ABA Journal

How lawyers are mining the information mother lode for pricing, practice tips and predictions

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Design by Bob Fernandez

The day is here: Big data, loosely defined as the computer analysis of torrents of information to find hidden gems of insight, is slowly transforming the way law is practiced in the U.S.

Law firms are using big data to identify which cases will be easy slam dunks and those that are air balls. They’re relying on the technology to get a read on what other law firms are charging, so they can adjust their rates accordingly. And big data is also popping up in law firm human resources departments, where tech-savvy department heads are crunching data on potential new hires in the hopes of coming up with recruits who are truly a good fit.

“I think analytics is the wave of the future,” says Mark A. Lemley, a Stanford Law School professor. “Lawyers and companies make decisions today based on ‘anecdata’. If the lawyer remembers winning a case on a particular issue in front of a particular judge, they instinctively assume they know how that judge thinks about that issue.

“But that’s not necessarily so. Data allows companies and firms to understand the real opportunities and risks they face so they can make intelligent business decisions.”

Still, while there’s a lot of feel-good buzz about big data’s promise for law firms, those most familiar with the technology know it’s a double-edged sword. The same big-data computers doing all that mining on behalf of law firms are also being tasked by corporations to quickly size up the legal services market so they can play hardball with law firms seeking legal business.

Granted, computers have been transforming the law for decades now. But the sheer firepower of the technology these days—coupled with the unprecedented access to seemingly endless amounts of raw data on virtually every aspect of everyday life—is re-engineering that transformation on a much more fundamental level.

Click here to read the rest of “The Dawn of Big Data” from the May issue of the ABA Journal.

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