Below is a copy of that featured article.
Legal Industry: Wake Up and Smell the Data!
Chris Dahl, Corporate Counsel
August 19, 2016
Like most lawyers (at least that’s what I tell myself), I put off my CLE credits until the bitter end of my reporting period. As I scrambled to find credits, I came across just one CLE course concentrated on legal technology. The course focused on metadata—a word most of the world had never heard until recent events like the government’s PRISM program, the scandal surrounding Hilary Clinton’s email and the fight between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice to unlock metadata on encrypted phones. As an e-discovery professional, I had to attend this CLE course.
I learned a lot. Among other things, the course taught us why metadata can be a problem, how to scrub metadata, how to integrate metadata manipulation into the workflow, and what to do when there’s an unauthorized metadata disclosure. Much of this information was useful, but I quickly became dismayed by the negative, fear-based message they were sending about technology and data that only encouraged people to avoid it.
In my idealistic world, I think commanding technology and the data lurking in clients’ businesses is a huge weapon for lawyers. It creates a strategic advantage by getting at the substance of the case before your opponent —and quickly! The CLE barely touched on this notion, and I came away thinking that all the scare tactics and misinformation about the digital evolution that’s taking hold in the legal profession today could simply frighten people into sticking with antiquated and expensive practices.
In my view, that’s a mistake—a big mistake—for both corporate counsel and law firms. Instead of anxiously shunning new digital solutions, I believe that everyone in the legal profession should double down and learn what these cutting-edge technologies can safely and securely do to improve outcomes for clients. Legions of open-minded lawyers are already doing this; but everyone in the legal profession will ultimately have to follow suit, because a new digital paradigm is clearly establishing itself in corporate legal departments and law offices everywhere in the world.
It’s an unavoidable fact. It’s a new and inescapable reality. The legal profession must fully embrace the Information Age. I’m now helping clients with petabytes of data across thousands of business platforms. Only 10 years ago, I was helping clients with megabytes of data—one billion times less data. Whereas the conversation used to be “Help me photocopy these documents on my desk,” it is now “Help me index and analyze gobs of data across my business because I have no idea what’s there.” There’s some hyperbole here—not every corporation is dealing with data of this magnitude, but some certainly are, and none were 10 years ago.
Look at it from a different angle. Take any significant legal matter in the corporate world today, and you’ll have several months of motion practices, procedures and maneuvering, followed by about 18 months of discovery. Over 90 percent of all cases settle before trial, usually during discovery. Combine that with how much data is involved with discovery, and it’s clear that understanding data is now crucial to managing the strategic outcome of high-profile matters. This reality is only going to get more pronounced. Luckily, there’s help available.
Firms such as mine are focused on turning data into an asset. We are lawyer-nerds who serve as critical bridge-builders between technology and the legal profession. We’re here to help lawyers apply techniques to save time and money by getting to the most crucial documents early. I like the way Brian McManus, our CEO, put it in a recent interview, when he said that we help lawyers determine what’s relevant and what’s “junk.”
So, CLE instructors and lawyers everywhere: Embrace the data reality! Use it to win! Ask for help! You’re trained to command your profession, and your currency is credibility. Become more credible by embracing technology and leveraging experts to help make your client’s data work for them. Do these things, and you’ll remove the fear from data. I want my next CLE course to parade success stories where lawyers won with data, not lament horror stories about how they were blindsided by it.
I’ll be putting off my CLE credits for another three years, so you’ve got some time to change, legal industry. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me or my company for help turning data into your ally.
Chris Dahl is vice president of product development and consulting at Lighthouse. He has more than a decade of experience as a technical leader in e-discovery. From 2003 to 2010, he worked for the law firm of K&L Gates in its eDiscovery Analysis and Technology (e-DAT) Practice Group.