Using Big Data Can Give Your Law Firm a Big, Predictive Advantage

June 25, 2018

At Georgia State University, law and business students are crunching thousands of data points from legal cases to create models to predict how disputes will go.

Harvard-educated lawyer Charlotte Alexander, director of the Legal Analytics Lab, guides the team gathering all complaints, dockets and summary judgments in employment law cases since 2010 in the Northern District Federal Court in Atlanta.

“We are extracting information from those documents that will paint a picture of the parties and lawyers involved, and the types of legal claims, to see if we can use that data to predict the outcome of lawsuits,” Alexander says.

This kind of big-data analytics is becoming a competitive advantage for law firms that make the connection between the art and science of the law.   It’s especially prominent with lawyers who advise Human Resources professionals. To keep matters from going from the boardroom to the courtroom, companies are mining data internally and addressing issues before they become public.

“This is moving the ball forward by learning whether a type of dispute went to court, and then gaining a better sense of the likely outcome,” she says.

Looking for Patterns

All kinds of employment law cases fall into the realm of big data research: discrimination, unpaid overtime, failure of company to give appropriate family or medical leave, wrongful termination.

“It is all about assembly of data and finding actionable patterns within that data,” Alexander says

This kind of work requires tools that can sift through thousands and thousands of documents to identify those patterns.

Employers may use the connection of payroll and time clock data to prove it satisfied requirements of The Fair Labor Standards Act.

Data analytics could help lawyers understand earnings in, say, a wrongful termination case against an assembly plant.

In the case of a Reduction in Force (RIF) layoff, data analytics could be used to check compliance with state and federal law.

Data analytics can measure collaboration of employees — or examine how fairly employees are treated, for instance, in the distribution of bonus pool money.

Use Caution when Mining Big Data

The use of big data should come with several warning labels.

Cathy O’Neil, author of “Weapons of Math Destruction,” says that biases in data must be accounted for. Is your mathematical hiring formula fair and ethical? Algorithms have been proven to limit diversity in hiring, so there must be a guardrail.

“We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating big data models that follow our ethical lead,” O’Neil wrote.

Privacy is also an issue.  What if a company wanted to mine its internal emails for the last five years to study diversity or pay equity? Laws govern the use of workplace data: If an algorithm scrapes privileged medical data, a privacy issue could arise. Seek legal counsel beforehand to mitigate the risks.

Is Big Data Right for Your Firm?

Keep an open mind on this numbers crunching revolution. Applying analytics at your firm is not a subversion, and not a fanciful, trendy dodge from the reliable savvy of your litigators.

Like the use of artificial intelligence in professional services firms, it might not be right for every firm.

A CPA-based advisory firm can help guide you make the right decision. And remember it might be best to start with a test case or two before going all in.

Be bold enough to seek an intersection between art and science – and see how big data can give your firm a competitive edge.

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