The ILTACON 2015 Session “Is Big Data in Legal a Figment of Our Imaginations” challenged the concept that big data phenomena simply do not apply to the legal market, and then set out to arm every member of the audience with firsthand examples of big data at work in law firms, giving support in answering managing partner’s big data questions (and doubts).

The majority of the session focused on presenting interesting case studies for big data in the legal space. The session aimed to push the envelope in exploring where the legal market sits with regard to big data. Joining the panel were Jobst Elster, InsideLegal; Bryn Bowen, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP; Galina Datskovsky,  Vaporstream; Eric Hunter, Bradford & Barthel LLP; Judy Selby, Baker & Hostetler LLP; and Paul Starrett, Starrett Consulting, Inc.

The Big Picture

Big data is typically considered to be datasets so vast they are unmanageable by traditional storage and search technologies. In general markets, data has been doubling every 12-18 months. Data is everywhere (mobile, virtual, cloud) and users are demanding real time access.

In the legal market, things aren’t any different. In the discovery space, the volume of data is scaling along with the times. People are emailing more, tweeting more and using more devices. Law firms are looking to find analytics and algorithms to deal with the big data issue and make better use of the data they have.

The data itself and the processing aren’t the only concerns; privacy/security, governance, data science and artificial intelligence (AI) are all trending topics in the legal space that need to be addressed. Law firms have to be especially aware of privacy concerns when searching and storing their data, as their clients may impose such restrictions as geographical storage location or restricted access to the data itself (not all attorneys in a firm should be able to see all client data). Much of the law firm’s data might actually be dark data, or data that is useless to the firm for the purposes of mining and review. If the firm is not legally required to keep this dark data, the best action may be to delete or otherwise remove it from the dataset. If this requires sophisticated analytics and algorithms, the cost-benefit may be questionable and depend on development or procurement costs. Law firms better able to process and leverage their data are taking one step in the direction of being a law firm of the future.

Trends and Takeaways

Even though law firm data isn’t as big as Google, Amazon or other tech giants, that doesn’t mean law firms can’t benefit from the same analytics and algorithms those companies use to traverse their (very) big data repository. Self-learning, crowdsourcing, and other AI algorithms could have grand applications in legal, transforming otherwise useless data into actionable intelligence which could impact every area of the firm, from business development to practice of law. In certain areas, law firms have things easier than Internet search engines because their data sets are well contained and somewhat clean. The volume and speed of the data received also is much slower, making the challenge of keeping up on the hardware side more manageable. The panel all agreed that the subject of big data is ever important to the legal market and will continue to trend upward in years to come.