By: Adam Conrady
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
Data is essential to informed decision making. In the legal industry, data is an aid for understanding legal issues and increasing efficiency of internal operations. However, not all data holds equal value. It must be collected, analyzed, and relate to relevant information for it to drive rapid, fact based decisions. Thus, data acquires great significance when it is mined and turned into information by data analysts. Although legal providers generate and store substantial amounts of data, the legal industry has been slow to adopt data analytics. “ The legal industry is getting better at using data, but we are far from where we need to be. To tackle its big issues, legal providers . . . need data and people who have a data analytical background.”
Data mining is highly beneficial to legal providers because it increases productivity and delivers new insights on legal issues. Proficient data miners are more efficient and effective at researching legal issues on internet databases, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, through the use of boolean searching and data analysis tools. Moreover, data mining often takes the form of reusing attorney work product to minimize the time spent on research. For example, searching internal work product for “model documents” that have proven to be effective.
Other applications of data mining exploits the utility of data analysts for legal providers. For example, searching internal work product for covenants or clauses that are directly applicable to the legal issue or searching historical data for names of attorneys, judges, expert witnesses, etc. to gain greater insights and develop litigation strategies. Data mining in this context requires data to be appropriately tagged for conceptual searching through a Document Management System (DMS). Consequently, the effectiveness of a DMS depends on the tags and metadata that the user provides. Data analysts can ultimately ensure that internal work product is properly tagged and annotated with the correct metadata and will not be overlooked at a later date. Furthermore, most data in law firms cannot be accessible to all attorneys in the firm and search results of internal work product vary considerably across individual users according to their access rights. Since access controls are configured through the firm’s DMS, data analysts can provide broader access to internal work product by redacting confidential information from restricted documents. Finally, data analysts can employ analytics technology to enable data integration exemplified in knowledge graphs. This technology allows legal providers to access new insights on legal issues and develop data-based legal strategies through its capability to piece together data from disparate sources into relevant information.
Data and technology promote efficient internal operations and client-facing delivery. “Legal providers that fail to make this investment will be unable to compete with those that do.” Although legal providers may turn to data analysts to stand out in the competitive marketplace, associate candidates with a data analytical background may be most beneficial to firm productivity. Associate candidates that are competent data miners and are knowledgeable of data analysis tools confer two for one value to legal providers. Thus, law schools must be proactive to the evolving environment of the legal industry and the curriculum must be supplemented with applications of data and technology.
The law school curriculum is primarily based on the use of casebooks to help students understand legal issues and apply relevant common law, statutes, rules, etc. However, internet databases are the predominant tool that legal providers use to practice law (i.e. understand legal issues and apply relevant law). Databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw provide research advantages to the proficient data miner through use of boolean searching and data analysis tools. In addition, it is customary for legal providers to use DMS and other data analysis tools to increase internal productivity. As analytical technology continues to progress, legal providers will increasingly be aided by tools that utilize data to quickly and visually help the user understand legal issues and apply relevant law. In order for legal providers to reap the full benefits of such tools, knowledge of data analytics is necessary. Despite the importance of casebooks to the law school curriculum, legal skills are transforming in the digital age. “Data analytics and technology are no longer elective courses.” The bottom line—law schools must integrate data analytics and technology into the required curriculum.