DIY Analytics: Beyond Excel

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 2 (November/December 2021), pgs 12-15.

By Erik Adams, Manager of Library Digital Initiatives, Sidley Austin LLP; Martin Korn, Director of Research and Knowledge Services, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP; and Casandra Laskowski, Head of Research, Data & Instruction, University of Arizona College of Law Library

Tips and tools for mastering the basics of statistics and analytics to create your own data project.

Analytics is using math and computers to mine data for insights and knowledge. Many tools are now available that make it possible to do analytics with little more than a basic knowledge of statistics, some data, a personal computer, and the right software. You don’t have to know how to calculate the standard of deviation or have an advanced degree in computer science to do your own analytics. It is not necessary to run surveys to gather data. This article discusses some basic concepts in statistics, where to find data, and which tools to use for manipulating that data. It also makes some recommendations for librarians and legal information professionals on how to get involved in data projects.

But first, what’s wrong with Microsoft Excel? Once you really get serious about analytics, you will encounter a variety of speed bumps that are handled better with other products. Excel has limits on the amount and kinds of data it can import and manipulate. Other products make dealing with large and complex data comparatively easy. Excel’s formulas and macro language are not as expressive or sophisticated as that found in R or Python, which both allow for more options. Similarly, OpenRefine, Power BI, and Tableau make it possible to automate a lot of the drudgery of data preparation and cleanup. Excel may be the de facto product people use to manage and share tabular data, but that does not mean it is the best tool for the job. ere are things that it is very good at, but there are many tasks that are better done with other tools. You could use a hammer to drive in a bolt, but a wrench will do the job better. Similarly, you can do analytics with Excel, but you will be more efficient using other programs.

This article was developed from a program at the 2021 American Association of Law Libraries Virtual Conference. The session had a companion workbook that is still available for download (visit The workbook provides a walkthrough of different kinds of analytics, using a fictional data set.

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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 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 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!”
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Register Now for the Jane Sánchez Memorial Lecture on the Future of Law Libraries and Law Librarianship Webinar

The late Law Librarian of Congress and Deputy Librarian for Library Collections and Services Jane Sánchez worked to advance the Law Library of Congress by advocating for new initiatives. These initiatives, such as the Law Library of Congress Legal Research Institute, helped enhance the Law Library of Congress’ products and services, and expand our ability to assist patrons across the world. This webinar, which is cosponsored with the American Association of Law Libraries, will honor Jane’s legacy by examining the future of law libraries and law librarianship with a panel of experts that draw on their experience as leaders in academic, government, and law firm libraries.

The webinar will be held on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 at 03:00 PM EST.

The speakers are all members of the American Association of Law Libraries, and Emily Florio and Kim Nayyer and members of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section.


Law Librarian of Congress Aslihan Bulut will moderate the discussion. The panelists include:

– Kurt Carroll is the President of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) and the Chief of the Law Library of Congress Collections Services Division.

-Emily Florio is the Senior Research Services Manager at Hogan Lovells and the Immediate Past President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).

-David Mao is the Chief Operating Officer of the Georgetown University Law Center and the former Law Librarian of Congress, Deputy Librarian of Congress, and Acting Librarian of Congress.

-Jennifer McMahan is the Deputy Director of the United States Department of Justice Law Library.

-Kim Nayyer is the Edward Cornell Law Librarian, Associate Dean for Library Services, and Professor of the Practice at Cornell Law School and Cornell University Library. She is also the President of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL).

How to Register: Sign up to receive the Zoom link here. By registering, you are consenting to receiving follow-up emails about this event, such as a post-event survey and the webinar recording. Please request ADA accommodations at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or

AALL Executive Leadership Institute: Listening a Key Component of Leadership

By Maureen Burns, Research Services Manager, Godfrey & Kahn

I recently had the privilege of attending the recent American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Executive Leadership Institute, which was held on July 28-29, 2021, following the AALL Annual Meeting. Thank you to the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) Grants Committee for the opportunity to learn, grow, and connect at the Institute.

The Institute provided relevant and timely leadership-related sessions, covering topics such as inclusive communication, collaboration, driving change during transitional times, and the integration of wellness into leadership.  Communication was a common thread throughout the one and a half-day Institute, coming up both in the excellent presentations and in small group discussions.  The word that kept coming to my mind as I heard each of the presentations and participated in discussions with my fellow attendees was “listen”.

While discussing inclusive communication and how to move from conscious bias to conscious inclusion, Dr. Daisy Lovelace presented us with ideas to help lead us to an inclusive mindset, recognizing that teams diverse in identity, background, and experiences lead to better problem solving.  One element Dr. Lovelace talked about was listening to understand, validate, and offer support. As librarians trained in the art of the reference interview, we are accustomed to asking questions in order to solve a problem.  When someone we lead comes to us with an issue, we should validate their feelings and seek to understand.  Listening, without fixing, is important in today’s world where often stress-inducing change is a part of our everyday lives.

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