How Data Analytics Can Change the Way Law Firms Do Business

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 2 (November/December 2021), pgs 16-19.

The latest issue of AALL Spectrum, published by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), focuses on the increasing use of data analytics in the legal world, and the role information professionals play in making data accessible and beneficial.  Information professionals’ current roles involve helping people gain insight from the data available via various internal and external sources by integrating the data and presenting it in digestible and meaningful formats.  The Spectrum issue examines the use of analytics from different perspectives, including how to employ a DIY approach to analytics; how analytics can help firms innovate, and how best to implement analytics to help ensure adoption and continued use.

By Lisa Mayo, Director of Data Analytics, Ballard Spahr LLP

A recent Law.com article by Dan Clark highlighted a startling finding: “General counsel are increasingly looking for law firms that can collect and deliver data so corporations can improve their decision-making about risks and spending. But they are often frustrated when outside counsel can’t meet these expectations, according to in-house sources.” (Read the article at bit.ly/ND21law.) The article made the dire prediction that if law firms cannot offer digitized data to their clients, they “will likely lose out to their more cutting-edge competition.” Legal service providers are not alone in their need to employ data analytics. Every business, regardless of industry, requires a framework and methodology to quickly interpret data from
multiple sources in order to make sound business decisions.

At Ballard Spahr LLP, data and analytics are on the forefront of much of our modern technology offerings. Unlike many firms, our data and analytics function sits inside our Client Value and Innovation department, where we have some latitude with a research and development budget and the directive to “fail fast” if we determine a proof-of-concept did not meet our needs. Our data management mission statement says in part that we “contribute to the firm’s strategic goals by using innovative technologies, a variety of flexible and adaptive data sources, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and ongoing data literacy education to help redefine the Firm’s internal performance objectives and accountability drivers and transform how the Firm delivers legal services to its clients.” Just 48 words but loaded with meaning and purpose, both for now and in the foreseeable future.

The following are some of the ways Ballard Spahr is using data analytics to better serve its clients:

  • INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES– We are using best-in-class data and analytics tools for data preparation, security, dashboard technology, and automation. We are also leveraging big data tools for data analysis and transformation.
  • A VARIETY OF FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTIVE DATA SOURCES– Each evening, our automated processes look for new litigation, updates to federal campaign contributions, new federal, state, and local legislation, and municipality data sources. We can also modify our big data analyses to exclude or include client data based on the business need.
  • ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE/ MACHINE LEARNING (AI/ML) – Tied closely to our data literacy initiative, we are using AI/ML to translate pages of financial data into meaningful text with observations and actionable recommendations; we can also train ML models to find patterns, trends, and make predictions in any variety of datasets.
  • ONGOING DATA LITERACY EDUCATION – Global research and advisory company Gartner classifies data literacy as a “core competency” that entails being able to “read, write, and communicate data ‘in context’ including . . . the ability to describe the use case application and resulting value.” Our data literacy initiative involves training our users to understand the impact of effective-dated information versus period in time data; using filters to exclude anomalous data; and understanding the key financial drivers related to profitability. As Gartner’s recent 2021 Data Analytics Summit mentioned, “Data literacy is the ‘How’ of a data-driven organization; it is the most important skill for the twenty-first century—period!”

The Foundation

For two years we focused our efforts on building a best-in-class enterprise data warehouse (EDW) that pulls data from our accounting, human resources, and other firm systems into one place, enabling us to use our data more efficiently and effectively for reporting and analysis from the system of record as of an effective date or a certain point in time. We supplement that firm data with additional data sources from other data silos (e.g., patent docket information, new litigation, etc.), which previously would not have been possible. We now have a secure EDW that provides accurate, timely, relevant, and complete data with a security model that ensures users see only the data they should.

We use several tools as part of our Innovative Technologies suite, but the primary one is Microsoft’s Power Platform. It’s a toolset that is flexible, scalable, and highly responsive to changing requirements. As any business intelligence (BI) professional knows, the bulk of the work is in the data preparation (the modeling and design that enables efficient access to the data) when creating data flows that are stored in Azure and pre-vetted shared data sets that can be accessed and used by all.

Our core function has evolved into so much more though than simply building dashboards. We are laser focused on a data literacy initiative to ensure our users can get actionable insights from their dashboards and have the data needed to make strategic decisions. We have concentrated our efforts on ongoing education for our users and clients, with forward-thinking capabilities that include:

  • Importing external data from a variety of sources into our EDW
  • Finding patterns and commonalities in big data
  • Incorporating predictive analytics (i.e., based on the data, what problems may occur?) and prescriptive analytics (i.e., what are the specific next steps to remediate those problems?) with AI/ML to make better decisions and predict outcomes
  • Automation (building efficiencies that contribute to user adoption)
  • “What If” modeling, again with the goal of making sound, strategic decisions backed by data

The Results

We have successfully implemented several firmwide solutions for our lawyers and clients. Following are just a few examples:

1. Ballard360 is a collection of technology applications that focus on providing solutions and value add for our clients. (Learn more at bit.ly/ND21ballard.) Data and analytics run through most of this custom suite of tools that includes the following applications.

» CLIENTCONNECT is a robust solution that can be customized to enhance communication about matter status; it allows teams to upload and share documents, provides ongoing information about a client’s investment relative to budget, tracks the status of invoices, and even enables clients to enter information into templates that automate the first draft of key documents. (Learn more at bit.ly/ND21clientconnect.)

» VALUEMATTERS is a pricing and matter management application that provides real-time budget-to-actual information in a dashboard format and generates client-facing reports and budget alerts. It also helps us collect and analyze data from previously completed comparable matters to prepare more accurate budgets and provide a wider range of fee arrangement options to clients. (Learn more at bit.ly/ND21valuematters.)

