations but also give firms a strategic and competitive advantage. Yet, for firms to reach that point, they need to store and manage their data strategically, establish a fundamental plan to govern said data and meet their clients’ security expectations by ensuring their legal practices are compliant with standard data protection policies. Andrew concludes, “Only then can the real quest for knowledge from data begin…the golden chalice is on the horizon.”

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