Does the past drive the future? Why do you need predictive analytics? These are questions a passionate panel of experts sought to answer at the ILTACON 2016 session: “How the Past Drives the Future with Predictive Analytics.”

Andy Peterson, Innovative Solutions Strategist at Davis Wright Tremaine; David Cunningham, CIO at Winston & Strawn; Mark Thorogood, director of Application Services at Perkins Coie; and Zev Eigen, director of Data Analytics at Littler Mendelson, pondered the current state of predicative analytics in law firms.

In an effort to gain valuable insights from their data, some firms have begun hiring data scientists to develop or apply predictive systems to the firm’s data stores. These firms believe analytics are vital to the future of the business of law.

The panel offered some tips for firms looking to get started with analytics. They called out task automation and optimizing existing processes (such as search) as two areas where a firm can get started right away. They cautioned firms to carefully consider the talent required. Data scientists, information technologists and business experts may be necessary to run a traditional analytics team, although a motivated firm might be able to do some analytics with less.

Peterson suggested firms should try to find the data that’s captured in the transactional nature of the work attorneys do with clients. Some of that data is locked in emails; some in attorneys’ heads. Other data might be in places where one might not ordinarily expect to find anything. Once you have the data, the majority of the work is then spent cleaning it up before it’s moved to the analytics software.

The panelists mentioned a number of analytics tools, including AR Analytics: an analytics abstraction library. According to the panel, the application appears to require multidisciplinary knowledge to operate – a cross between mathematician, statistician, and programmer would likely be the best operator for such a program, but it can be used to derive powerful analysis from data sets as law firms continue on their quest to “see the future.”

Thorogood described a fascinating application of analytics where his firm parsed the data from its own email stores, extracting the number of emails sent to a client by targeting everything to the right of the ‘@’ symbol. They then cross-referenced this with revenue for that particular client. What they found was a correlation between number of emails exchanged and revenue. They also found they could use a drop in emails exchanged as an early warning that revenue might drop with that client, and that proactive action might be needed to cross-sell the client on another matter. This simple application of analytics, which could potentially be done with minimal resources, could have a profound impact on firm profitability.

The session offered a window into what four firms are doing with predictive analytics. What’s your firm doing? Do you see predictive analytics playing a vital role for your firm and shaping your practice in the future? We’d love to hear from you in the Comments.