By Leah Molatseli
About two years ago Forbes Africa loudly proclaimed that Data is the New Gold, labouring on the premise that for hundreds of years since the discovery of gold in Johannesburg, it has been extremely valuable, more so it has been valuable for thousands of years ago. It further went on to explain why in recent years this perception of value has shifted to Data. But then what is data, why is it valuable and what does it mean to the Legal Industry? In this article, we unpack what data is, how to manage it, tools and best practices involved and why it is important for legal departments to manage their data.
What is data?
Simply put data is a set of facts and statistics collected for reference or analysis. In the modern world we are constantly collecting and sharing data whether intentionally or not.
Beyond anything, data is the new gold and an organizations’ ability to leverage this data effectively can either return them to the dark ages or catapult them into the future improving their business goals.
There are certain considerations to consider when working with data management. A good data management strategy can:
Create, access, and update data across a diverse data tier
Store data securely across multiple clouds and on premises
Provide high availability and disaster recovery
Use data in a growing variety of apps, analytics, and algorithms
Ensure data privacy and security
Archive and destroy data in accordance with retention schedules and compliance requirements
One of the most effective ways to execute a good data management strategy is by using a data management platform or software.
A great data management platform is basically a foundational system that collects and can analyse large volumes of data across an organization. This data management platform must be able to:
Identify, alert, diagnose, and resolve faults in the database system or underlying infrastructure
Optimizing responses to database queries for faster application performance
Allocate database memory and storage resources
Making changes in the database design
Data in the Legal Industry
Despite what most lawyers may think, the legal industry is a treasure trove of data, from the information we collect from clients, court documents, any form of legal document, to our client list, statutes and many more.
The problem with data in the legal industry however is how we manage it. There are different kinds of data in the legal industry:
Most data in the legal industry have no form of pre-defined organization. It is heavily filled with numbers, facts, dates, etc.
What is the first thing you see when walking into a lawyer’s office? A stack of files everywhere. Ever thought about what we see at master’s offices, in courts? We continue to be a data driven industry.
The biggest problem with this, is that the large amount of data sitting in these files is not accessible by anyone other than the person having physical access to the files and the information is not easily available to anyone once the files are closed. If no softcopies exist, should a fire occur, rain damage occur the data will be permanently destroyed
Legacy data is basically any form of data or information stored in an obsolete format or computer system making it
difficult to process, analyse, etc
Think of all those contracts and other legal documents stuck in your “I”-drive. You don’t have even a structured way of protecting client data or having access to the latest version of a document, not to mention an easy method of extracting critical clauses.
The traditional way of creating, storing, and managing data is shockingly very insecure and open to manipulation. With technological advancements there is no need to take unnecessary risks on how you manage data.
What does Legal Data Management look like in the Legal Industry?
One of the biggest concerns in the legal industry specifically relating to legal data is the lack of engagement between important stakeholders in an organization and the efficiency of the processes and systems which are reliant on legal document data.
In legal departments or law firms there is typically a lack of ownership, accountability and responsibility regarding:
storage of legal contracts, terms, and conditions; and
key legal terms required by an enterprise’s internal and external clients (both in terms of what these terms are and the accuracy of the data captured).
Risks of not having a Legal Data management strategy
- If you do not have a centralized hub for final versions of your documents, you risk losing track of revisions.
- Ensuring that sensitive information and documentation is secure and accessible is an important part for any organization. Even if you don’t suffer a security breach, failure to follow proper regulations and track your information carefully may put you at risk.
Productivity and Collaboration issues
- Obviously searching through a pile of documents takes up valuable time, but it also can delay key processes or hold up projects. Even when you find the documents in question, you may not have included all relevant documentation. If you keep updated versions of all documents in a cloud storage system you can access and share them w immediately when required.
- Having a cloud-based system allows you and your key team members to access documents that they require so long as they have permission to do so. If you keep documents in physical files or in select personal email accounts and local folders only the person with direct access to these will be able to access them. Especially currently with many people working remotely without cloud-hosting, you will be forced to have a designated person to access the required documents, scan them and forward them on to those that require them.
Disruption of Operations
- When legal data is lost, the effects of data loss will significantly impact your firm’s operations. Typically, numerous people are involved in investigating the cause and extent of the loss and attempting to recover the lost data. This is not only coming at a large financial cost but is also extremely disruptive to the ongoing operations of the business. The severity of the effects of data loss will vary depending on whether it’s a mere breach or a complete loss of vital legal data. This may even result in a total shutdown of the firm’s operations with a resultant loss of business until the data is recovered, or an alternative solution is found. The longer the duration of operations shut down, the more revenue you stand to lose.
Damaged reputation and resultant loss of business
- The legal data being handled is typically of a confidential nature. The fact that a data breach had occurred would typically have to be made public to all those who could have been impacted in terms of the various privacy legislations. This would result in reputational damage and even a loss of future business.
Benefits of data management
Improved Productivity and team collaboration
- With a centralized hub of data and the ability for key team members to access them, thus also saving time, there is an increase in productivity which allows lawyers, inhouse counsel the time to reduce costs, time and focus on more high value tasks.
- Through a centralized hub of data, teams can increase their ability to collaborate.
Communication co-ordination and document retrieval
- Because information and data are centralized, communication in an organization becomes much easier and because documents are stored in a one place, they are also easier to retrieve.
- Although you have worked tirelessly to create a management system that works well within your system, you’ll find it difficult to maintain peak efficiency when a critical staff member is away from the office or when you hire new personnel. The centralized systems offered by case management software enables everyone to upload and retrieve data from a single source, maximizing efficiency.
- Increased productivity enables greater profitability. When you invest in legal case management software, you make an investment today that will stand you in good stead for the future. More and more law firms are using case management programs because they streamline several functions, freeing up valuable time for the giving of legal advice, marketing, and client retention.
And so, it has become even more invaluable for organizations to not only create, but to implement and monitor their data management strategies. The world has changed with the increase in hybrid work arrangements, others still opting to work from home, to stringent privacy laws across the world, how we manage data and especially as legal professionals is not a nice-to-have, but a must and should centre around what we do and how we do it.
About the Author
Leah Molatseli is an admitted attorney of the High Court in South Africa with more than 10 years in the Legal Industry. Previous co-founder of a legal tech start-up and has transitioned within the Legal Technology Industry to one of SA’s leading Software Company as Head of Business Development – Legal Solutions at Legal Interact, she is a Council Member (the highest decision making body) of the University of the Free State, Advisory Committee Member of YALI(Young African Leaders Initiative) a US Dept of State flagship initiate in Africa, Advisory Board Member of Women in Tech SA, Speaker, a Legal Tech and Innovation Specialist, and Published Author of #legaltech startups and innovation: changing traditional law firm business models.
She is a recipient of the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship recognizing young African Leaders, Winner of the 2020 Digital Female Leader Award in Germany, Finalist of the 2020 Women in Tech Global Awards in the Start-up Award category, University of the Free State Young Alumnus of the Year Award winner for 2017, and runner up for 2019 WOZA Women in Law Awards for Technology