Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do Lawyers Have a Role in Data Management?


Having attended the ACC annual meeting in San Antonio last month, I have many fresh ideas and thoughts in my head as I listened to and participated in numerous conversations around the challenges GCs are facing. If you look at any of the Twitter updates coming out the conference (#accam10) you will notice a focus on using data. No, I am not talking about ediscovery.

Discussions out of panels addressing topics from the ACC Value Challenge to project management to setting fees - incorporated in some fashion the concept of gaining visibility into one’s own data. Using your own data to gain insight sounds logical enough but in practice it is a rare find in corporations. Rarer still inside the GC domain – well let’s just say the legal domain as a whole. Lawyers both fear and quest for data (depending on the matter and side they are on). Data represents a treasure trove of information that is used by adversaries in the discovery process. Ediscovery has awoken lawyers to the idea that “data” is ubiquitous. But it has also led to misconceptions on it use as too often data is used in only an adversarial manner. This is unfortunate as data represents a virtual treasure trove of information to any business person looking to know more and do more to help their organization.

Too often when data is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind of most lawyers is the dreaded “ediscovery.” Yet that represents only a fraction of the data-world. Corporations are literally swimming in data. We talk about data being in silos, or something IT controls, or being overwhelmed with data in our professional and personal lives or even worse – data being our enemy as it can expose us and break down privacy. But from a corporate perspective data should represents intelligence first and foremost. BI (Business intelligence) folks understand this. But BI is a foreign concept to most lawyers regrettably. And those that are aware of it tend to regard it as some secret ops team that no one knows of or knows of what they do – so basically they ignore them. While BI is arguably a crucial component of any corporation looking to increase operational excellence or market performance it too represents only a portion of how one can use data.

The question is really who does “own” the data of a corporation? Own in the sense of manage and/or control or better yet govern? It seems that just now there is a growing awareness that GCs need to dig deeper into their organizations data assets to learn more about how to manage legal services. It is becoming more commonly known that using data regularly collected by time keeping systems has been immensely helpful in understanding fees better. What has been missing is an internal view in to the corporation itself to look for and learn about what other data sources may be helpful to GCs and the business as a whole.

So who should take “ownership” over an organization’s data? This is a difficult question because “owing” data it often misunderstood – this is due to how one generally thinks about data. Most people would say IT owns the data. But as stated in a recent article by Martin Hansen at Information Management:

“Storing the data is an IT issue, but understanding and interpreting the data is a business issue done by the business functions. This is one of the primary challenges when trying to place the ownership. Data is not owned, but partly managed by IT, and business doesn’t want to own anything that ‘smells’ like IT. This is typically the reason ownership is not anchored, and hence, falls between two chairs.”

I would add to this that the legal sector in a corporation currently neither wants to own nor manage data. However, lawyers often have to “deal” with the data and more often the “data” is outcome determinative in legal events. Arguably legal needs to take a more active role in its organization’s data. I am not suggesting by any means that legal needs to own or even manage data but rather instead of addressing data in a reactionary method – having to address data issues as they arise in response to discovery – legal has a vested interest in the on-going or living architecture of the its organization’s data ecosystem.

As data convergence (or information convergence) continues to accelerate and diversify – lawyers will continue to confront data issues – issues that may have been able to be remedied by other practices, initiatives, or internal business groups prior to the lawyers’ involvement. By taking an active role in data management lawyers have a lot to gain and little to lose.

Note: For some decent reading on this and related topics - IT Savvy: What Top Executives Must Know to Go from Pain to Gain