Big Data

Small firms are using data tools for analysis, too

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David Tener portrait

Photo of David Tener by Eric Prine

You probably think of big data as the province of big firms. Those are the firms more likely to represent the large corporations that amass big data, advising about its retention, management and discovery. Large firms even use big data themselves for internal benchmarking and competitive intelligence. Big, it would seem, wields big.

Small firms, however, also stand to benefit from big data. Various technology tools enable even solo lawyers to analyze large data sets in ways that provide them with intelligence they can use in their practices.

Take the example of Caesar, Rivise, Bernstein, Cohen & Pokotilow, an 18-lawyer intellectual property firm in Philadelphia. It uses a product called Patent Advisor that was developed by Reed Technology Information Systems, a LexisNexis-owned company.

In a 2013 agreement, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office authorized Reed to mine data from its Patent Application Information Retrieval system, which provides details about applications and their status. Under the agreement, Reed makes PAIR data publicly available as a bulk download.

Reed developed Patent Advisor to help lawyers slice and dice this data to gain insights into patent approval and the examiners who drive the process. It provides granular data about every examiner, including how long they take to grant a patent, how long they take with specific types of patents, and how well the examiner stands up on appeal. It can also be used to evaluate how certain companies or even certain law firms fare with specific examiners.

Patent attorneys at Caesar Rivise use Patent Advisor to help them make strategic decisions at critical junctures in a prosecution, explains David M. Tener, the firm’s managing partner. After an examiner issues a final rejection, for example, the lawyer must decide whether to appeal, which can be expensive, or to continue to work with the examiner.

“That is a good time to look at the statistics,” Tener says. “The attorney can look back at 10 to 20 years of the examiner’s history. What is the examiner’s record on appeal? What kind of backlog does the examiner have? How do cases fare after an interview with the examiner? In some cases, it makes the decision for you.”

The firm also uses Patent Advisor to benchmark its performance internally and to generate competitive intelligence. “How fast do we get a patent versus a competitor in a particular art unit? We can compare apples and apples,” Tener explains. “You can use these stats to show a client you’re doing the best job.”

In South Carolina, Gerald Healy is using big data in a different way. After law school he joined the Marine Corps as a judge advocate. When he left the Marines two years ago, he launched Military Justice Attorneys, a virtual law practice specializing in the criminal and civil defense of active-duty military and their families.

Working from a home office, Healy has expanded the firm to add two lawyers and soon a third, all also working virtually from home offices. The firm tripled its earnings last year and he expects them to double again this year. One key to that growth has been tracking data on the firm’s marketing.

With a military practice, Healy’s potential clients could be anywhere in the world. That made it essential to track how leads came to him and to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of his various marketing methods.

To help do that, Healy chose Avvo Ignite, a cloud-based marketing dashboard from the company that operates the Avvo online legal directory. Ignite compiles and analyzes data about how prospective clients come to a firm and the cost to convert them to clients. Healy chose the platform in part because it is cloud-based, so it is accessible to all the firm’s lawyers.

“This lets me see how well my attorneys are doing at getting back to leads, track the conversion of those leads, and track the sourcing of those leads,” Healy says. Even with Ignite, however, Healy found it a challenge to track leads precisely, particularly those that come in by phone. Although Ignite can automatically track phone leads, it did not provide the detail Healy wanted on the marketing source that resulted in the phone call.

He jury-rigged a workaround, funneling calls through the cloud-based answering service Ruby Receptionists. Ruby collects information from the prospect and then submits it through the firm’s website, where Ignite’s automatic tracking picks it up and begins to follow it. With online marketing, tracking the source of a lead is often difficult. Healy says. The source could be a retweet of a tweet of a link. Between Ignite and Ruby, Healy believes he is capturing the data he needs to measure the effectiveness of his marketing dollars and continue to grow his firm.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Little Big Stats: Small firms are using data tools for analysis too.”

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