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Big Data may mean Big Insights.

At least, that’s one major takeaway I got from the Legal Trends Report released by Clio late last year.

Yesterday, I shared my December editor’s column from Arizona Attorney Magazine in which I discussed the report and a few of its findings. But I also had promised to write about the part of the report that wasn’t so much about law practice, but about the power of data to make positive change.

Today, let me get back to that.

Here is the pertinent part of my column I’ll extrapolate on today:

“First—and maybe less interesting to you—is the newfound power of data to provide insight. I’ll write more about this in the future (probably in my blog https://azatty.wordpress.com/), but it’s incredible that via our own real-time software choices, companies like Clio can assess the state of law practice—all within the agreed-upon terms of use. They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, how many invoices are generated, how many remain unpaid. Does this spell the end of surveys based on self-reported data? We’ll see.”

Before I dive in, here again is a link to the complete report. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.

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Data + lawyering? Yes, please, say Clio.

Besides the bullet points I mentioned in my column, here are a few more macro-level insights by Clio:

  • The total 2015 realization rate (actual hours billed as a proportion of actual billable hours worked) came in at 81 percent, but this differed noticeably by practice area and by state.
  • The total 2015 collection rate (actual revenue proportional to hours billed) was 86 percent.

So let’s jump in, shall we, and start with Clio’s premise, regarding the dearth of practice decisions driven by data.

Essentially, they’re saying, in the 4,000-year history of the legal profession, lawyers, firm owners, and decision makers have suffered from a scarcity of industry data. Law firms have had only sparse resources to find the business insights required to run a viable practice.

I know, dramatic, right? In the very first line of their executive summary, they’ve got me with a compelling narrative. Plus, they have subtly conjoined me with every great lawyer, from Hammurabi, to Abe Lincoln, to Sandra Day O’Connor. Those folks—and me. We’ve all suffered the same law practice pains that arise from insufficient reliable evidence. But we’ll solve it together.

OK, I joke, but there’s something to their point. The mass of data that we rely on do come from (as Clio says) self-reported data and often small sample sizes. And is there a way to know if the data we rely on REALLY came from firms of a size like our own firm? Unlikely.

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Hammurabi had a great Code, the best, really. But who knows what he could have achieved with better data?!

But the advent of Big Data and data aggregators has changed all that. Now companies like Clio—and others you interact with every day—have access to your actual choices and interactions with their products. They can see, moment by moment, how many new matters are opened, and how many invoices are generated, and how many remain unpaid.

Here is where I must note that Clio (like all reputable companies) is using all of our online decision-making anonymously, stripped of identifying data. But when they take this massive batch of anonymous data, and analyze it, a remarkable picture of us as a profession emerges. The world is changed—for the better.

So that was a bit of a wake-up call.

But I leave you today again, once again, with their visceral image of your practice as a funnel.

Any of us who practice or have practiced law understand that there is a flow to the work, and that we need matters to begin, end, and get paid for—and hopefully all those things overlap in multiple matters so there is actual cash flow. But picturing it like a funnel invites a disturbingly accurate assessment of where we all stand.

Because we are all busy, I invite you to turn to the report’s page 35. Or, if you’re really busy, I’ll type it for you:

Funnel Cloud? The Devastating Conclusion

Out of an eight-hour workday, the average firm collects payment on only 1.4 hours of billable time. These unit economics would be devastating to almost any industry, and they help explain why, despite charging an average $232 per billable hour, the average small-to-mid-sized firm struggles to make ends meet.

I hope you weren’t standing up when you read that.

Once again, here is a link to the complete report.

Enjoy.

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