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The real value of data: should everyone have access?

Lauren ColbeckThe question of who should have access to the valuable bank of commercial and client data law firms are sitting on is an interesting one. 

Technology is continuing to break down departmental silos, allowing data to flow freely between individuals and teams – enabling firms to remove excessive admin and duplication, and gain new insights into commercial opportunities. 

Greater visibility means that fee-earners are able to see whether they’re on target, right down to a monthly, weekly or daily level, and drive cross-selling and up-selling. 

Clearly, this is a positive change but before diving into the data, it’s worth considering what information is shared across the firm and how it’s presented. 

How do we make sure data is a help, not a hindrance?

In a highly-regulated sector like law, some data is always going to be restricted, such as that subject to legal professional privilege (LPP) and GDPR. However, there are plenty of other data sets that can be used in a compliant way to gain a deep and real-time understanding of the firm’s performance. 

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One reason why many firms haven’t leveraged their data fully until now is because there was so much of it. Making sense of it would have taken too long and be of limited value to fee-earners and other decision-makers due to the time that had elapsed. 

However, the adoption of legal technology, particularly over the past two years, has removed for some the limitations around reporting and BI.  

Taking data from disparate software and spreadsheets, it might once have taken several hours to produce a report and even then, firms would invariably end up looking backwards not forwards. Now there’s a growing appetite for tools that allow decision-makers to quickly surface relevant insights, identify trends and draw comparisons over time. 

It’s possible to bring together data from multiple sources – client and practice management systems, HR, finance and CRM – and present it as actionable insights on intuitive dashboards in one central place. Reports too can be generated in a matter of minutes, based on the most up-to-date information, while individual and department objectives are aligned with the business strategy. 

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In a competitive market, firms need to understand how profitable their fixed fee work is, so they can price it appropriately. Of course, they’ll be in a better position to do so if they’re able to draw together data from finance, case management and time sheets. 

Similarly, comparing HR data from your own firm, with anonymised HR data from other firms, is an effective way to benchmark and track key metrics, such as absence rates and engagement levels, against billings and timesheets. Better still is if the system can suggest the next logical step based on strong evidence from insights it becomes really actionable. 

As firms introduce more standardised and automated processes, the quality of their BI also improves. By making life easier for staff, and reducing the chance of risky workarounds and manual interventions, they can be confident that their data is accurate and consistent. 

Whereas different departments might once have used their own software, growing numbers of firms are improving their workflows with a single sign-on central platform, so they have one source of reliable data. 

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Getting the most value from data

With the ability to share this data more freely across the firm, IT teams have a key role to play in helping people get the most value from it. Choosing a system with role-based permissions is a good start, since it means people are able to track KPIs throughout the week based on their own objectives, while restricting access to less relevant or potentially sensitive information. 

Better still, a tailored online workspace empowers teams to track and act on the analytics most applicable to their role, as well as company updates. 

They’re also not bombarded daily with long email communications, nor do they lose time searching for information because everything is easily accessible in one central place. Fee-earners can create their own workspace that is personalised for them – improving productivity and efficiency and cutting out unwanted noise. Streamlining tasks also helps to keep workloads – and staff morale and wellbeing – in check, while freeing them up to engage in the more rewarding elements of their job or where they can add the most value.

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The days when every department had its own gatekeepers, systems and processes are fading fast as clever technology paves the way for more transparent working practices. People can now surface the data they need, in the moment, and act on it rather than making assumptions or basing their decisions on historical data alone. 

By managing their data effectively, firms gain a holistic view of performance and are able to ensure teams across the business have easy access to the right data to quickly identify areas for improvement. 

Lauren Colbeck is Head of Product at Access Legal, the legal division of business management provider, The Access Group.
 

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