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Should a Lawyer Care about Big Data?

In many ways, the actual business of being a lawyer has not really changed that much over the course of the last century. Or even, in some aspects, the last several centuries. Attorneys still do everything it takes to help clients navigate the legal system while providing the advice and support that’s called for in any legal situation and for the most part how successful they are is down to how sharp their legal skills are.

However, the traditional practice of law at firms like Bratton Scott Estate and Elder Care Attorneys, and many others around the world is, like many other industries and niches, being greatly affected by the Internet, by new softwares and by, if they are willing to learn how to use it, big data as well.

While most attorneys can see the value of time saving e-discovery, and appreciate software that can ‘pre-build’ many common legal documents, they have a harder time grasping the idea of just how big data could help them.

Here is just a single example for skeptics to consider. Any lawyer will admit that it is very hard to determine just how much it will cost to either litigate or defend a lawsuit. The way things have usually gone in the past is that if an individual does bring the suit they are considering they have no idea how much it will cost before the case is concluded, so they have to write a retainer check and then wait and hope it’s not too much.

With big data’s help it does not have to be this way though. Via data analytics an attorney can offer a client – or potential client – a sense of what their probable costs will be based on certain assumptions. For a lawyer pitching their services this can be an invaluable tool.

If you can tell a client that, based on verified historical data that, should the case not settle and head to trial their costs will be between say, $80,000 to $87,000, and should it settle they would, again based on data analytics, be paying around half of that, most potential clients are going to be impressed. Especially if the other attorney they are considering simply shrugged and said they really didn’t know.

Now it is for obvious reasons that lawyers are traditionally wary of giving estimates in this manner, but by making use of data based assumptions in this way they can do so without harm to their reputation. They aren’t making any guarantees, but this is what the data says. And these days, people like data a lot and these statistical predictions can at the very least bring a large measure of comfort to a client facing unknown costs.

The real problem is that although the technology to do all of this exists, and much of it is very reasonably priced, many attorneys are still not ready to embrace it. However, increasingly they will need to, at least if they want their practice to grow and thrive in an increasingly data driven world.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.