Nearly two hundred years ago, Matthew Fontaine Maury of the U.S. Navy convinced ship captains of navies and merchant marines around the world to utilize a uniform system of recording oceanographic data. He asked them to capture temperature, speed and direction of wind and waves during the same time period. Analyzing this incredibly rich and big data allowed Maury to chart and identify efficient sea lanes where the winds and currents were more favorable. Through Maury’s charts sailors could use ocean’s currents and winds to their advantage and drastically reduce the length of ocean voyages, often by as much as a third, which delivered a large savings for merchants. Maury was nicknamed “Pathfinder of the Seas”.
Maury’s story offers several salient lessons for the business of law. Datafication of a process, no matter how ancient and ingrained, enables analytics that have the potential to reveal insights with profound impact, on any profession.
The Pathfinder of the Seas teaches an important lesson that all can benefit from, especially legal professionals looking to build a data-driven legal department.
The process U-ACT is the framework that sailors adopted, and legal professionals should too. Whatever key metrics or data points you decide to capture, capture them universally (U) across offices, practice areas and people. Second, capture data accurately (A) as errors can undermine the integrity and confidence in the system. Third, capture data completely (C) and in a timely (T) manner. Following the U-ACT framework allows you to capture data you can be assured when analyzed will reveal insights that you can rely on with confidence.
This framework is essential to consider when selecting the best tool to help manage legal department, such as e-billing programs, matter management systems or enterprise legal management platforms. While many systems offer legal professionals the ability to capture data, a U-ACT framework must be applied to generate meaningful insights that can withstand the scrutiny of well-meaning but data-averse lawyer colleagues.
Consider contact information such as names and addresses for timekeepers (paralegals, associates, partners), location and size of law firms. Capturing these key pieces of information is table stakes for a law firm to get paid. If each location of a law firm or a corporate law department is empowered to capture names and addresses in their own localized idiosyncratic manner, aggregation or analysis is difficult. This causes each location to act like sea captains on our own, relying only on our past experiences and not being able to learn from each other.
If, however, name and address capture is standardized universally – accurately, completely, and in a timely manner across boundaries analysis of trends such as, spend by practice area, office, company, or person becomes as easy as 1-2-3. For law firms, this simple analysis can reveal downward trends and a need to redouble retention, win-back efforts, pricing or cost containment initiatives. Corporate law departments benefit from working with a data-driven law firm because such law firms understand the cost pressures facing corporations.
For corporate law departments, such analysis may reveal high spend growth in particular areas that need more oversight. Moreover, as Craig Raeburn has written previously, it allows for robust segmentation to understand the drivers for particular groupings.
Once a corporate legal department has good quality data, many insights can be identified, such as legal spend/billing trends. With this proprietary information, corporations can compare the trends against industry benchmark data. However, be sure the industry data used for benchmarking purposes also employs the U-ACT framework. How was the industry information captured and analyzed? For example, during rate negotiations, leverage industry data that captures accurate billing invoice data, which is superior to survey data, which is analyzed in a timely and consistent manner, captured universally across the industry.
Corporate legal departments no longer need to be a captain of their own ship navigating the rough seas by limited experiences. Leverage Maury’s navigation charts powered by millions of sea journeys and their collective wisdom. High quality data can transform the business of law.