Big Data and the Evolution of the Legal Ecosystem: Four Keys to Unlocking the Promise of Big Data

Topics: Big Data, Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Data Analytics, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Legal Managed Services, Thomson Reuters

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REDMOND, Wash. — The potential and the reality of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, regulatory technology (RegTech) and the like are driving a seismic shift in the legal ecosystem. The expectations for law firms, in-house legal departments and legal services providers are rapidly changing as the ability to collect and analyze data expands. Legal teams are being asked to wrestle with new and complex issues ranging from enterprise-wide contracts management to cybersecurity to regulatory compliance, litigation and more. At the same time, there is increasing pressure to use new capabilities quickly to improve efficiencies and outcomes.

Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services and Microsoft hosted a roundtable discussion recently to explore the real-world ramifications of these developments. The program included in-house counsel from major global corporations, law firm partners, legal operations executives and data scientists. Much of the discussion focused around challenges and opportunities presented by data and analytics, as well as emerging technologies. We also talked about the overall people and process issues that impact how, when and where to deal with data and technology so true solutions can be implemented.

Here are four points that came out of that discussion that can help improve you experience with Big Data:

1. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

We acknowledged upfront that lawyers and entrenched bureaucracies are resistant to change. But as data-driven innovation is already here, the conversation quickly shifts to overcoming resistance and figuring how the people and process components of change needed to be addressed. There was general agreement that even as lawyers are held back by ambivalence, a lack of technology experience, or an inability to see the value of these new assets, they can be brought along.

Those in attendance who are charged with providing data to attorneys said that as data providers, they don’t always understand exactly what or, more importantly, why data is needed. Efforts to create teams, establish a shared language and a mutual understanding of goals was identified as critical to the success of initiatives to make legal operations more efficient and effective.

Ultimately, the lessons of data can only drive the solutions to be developed around that data. As one in-house counsel said to widespread agreement: “Data is like crack. It is a gateway drug to innovation.”

2. Plan ahead

Attendees agreed that lawyers are often reactive, and that the benefits of Big Data — e.g., detecting bad patterns, predicting outcomes and the like — requires legal functions to develop a proactive approach. The group reported that too often planning for improving legal processes gets short shrift and often is piled on top of other responsibilities.


There is no such thing as pure “automation” or a magic bullet to most of the challenges in the legal ecosystem. Several attendees stressed that it’s a big mistake to fall in love with the newest “shiny object.”


Taking a page from technology partners, innovative legal operations professionals are defining and scoring priorities as well as introducing transparency and accountability into the process. To sustain momentum, one in-house attorney suggested incorporating a Change Management component into plans, adding, “It’s the grease that makes everything work.”

3. Law firms need to mirror the businesses they serve

Most innovative in-house legal teams today have to pull together a variety of in-house and outside resources to build teams that can execute their legal initiatives. One participant described these efforts as an opportunity for outside counsel to provide holistic solutions rooted in a deep understanding of the businesses they serve. The group encouraged their outside providers to go deep in terms of understanding their needs.

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Others suggested looking at fee-models to get law firms on the same page as their business clients. One outside counsel explained that nothing aligns incentives and perspectives — and inspires an embrace of efficiencies — more than a flat fee. Another called for a value-oriented, subscription-based model, where the legal team partners with the client to build something new that solves a particular problem. The solution becomes something the law firm can then scale. It’s not about beating down the price, he said, it’s a fundamentally different dynamic. It’s win-win.

4. It’s not about the latest technology

There is no such thing as pure “automation” or a magic bullet to most of the challenges in the legal ecosystem. Several attendees stressed that it’s a big mistake to fall in love with the newest “shiny object.” Legal teams need to make better use of those products and strategies they’ve already invested in, take advantage of the full gamut of functionality in their existing tech, then find the people, processes and technology needed to solve for the rest. That notion of solving was key, and everyone recognized that the hard work is actually looking to “predict the present” by assessing how you do things today with a critical eye, knowing that change is needed.

Indeed, the discussion’s biggest takeaway — and something everyone seemed to agree on and refer back to — was the need to shift the conversation away from technology to answering the question: What is the problem we are solving for? If you can articulate your problem, someone can help you identify the tools to solve it.

The group had so much to discuss, that they ran out of time. Clearly though, participants are keen to dive deep into Big Data as well as into specific process and technology solutions that can help them in the near- and medium-term to mitigate risk.

The program was the final Thomson Reuters’ roundtable conversation in 2017. So far more than 200 of the world’s leading Legal, Risk and Compliance executives, law firm partners, technologists and academics have explored pressing issues around people, process and technology in lively, informal exchanges in New York City, London, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Boston, Chicago and Seattle.

Still, we’ve only touched the surface of what the legal industry is wrestling with — look for more of these dynamic conversations in your area in 2018.