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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.

Clio logo

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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How do you illustrate a complex legal issue like predictive coding in eDiscovery? A gavel? Not us. Here's our July/August 2016 cover.

How do you illustrate a complex legal issue like predictive coding in eDiscovery? A gavel? Not us.

I’ll be honest: The headlines on the cover of this month’s Arizona Attorney Magazine were not my first choice.

Yes, I wrote and sort of like the whole “time. space. data.” vibe. It’s clean, and sort of intriguing.

Most of all, it complements the great cover story by Aaron Goodman, an attorney at the Phoenix office of DLA Piper. He wrote on the increasing use of predictive coding in e-discovery. Turns out that when properly done, predictive coding can be highly accurate and much more cost-efficient than, y’know, paying staff attorneys to look at Every. Single. Document.

And here is the opening spread. Pretty cool, right?

predictive coding in ediscovery spread July August 2016-page0001

I know you want to say it: “Whooooaaaa”

So now I know you’ve seen the cover and will definitely read Aaron’s article. But you wonder: What was my preferred headline?

Aaron Goodman, DLA Piper

Aaron Goodman, DLA Piper

Given the cover image’s representation of a curvature in the data, how about: “bending the law”

I know, excellent, right? I almost pulled the trigger. But then I thought …

Some folks may not be amused by the idiom, which can also mean skirting the law. So, as maturity ravages my soul like a dark lord, I set aside the funny in favor of the clear.

Let me know what you think of Aaron’s article. And contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org if you have any other technology—or other—story ideas.

Big Data, big deal: Our January 2016 cover

Big Data, big deal: Our January 2016 cover

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But in the world of words and images, asking to reprint is right up there.

That’s why I was pleased to hear from the folks at the very smart and often witty Lawyerist.com. Those talented people spotted out January issue and said, We gotta have some of that.

gotta have it

Great content has to be shared.

OK, it was more office-appropriate than that. But you get the picture. Click here to see where the Lawyerist has featured the article by Melissa Kovacs.

For people wondering how that kind of wonderful happens, the recipe is simple:

1. Work with super-smart writers like Melissa Kovacs, who could describe a topic like Big Data in a way that even I could understand it.

My approach with very smart authors ... Treat me like a 4 year old ed99fb00-2c0b-0132-3ff8-0ebc4eccb42f

My approach with very smart authors …

2. Ensure that the article is a reasonable length, one that does not kill forests or cure insomnia. (Again, all Melissa.)

Dr. Melissa Kovacs crushed it in our January issue.

Dr. Melissa Kovacs crushed it in our January issue.

3. Find a way to feature it in visually appealing ways. In our case, we made it our cover (kudos to Art Director Karen Holub) and had a great opening spread (Karen again). Then include some sample infographics from the ever-appealing federal government data sources (no joking; they’ve got great stuff!).

4. Then edit the piece as lightly as possible, because its spirit could be crushed otherwise (the lack of editing is where I came in).

Congratulations to Melissa for her smart and well-written take.

And then, because we like clicks as much as the Lawyerist, feel free to read the article in its native habitat on our own website. The cover (wow!) is here, and the article (double-wow!) is here.

I wish you all the sincerest form of flattery, sincerely!

big data word cloud

Big and small intersected in a great way this month, in the cover story for Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Our topic is big data (or Big Data, if that’s how you roll). We’ve grown accustomed to hearing about the power of large-scale data to alter the modern experience—for example, just think of how many results you get when you Google … anything, really. The vast amounts of digital information available to us have transformed our lives. (Plus, technology’s only just getting warmed up.)

Dr. Melissa Kovacs of FirstEval

Dr. Melissa Kovacs

But we wondered how Big Data affects lawyers and their cases. And that’s where the talented Melissa Kovacs comes in.

Dr. Kovacs described a few practice areas that could benefit greatly from a wise use of large datasets. In her essay, she also describes how this data can be illustrated in highly visual ways; that will be a benefit to lawyers, juries, other fact-finders—and to lawyers themselves, who may be numbers-averse (guilty as charged). Her whole story is here.

But I mentioned big and small; what’s up with that?

Put simply, Melissa’s article is concise—blissfully so. It cuts to the chase and does not inundate readers with too much information. But can we have such shorter stories for the cover feature? Sure. Why not?

It’s not uncommon for magazines to reserve the cover for only their longest, weightiest pieces. And sometimes that makes sense.

But Melissa’s piece is timely, relevant, and well written. And I love the fact that our cover image of a tsunami of information is wedded to an article that can be consumed easily. It’s a tranquil pond illustrated by a tidal wave.

Arizona Attorney Magazine, January_2016 cover

Come on in; the water’s fine. Read the whole thing here. And read more about her firm FirstEval here (be sure to read her blog posts; they’re good, and not just good for a data scientist, but truly good!).

Opening spread for our data story by Melissa Kovacs, Arizona Attorney, January 2016.

Opening spread for our data story by Melissa Kovacs, Arizona Attorney, January 2016.