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15 October 2019

Data: the magic word

Kevin Hoffschir |
Eliott & Markus

It is omnipotent. It is omnipresent. “Data” is everywhere. It fascinates or frightens, attracts curiosity or contempt, but leaves no one indifferent, as it is presented and praised as “the black gold of the 21st century.”

In the midst of grandiloquent speeches, it becomes difficult to understand the opportunities and limitations of using data in law firms. So, let's forget about pure technology for a moment and take an interest in its current application in the office: where are we at, where did we from and where are we heading?


According to Dan Kohn, Director of Foresight at SECIB, the time for evangelization has passed. “We are in the action today. For a long time, my role was to make lawyers understand the change. Now that the tool is no longer perceived as a constraint, the search for meaning begins.”

At present, digital data aggregation is mainly a time-consuming process, a precious commodity for lawyers. This is the famous refrain of modern times: reducing low value-added tasks to focus on high value-added activities.

From an organizational point of view, whether in terms of invoicing, accounting, file monitoring or backup, it is now clear that information systems offer real time saving to the law firm. A statement confirmed by Benjamin English, a lawyer at Avril & Marion, “[the information system] frees me up time to do business development. And that's not bad.”


Beyond efficiency, data processing opens new doors in terms of internal communications. For a long time locked into a silo model, the implementation of a unified information system within the firm almost naturally leads to more cross-functionality between departments.

This trend is confirmed by Intapp, the Anglo-Saxon leader in law firm information systems, according to whom “A unified data approach will spur better collaboration between lawyers, with clients and other firms in the network.”

A collaborative start that is still viewed with suspicion by a regulated profession, where confidentiality is non-negotiable. This mistrust explains, in part, the difficulty of establishing a unified, complete and up-to-date internal database.

With such a need for confidentiality, it is clear that attitudes will only change gradually, as solution providers offer sufficient guarantees in the field of cyber security. A sector to be closely monitored over the next few years, given the strong demand.


More efficient management? Done. More cross-functionality in information sharing? We're getting there. What happens next? By probing the speeches of various software publishers, both French and Anglo-Saxon, we notice a shift towards a promise more oriented towards “business intelligence” than “practice management”.

There are two reasons for this. The progress of analytical tools and better interoperability between them will make it possible to refine data analysis to a level sufficient to outline tangible strategic axes, such as the development of new offers or the prospection of new sectors and customers.

Therefore, data acquires a more offensive function than management, by directly influencing the firm's business development. A revolution? It is too early to say. At present, it is difficult to identify an analytical tool that is clearly adapted and used by law firms. But the real question is not so much the technology, which will mature sooner or later, but the human being who will have to appropriate it.

On this last question, two visions exist.

On the one hand, those who focus on the development of new professions or new functions in firms: business developers, data analysts, knowledge managers or operational directors (HR, communication, etc.) familiar with the use of data.

In close collaboration with the partners, these new functions will enrich the firm's strategy with their insights from the databases.

On the other hand, the promoters of a 2.0 lawyer, trained to draw the necessary lessons from analytical tools that will be ergonomic and adapted to the profession.

This is the case with Dan Kohn. “I have reservations about the forecasts. There may be other trades tomorrow. But I think that the change in the new functions in law firms will come from the lawyers themselves, who will have learned other skills and will use mature and very simple solutions.” The debates are open.

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