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Business Leadership Summit 2021 - Data and analytics: a friend or a foe? article image

Business Leadership Summit 2021 - Data and analytics: a friend or a foe?

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The Lawyer and LexisNexis UK gathered delegates from across the legal sector, including lawyers, chief operating officers and IT directors, to discuss data and analytics – the critical path that data plays in their practices and how to harness its power for profitability, risk, management, planning and client experience.

The roundtable was led by LexisNexis UK commercial and marketing director Simon Farthing, who kicked the discussion off by asking how data is perceived within the group’s organisations and how they are seeking to change people’s perception of it. As the title of the roundtable suggested, data can be used for both good and bad purposes.

Farthing referred to an example of the chief information officer of a large firm that had told him that data is his biggest problem – “something that keeps him awake at night.” This is a sentiment echoed across both large and small firms.

The group agreed that though data is critical, they regularly had access issues and relayed the various challenges surrounding it.

One delegate replied that he was often trawling through the data to find what he needed – the majority is, he found an “unhelpful distraction.” For those that worked cross-jurisdictionally, the limitations were about accessing certain data in another country, particularly in the US.

For another delegate, the interrogation of data was a relatively new territory: “What I find quite challenging is taking it up to a business level – the quantum of data and the fields it crosses into is just vast compared to what I’m used to,” he said. Another admitted that as the landscape has changed so much over the last ten years, it was hard to stay informed on what is in the market as you need to be.

While the delegates were able to self-serve, they found that they also had to help others to create a data picture.

“For me, it’s twofold,” began a CIO within a UK law firm. “As well as making well informed decisions, we are also trying to inspire people to change the way they think about data.”

The group acknowledged that data can be a very powerful tool for change, and it is critical that it is targeted in the right way.

Farthing raised the question of technology and to what extent it provided support in managing data. Though tech is tackling the issues of managing and distributing accurately and timely data across the various organisations, the process is still largely human-led.

“In accurately accessing data and the Government processes around it, checking it is legal from a data privacy point of view for example, you still need the human understanding,” stated a delegate. “If it is very, very bespoke you need to know how to look at that data and lawyer it to understand the richness the data can provide.”

It was apparent that it wasn’t just about using tech to leverage data – it was about tech and people working in unison.

The challenges around using multiple systems and ownership of a business’s data were discussed. The difficulties often lay with legacy systems while one of the delegates said his organisation was in the process of building a central repository in which to store the data.

Farthing was keen to find out whether capturing data was part of everyday life for the group.

“Is there a process to capturing the data?” Farthing began. “Are you capturing data incidentally or are you building data into the way you engage with clients? For example, are you capturing the information you need as you process the case, or are you making the effort to capture information, keeping separate Excel spreadsheets and updating a case management system?”

Though some were further ahead than others, the delegates all wanted to be able to demonstrate the value of the data.

Client expectations and how they fit into a business’s strategy was also a key concern. A dispute resolution partner with a focus on white-collar crime and investigations said that for her clients, security was everything.

“In criminal cases in particular, my clients want to know where the data is held and whether it can be hacked,” she said.

A delegate pointed out that there are two opposing objectives: abuse and security. The group debated their feelings about the cloud.

As one delegate succinctly put it, there is no way out of the cloud.

“There is no longer a nervousness about the cloud,” said another delegate. “If done right and integrated properly the reality is that it should be more secure than on-premises data centres because the touch security measures are going to be to higher standards.

“It has the potential to be more secure. At least if clients aren’t too dogmatic and strict about it, because otherwise they will likely have less efficient services delivered to them.”

A major fault line with the cloud however is the prospect of data breaches. Whereas data would traditionally have been segregated across multiple organisations, in one site a breach is not just an emergency – it is catastrophic.

“When we look to who is providing genuinely secure cloud-based options we narrow it down to a very small field and then address the implications of any of those organisations failing,” said the CIO.

Not everyone within the group felt confident about where their data was being stored. As one delegate from within an organisation that was found in the 1800s quipped: “Who knows what’s in the loft?”

Another delegate added that she found data scientists helpful when the data doesn’t provide the full story, which she saw as the broader risk of data.

“Data scientists can show you the bits that are missing that you’re not seeing on the page and are very important to consider,” she said. “You may be able provide the data at speed but being able to provide the contextual surrounding it and the things that enable people to properly interpret it is where I think it’s much more difficult – particularly with historic data.”

Farthing stressed the importance of painting a picture with data in firms differentiating themselves, referencing a client that had been unsuccessful at winning business recently and wanted to know why.

“How much of a picture are you able to paint about the service you provide and the success of those services,” said Farthing. “How transparent can you be? What is the point in the tender and what does the data actually say about you?

The firms that are winning business are those that you using data to say something unique about you.”


Simon Farthing's commentary on the discussions about data analytics being a friend or a foe:

"We had a great mix of executive participants covering a spectrum of senior roles representing leading law firms. Given the different backgrounds and roles of each of the contributors, it allowed for a broad-based discussion on how firms view data currently, the part it played during the pandemic and crucially, the role they see data and analytics playing in the future.

It’s apparent that data is a vast topic and poses a considerable challenge for all law firms. There has been a significant amount of compartmentalisation of data historically with a lot of manual ‘knifing and forking’ of information to meet specific siloed requirements. Some participants are also looking to paint a broader, business wide, picture.

Data interests range from litigation specialists looking at data from an eDiscovery and disclosure perspective whilst managing partners understandably are most interested in data that illustrates business metrics and performance. Practice heads have a keen eye on data that demonstrates matter success whilst business development colleagues are focused on growing those key relationships.

To truly derive value from data though, firms need to think about it holistically: How do we assimilate the large volumes of data sitting across multiple systems into a single pool so that we can interrogate it collectively, to view the big picture?

The “flying” analogy used during some of the discussions helps visualise how data is currently used, as opposed to how it should be used. On a clear sunny day, with a full view of the runway and well-honed instincts, it may be possible to fly a plane to make a successful journey just by looking out of the window. The problem arises when fog appears, and the pilot is no longer able to safely navigate due to significantly limited visibility. This is when technology-led guidance from the devices and instruments on board becomes crucial for the journey.

Firms potentially hit the “fog” in the above analogy during lockdown due to remote working, dispersed teams and no in-person client engagements – steering them down the path of data-driven decision making. But as is evident from the debate, firms need to trust their data a lot more to benefit from a data-driven approach. Clearly, those firms who do trust their data, have tangibly reaped the rewards already.

The way firms capture information will go a long way in inculcating confidence in the integrity of data to derive analytics. Today, data is primarily used for historical insights – i.e., business reporting. To make the transition to “business analytics”, they must capture data in real-time, so that it can be concurrently analysed and used to predict outcomes and performance.  This requires having the right processes in place and making it easier for all team members to provide that information as part of their normal daily activities.  Another key theme that strongly came out of the sessions was the importance of people – people who understand the business, people who understand the data and people who can collaborate across functions.

Once you have the data and the right people working with it, then the fun truly begins, and this is where technology can help make the complex achievable. In Microsoft Azure, it is possible to apply artificial intelligence and cloud processing to data generated across the firm’s and to create that overarching view. So, with the right core system, the right people and appropriately applied technology, the fog will soon start to clear."

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