» DOCBUILDER reduces the effort and risk associated with using form documents. Attorneys can enter key variables into questionnaires that feed into templates, which quickly create automated documents of exceptional quality and consistency, reducing cost, and freeing lawyers to focus on other higher-value activities for the client. (Learn more at bit.ly/ND21docbuilder.)

» CASETRACKER is a one-stop case management application that makes it easy to track matter information and documents; review and manage workload; and draft pleadings, contracts, and other documents. We also use it to collect and analyze case information—such as resolution time, jurisdiction, judgment amount, judge, and key intelligence on opposing counsel. ­is information can be used to support the development of engagement strategy for future matters. It also enables us to spot patterns and trends that may be valuable to our clients in minimizing overall legal costs. (Learn more at bit.ly/ND21casetracker.)

» CLIENTINSIGHT is a business intelligence tool that provides real-time reporting supported by predictive analytics and machine learning. It facilitates data discovery, an iterative process of discovering patterns and outliers in data. ­e tool increases data literacy to derive meaningful information and incorporates predictive analytics to improve forecasting. ­ese data elements give clients a 360-degree view of their engagements and promote better strategic decision-making. (Learn more at bit.ly/ND21clientinsight.)

To accelerate these client offerings, we have worked with others in the department to create a variety of litigation trackers for state and federal cases, as well as legislation trackers to see what’s happening in our clients’ home states and around the country in comparison. We also use external data sources in preparing our clients’ competitive intelligence, using available local, state, and federal data.

Although we are a highly functioning department and data and analytics team, we do not perform this work in a vacuum. Our firm’s Research and Information Center (RIC; formerly referred to as the “Library”) provides us with useful third-party data that we can incorporate into our client dashboards. For instance, for our ESG practice, RIC finds the answers to categorical questions about our clients so that we can build out scorecards. RIC is also part of our new business intake in performing due diligence (along with our Client Services group that reviews creditworthiness) and gathering company pro‑le data for new clients. ­is data is used to set retainer amounts, and we model alternative fee arrangements that are saved in our EDW so that we can continuously measure how accurate our due diligence forecasts are compared to the client’s actual payment history, and we are able to continuously compare budgeted versus actual realization and profitability. ­The Knowledge Management arm of our Client Value and Innovation department also works closely with RIC in managing our online data subscriptions that inform on everything from news aggregations, new litigation, and even competitive intelligence on other firms.

2. Over the past year, we worked with our Accounting and Financial Management team to develop an enterprise-scale data warehousing and reporting solution for our financial dashboards based on our effective-dated EDW financials. ­These financial dashboards have expanded capabilities that provide comprehensive information about productivity, revenue, and profitability, with the ability to drill down from summary statistics to more detailed information for offices, departments, practice groups, relationship partners, and matter billing lawyers and working fee earners. Because we have built these tools ourselves using current technology tools supported by Microsoft, we have the ability to modify the dashboards quickly and easily as our needs change and based on feedback we receive from firm users. Revisions that previously could take months can now be accomplished in hours.

3. Diversity and Inclusion were core values at Ballard Spahr LLP long before racial tensions came to a head in 2020. As our website states: “We remain committed to creating a vibrant community where the needs, perspectives, and contributions of people from all backgrounds are valued and integrated into every part of the ‑rm.” We have worked with our diversity leaders and firm leaders to create the technology that they both need to ensure this commitment is actualized.

» ­The Diversity Goals Dashboard measures, in real time, our lawyer/partner census metrics against our five-year diversity and inclusion goals for lawyers and partners of color, women, and our LGBTQIA+ community. As our lawyer census fluctuates, the dashboard automatically resets and is a visual representation of the progress we are making.

» Another unique feature of our Ballard360 Dashboards is its ability to allow our clients to monitor how their Ballard legal team stacks up against their own stated diversity and inclusion metrics. ­The dashboards’ scorecard feature gives clients the ability to view their own diversity and inclusion objectives alongside Ballard’s goals with easy and effective visual indicators.

» Not content with solely increasing our diverse lawyer count, we signed on with the Mansfield organization, which seeks to increase representation in firm leadership positions, equity partner promotions, and lateral recruiting at law ‑rms. We created a Mansfield Tracker Dashboard that allows us to monitor where we stand compared to Mansfield-specific classifications such as recruiting, RFPs, pitches, and leadership roles. I am happy to report that this past July we received news that we have successfully obtained Mansfield Rule 4.0 Certification and Mansfield Certification Plus. “Plus” status is awarded to firms that not only “consider” but also “achieve” 30 percent diverse individuals in all categories. We achieved this certification no doubt in part due to the ease with which we can now track these important data points.

Final Thoughts

Data and analytics are changing the way Ballard does business, and I am excited for the future as we begin to measure the success of our initiatives. ­is is truly transformational work, but as I hope this article has made clear, we as data professionals need to include other groups and departments in our data maturity journey. Breaking up the data silos means overcoming “silo mentality” and working together with others for the benefit of the whole firm. Find and partner with agents of change. Come up with use cases that will emphasize the value of your data and analytics initiative, and make sure they align with the goals of your firm’s stakeholders.

Regardless of your organization’s industry, data and analytics can support and enable your top initiatives. Ask company leaders “what do you wish you knew?” Extend your influence by giving your leaders the answers in the form of data (and accompanying analysis) to support the decisions they make. Use data analytics to enhance and learn more about your customers’ experiences to build brand loyalty. If you can effectively use data and analytics to positively impact both internal and external stakeholder outcomes, you will become a rock star at your organization. Don’t “lose out”!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s