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Top 10 Big Data Facts – is it the elephant in the legalit room ?

We received blank stares and nervous laughter from established ‘household name’ legalit vendors when we asked them about Big Data – and if they don’t know, how can they assist their customers?

by Jobst Elster*, Head of Content, InsideLegal

Last month, we attended LegalTech New York for the 14th year, and while many hot topics have dominated the headlines in years past, in 2013 it’s all about big data. Per our pre-show LegalTech agenda word cloud, big data was a main focus of the conference content agenda, surprising since it was a ‘no-show’ in previous LegalTech programs. What’s the big deal with big data? Why now? Who really cares?

In search of answers to these questions, we spent a good amount of time sitting in on ARMA’s big data sessions, interviewing big data panelists and vendors, and participating in related social media conversation. With that as the backdrop, here is our top 10 list of LegalTech big data facts and musings:

1. De-mystifying big data:  Just like cloud computing scared the daylights out of people less than five years ago (especially the security heads), big data is doing the same thing now. Since the biggest question with cloud computing in year one was “what is it?”, I suggest we start with Wikipedia’s big data definition:  “In IT, big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curating, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.” The bigger point; before we all get high blood pressure re ‘BD’, let’s step back and start with a simple, yet useful definition.

2. What does it mean for law firms? Law firms don’t have a big data problem as much as they are challenged with what a big data world means to them, i.e., their clients’ big data issues. Firms will never reach a scale/capacity issue like government or Fortune 500 companies, but they will be expected to offer sound advice on data security, ethics, overall compliance and risk aversion as it relates to big data. A few US firms (i.e., Holland & Knight, Hunton & Williams and Goldberg Segalla) have taken the first step and opened separate practice groups (not necessarily profit centers, yet) focused on offering compliance and regulatory data management-geared advice.

3. Big data and technologyCurrently, big data is not always or primarily associated with technology, but it has potential if legal application and service vendors band together to re-educate the legal community on business intelligence and analytics tools. No lawyer gives a hoot about OLAP cubes and data decision points but providing them insight into their business with meaningful metrics will garner a favorable response. The same goes for relating the corporate big data challenge in terms they feel good about sharing with others. Use technology as an aid, not a crutch and start with minimal workflow disruption, a relatable interface and the ability to share and collaborate with colleagues and clients.

4. Who’s in charge?  Gartner predicts that by 2017, the CMO will control corporate IT budgets and will be a key stakeholder in the  big data equation.  If this is remotely true, will this potential seismic shift force marketing and IT as well as compliance to all play nice and work together?  Can’t IT help marketing push the envelope when it comes to data mining and client profiling by designing more useable analytics tools? And can’t the chief compliance officer clearly communicate security and ethical requirements with the expectation that related alerts and triggers are built into the technology to avoid risky activity?

5. What does it mean for legal vendors? Beyond building smart technology, legal vendors should focus on making their technology produce more accurate, predictable results. I had great conversations with Pete Mancini, cicayda’s data scientist, who firmly believes that “the confidence interval between one analysis and another is really what will differentiate systems and adoption.”  He added that discussions with prospects and legal leaders made it abundantly clear that confidence in results is more important than anything else. To his point, I think analytics systems and even eDiscovery tools and enterprise search engines have all been too wrapped up in the process of what they set out to do versus simply doing what they advertised.

6. Current status:  InsideLegal took to the LTNY exhibit floor to ask legal vendors what they thought of big data and how they were addressing the challenge. We received blank stares and nervous laughter and this coming from established ‘household name’ vendors. If the technologists don’t know what they are dealing with, how can they assist their clients in navigating through the rough big data seas?

7. Big data and security:  The CISO (chief information security officer) is evolving into one of the key folks in the board room, especially as cloud deployments, big data, mobile lawyering and security in general continue to gain relevance in the legal environment. The CISO, currently more typical in corporate settings, is responsible for information-related compliance, handling everything from information security to risk management and disaster recovery/business continuity. Conference upon conference, the topic of security keeps creeping up to the top of the CIO’s ‘challenge’ list without much relief in sight. ‘Installing’ a CISO position not only adds accountability, but sends a clear message that security is job one at the firm and now someone besides the CIO has a vested interest in compliance and risk management.

8. Big data and searching:  Coping with big data, whether on the corporate or law firm side, will become much more manageable once search technologies evolve to become discovery platforms. In this scenario, system users don’t have to know what they are looking for or input specific key words to have search success. Other parameters, factors and characteristics are all evaluated and processed by an intelligent discovery tool that gives you the real information you are after. Military intelligence has been relying on discovery (vs. search)-based models for decades and, slowly but surely, a comparable level of sophistication is making its way into the private sector.

9. Data hoarding:  The cloud is NOT the answer for storing unlimited data, especially ‘dark’ data that we keep around just in case we’ll need it later (does your Outlook Inbox or archive remind you of this?). The eDJ Group recently completed its Defensible Deletion Survey and reported that 96.1% of respondents (out of 430 participating information governance professionals) agree that defensible deletion of information is necessary in order to manage the exploding volumes of digital information, while 37.3% indicated that lower priced cloud-based storage options present a long term information hoarding solution.

10. Do(n’t) believe the hype:  The big data hype is based on numerous opportunities to positively affect law firm business through better information sharing, information access and, most important, acting on the information we are given. 15+ years ago data warehousing was all the rage – today it can be information proliferation — using data continuously (as a steady flow versus periodic trickle)to help make smarter decisions instantaneously versus saving  the data, storing it and hoping we can at a later point in time  remember to retrieve and then use it.

*Jobst Elster is the Head of Content of, an insider’s guide to doing business in legal technology. He has spent the last 15 years working with legal technologists, consultants, vendors and media – spanning roles as legal industry advisor, legal content liaison and market research and market trend analyst. He can be reached at and on twitter at @InsideLegal

2 replies on “Top 10 Big Data Facts – is it the elephant in the legalit room ?”

Nice piece. Big Data is here–and it’s only getting bigger. I’m not a lawyer, but if I were I’d love to focus on what Big Data means for all of us. The privacy issues are tough to overstate, as I mention in the new book.

Tell us more about the book please Phil – this is a hot topic

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