ImageMany industries are starting to see the benefits that can be reaped from analysing and visualizing the vast amounts of data that is created nowadays. Slowly also the more conservative industries are waking up and looking into the direction of big data. One of these industries in the legal industry: justice courts, legal firms and law firms all included.

But there are still many questions left: what are the benefits of big data for courts or law firms? How can big data help overcome common court procedural issues such as overburdening, delays and costs? How to deal with sensitive data from trials? What are the implications of big data for the legal practice? Many questions remain and although it is a new practice for this industry there are some great examples. Let’s dive deeper into this issue.

Information week described earlier the case of the boutique law firm Thomas Horstemeyer from Atlanta. It has approximately 60 employees and is in the practice of intellectual property. Instead of having archives full of documentation about all the different cases, the law firm has moved everything to the private cloud. They have several storage area networks (over a dozen Terabytes of data) in the office and they perform several analyses on that data. They created a pure virtual environment and as such the firm upgraded its firewalls and added load balancing, virtualized its servers and replaced its phone system with VoIP. In addition they save on capital expenses by no longer requiring vast amounts of storage space for old case files.

Although this does not look like having to do with big data, it is a beginning as law and legal firms tend to hold on to large piles of paper documents. When everything is digitized it allows for faster analysing of the available data as well as faster and better finding information in old case files that can be re-used.

There are several applications of how big data can contribute to the legal industry. First of all it can greatly reduce costs and speed-up the process in court. When vast amounts of files or other relevant data can be analysed instantly and correlations can be found in the data. In order to do this it is important for law and legal firms to correctly collect, store, catalogue and organize all the data so that they can take advantage of all that data. Nowadays the computing power has become strong enough as well as cheap enough to store all the data that they want. This could lead in the future to completely new insights in certain cases as well as enable lawyers and public prosecutors to answer questions currently unanswerable.

Law firms can use algorithms for example that offer predictions on certain cases and based on how similar cases fared in the same jurisdiction give a prediction how new cases could work out. The small Californian law firm Dummit, Buchholz & Trapp uses such technology, developed by LexisNexis, to determine in 20 minutes whether a case is worth taking on or not, instead of the standard 20 days.

Secondly, big data will drive transparency into the legal industry and both lawyers as well as corporate clients can benefit from this. The tool TyMetrix LegalView Analytics for example has collected vast amounts of invoices of tens of billions of dollars of legal spending. This helps law firms easily benchmark themselves against the industry and determine the right price for a certain case. On the other hand, there are tools like Sky Analytics that helps companies reduce legal spend, control legal costs and benchmark legal spend. They give companies an unparalleled macro view into the costs of legal services, as well as specific advice on how to cut the best deal on legal services in any given location.

Also consumers can take advantage of the democratization of data in the legal industry. The app RateDriver enables users to quickly determine the appropriate rate they should expect to pay for attorney’s fees in 51 U.S. states.

Thirdly, big data can deliver new evidence in court. Several American examples indicate that big data collected and analysed from public data sets can be admitted as evidence. In addition, the legal industry has always been a data-driven industry but until recently all that data remained offline on paper. Now that legal firms are slowly moving to the digital world it opens vast new opportunities to improve their work. When the data is digitized is can be easily connected to other (open and public) data sets, providing clarifications and new insights. As LexisNexis Chief Architect Ian Koenig explains: “it allows to find the right needle in the stack of needles”.

Finally, big data is also appearing in HR departments in law firms. As discussed earlier in a post, big data can enable HR managers to crunch all sorts of data on potential new employees, among others how an applicant performs during an assessment. This can help these firms to find those recruits that really match with what they are looking for.

There are also big data startups appearing in the market that completely focus on the legal industry. One of them is Juristat, a St. Louis–based start-up, that’s doing the Moneyball thing in court jurisdictions in America. Juristat provides actionable analytics to lawyers and law firms, allowing them to optimize litigation strategies, marketing, and internal operations. But they go even further, the tool from Juristat can even predict how a flu outbreak might affect a jury verdict.

Big data is still only starting in the legal industry and there is still a very long way to go. Among others because of the confidential information that law firms are dealing with, they are reluctant to digitize all the data because of any privacy or security issues this might involve. For many firms big data poses a lot of risks and challenges, but in the end, the only way forward is the digital way. The book “Big Data for Law Firms” is a great starting point for law firms as it provides in-depth insight and practical actionable guidance on how big data will affect law and legal firms both internally and externally. What do you think how big data can affect the law practice? Join the discussion in the comments below.