by Wayne Johnson and Roger Carson, Founders, Encompass Corporation

Search and discovery is a significant routine task within a law firm. It is often the first step for legal matters where information about people, companies and entities involved in a case needs to be explored. In the absence of technological solutions that consolidate and collaborate this commercial information, lawyers traditionally follow a manual process of ordering disparate pieces of information through information brokers and registries. Commercial information is generally delivered in a linear PDF format at which point it has to be read, understood, consolidated, passed to a colleague or stored for future use. In the legal industry, where time literally means money, any lawyer delegates search and discovery in order to spend more on applying their expertise in preparing advice. This is where cloud based information visualisation software provides a tangible and robust solution for legal professionals.

So what are some of the challenges facing the legal industry in this day and age when it comes to managing commercial information?

Selling more than just time: Ordering searches is a reasonably simple and routine task in theory, until you start to allocate a dollar amount to the time spent in searching for meaningful information. Time is always of the essence when lawyers need to extract and consolidate relevant content from many searches and use that information to advise a client, prepare transaction documents or draft a legal opinion. Slow turnaround not only results in loss of clients but also has an adverse impact on a firm’s reputation. In addition to speed, accuracy of advice is also critical because when it comes to legal advice, near enough is not good enough.

What money can’t buy: In a mature and saturated legal industry, where clients are spoilt for choice, they will most likely find another alternative if they are not satisfied with a firm’s service. However, it does not always end there. Word of mouth is the golden advertising that can seal the fortunes of any firm. One dissatisfied client can lead to a permeation of the bad word through the ranks at the speed of ‘voice’, turning prospective clients away from the firm in question. So there is enormous pressure to deliver fast, professional service that keeps clients happy.

Needle in an information haystack: Searches are not always a one off activity. More often than not, the searches done by a firm for a specific case would need to be referred to at a later date, so proper storage and filing is important for quick and easy access to these records when needed. In some instances, the same search has to be repeated at a later date (mostly just before a deal settles) for purposes of comparison, in case of any changes, making the initial search valuable.

Given how search, review and management of legal information underpins the success, and subsequently, revenue earning capabilities of a firm, it is no surprise that in an industry suffering from information overload, this task is now costing legal firms more than ever before. In an industry heavily reliant on labour, the cost is not only in terms of lost hourly value and time taken to extract relevant content from linear reports, but also in terms of human error, when time pressures and increased stressed subsequently increase the risk of mistakes and oversights.

These challenges can be overcome with use of appropriate technological solutions that can help mitigate the risk of human error and help legal professionals augment their services. However, it also needs to be kept in mind that in order to avoid costs of constantly upgrading hardware and engaging IT professionals for maintenance, cloud based solutions provide a worry and hassle free alternative.

The light at the end of the information tunnel: Cloud based visualisation technology is the key to achieving speed and accuracy for traditionally manual tasks to add value to the hourly rates. Proponents of visualisation have argued for years that there has long been a need for visualisation software for effective presentation of information in order to prepare compelling cases and present advice to clients in easy to understand format. Hence, visualisation and the desire to utilize it, really isn’t something new. Over the last couple of centuries, data visualisation has developed to the point where it is in everyday use across all walks of life. For the scientifically minded, this has a lot to do with how the human brain works. A significant amount of our brain is dedicated to visual processing, resulting in our sight having a sharpness of perception far surpassing our other senses.

With the power of pictures, visualisation converts linear data into actionable insights. The corporate world is embracing not only the cloud base applications but also visualisation technology given the significant benefits it delivers in cutting down wastage of time and scarce resources that can then be effectively deployed elsewhere. Where law firms are concerned, data visualisation is a valuable concept that holds the key to achieving operational efficiencies in this challenging and competitive environment by helping to identify relevant information from a haystack of linear reports provided by information brokers, fast.

The famous ‘what’s in it for me?’ question:

To be more specific (we know lawyers like being specific), visualisation software allows lawyers to abandon archaic and laborious time consuming practices of manual labour. Instead of scribbling a somewhat accurate structure diagram on a notepad after sorting through pages of search results from official registers of company and land title information only to see it get lost in a bottomless stack of papers on the desk, visualisation makes the process easy. With visualisation technology legal professionals and admin staff can utilise a purpose-built and powerful web-based application to discover the whole corporate structure and its related entities, subsidiaries, owners and assets. The technology does this by combining corporate, personal and property data from multiple sources (in Australia this includes ASIC, LPI/LTO, PPSR), then constructing a visual chart for them to explore.  In addition to this capability, the technology can offer opportunities for further research if needed, for specific areas of concern or interest with a simple click. The resulting charts can help speed up decision making processes through a clear pictorial representation of issues. If workspace sharing is a part of the technology, then that also helps increase cross departmental and cross border transparency and collaboration through a universal pictorial language, thereby reducing rework and duplication.

Parting thoughts:

Technological innovation especially in the form of cloud based visualisation is, therefore, great news for the modern day legal practice. Given the magnitude of searchable data, we need something in our toolbox to facilitate lean data management practices which means getting the most out of a process with the least amount of time and effort spent, eliminating waste of any kind. Where cloud delivers a multitude of benefits in terms of eliminating the worry of constant upgrading and maintenance, visualisation allows professionals to find relevant information fast and mitigate the risk of oversights.  An interactive solution designed for professional audiences that can tease out connections and turn complex data into simple pictures is science and not science fiction.

We all ought to give it a try.