How to utilise your data to exceed client expectations and improve ROI from your tech 

In this conversation, CJ Anderson – founder of Iron Carrot and former head of information and research at a leading global law firm – shares her experience to help you utilise your firm’s data to improve ROI on your tech and exceed client expectations.

CJ Anderson, founder of Iron Carrot – a consultancy team delivering bespoke data governance services to law firms, joined me for episode five of our interview series: Empowering Law Firm Leaders. We discuss the impact of an effective data strategy on SME law firm’s future success, and key steps to creating a data governance framework that’ll help you meet your business goals.

In this conversation we cover:

  • How current data challenges are impacting the future success of SMEs
  • What a data governance framework is and why firms need one
  • What’s required to create a successful data strategy
  • The impact of data on your team and clients
  • How firms can remove siloes in their data

Watch the interview with CJ Anderson:

Two data challenges SME law firms face that are impacting future success

Unclear and undocumented data rules and data siloes are the two key challenges CJ highlighted that are currently impacting SMEs future success.

“There’s a lot of challenges around where data lives, who’s responsible for it, why we capture it, and what we want to do with it.” CJ highlights that to use data effectively – and ensure it meets legal, contractual, and ethical requirements – you need clarity around what data you want to store in your systems.

If there are no clear rules on the data – and how and where its stored – this often creates data siloes across departments and teams. “The other challenge firms face is process inefficiencies. Everyone is pressured for time and want to make it easier for lawyers to get on with the job of lawyering.” Which is why CJ recommends understanding at what point in the matter journey the data needs to captured and used so lawyers aren’t asked for the same piece of data several times. “The siloes in data create frustration, inefficiencies, and friction. If you can get an arm around your data a lot of the friction goes away.

“The questions you need to ask aren’t process or technology questions, they are just simply: ‘what data at what point?’”

Without clear data rules and a centralised system it’s also impossible to utilise legal tech tools or AI. “AI has to be taught, and to train AI, you need data.”

What is a data governance framework and why do law firms need one?

“A data governance framework is the best practices and standards that you, as a firm, are going to set for how you all play nicely with your data.

“This includes the roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities that go alongside that. And then it’s documenting the best practices to detail who’s going to do what, and how they’re going to do it. That’s your framework.”

CJ explains that the framework typically looks like a triangle, with strategy at the top, tactical in the middle and operational at the bottom. This encompasses all the people that are involved, the processes and best practices to follow, and how data decisions are made. CJ highlights that not every piece of data in your firm will be under governance, only the critical things: “Often you’ll have client, matter, financial, marketing and knowledge buckets.”

There are three reasons why CJ believes law firms should implement a data governance framework. Firstly, CJ explains that regulations, like GDPR, are a good prompt to better manage risk across the business, for example: “The rise in cybercrime prompted people to review their data retention schedules to reduce the risk to clients.”

About CJ Anderson    

CJ is a librarian by qualification and for the last 30 years has worked for corporates and government departments managing data projects – including, 25 years’ experience of working with law firms. “I’ve gained experience of knowledge data, marketing data, finance data and the language that law firms speak in these spaces and how the jigsaws need to come together.”

After being head of information and research at a global law firm, CJ set up Iron Carrot, which specialises in helping modern law firms deliver robust data governance roadmaps.

Leveraging technology is the second reason firms should review their data processes. “If you know what data you have and who looks after it, then you can make decisions on how to leverage technologies and integrations.”

And lastly, a data framework helps you make decisions quicker to progress new ideas and innovation. CJ shares that “if somebody wants to do something exciting it normally starts with the questions: ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could…’.

“And if you’ve got the right people from the framework in the room, and your going through those operational, tactical, and strategic layers, you can get your idea to a yes or no in a much quicker time.”

How does data impact employee retention and client satisfaction?

CJ explains that having a data governance framework reduces friction and makes life easier for both employees and clients, which is why it improves employee satisfaction and enhances the client experience.

“Data is about helping technology – helping you – to take away the mental calories, because all lawyers want to do is get on with the work.” CJ explains that employees or clients don’t want to have to work hard to get the answers, data, and information they need.

Effectively using and reusing data enables teams to progress their work faster, because they have the data they need at their fingertips. Similarly, centralised data enables firms to offer self-service tools to clients so they can get matter updates, share data, collaborate on documents or pay for services in their own time.

“Technology should be an enabler, but many issues with tech implementations come down to the data that’s inputted into them.” CJ advises that this is where the framework helps because it tells you what you can and can’t do, and what should and shouldn’t be going into client-facing tools.

How law firms can remove data siloes

“It’s about creating a culture of working out loud.” CJ explains that whilst a change in culture can be uncomfortable, to better utilise your data it’s important that there are more open conversations and clear intention behind how data is used, stored, and shared. “Working out loud is about being very transparent about what data is stored where and having that accessible online. For example, having a glossary of language and acronyms you use.”

CJ emphasises that everyone needs to participate in developing those assets; it’s not somebody’s job, it’s everyone’s job. Every individual within a firm is part of a bigger eco system and CJ highlights that it’s important for employees to remember the data you capture and use is also likely to be useful for someone else – and that’s the first step in removing siloes.

What cultural changes are required for creating a successful data strategy?

CJ believes that the cultural change is about “recognising data is a key asset of the firm.” CJ explains that most people see data as admin and are often unaware of why they need to capture particular data. To help lawyers think of data differently, CJ says, “I usually try and position it as helping their future self.”

CJ uses the analogy of a river for thinking of the flow of data throughout the firm: “Start to see data as a river through the firm. It’s either your job to throw the fish food in, or to capture the fish downstream. You’ve got to interact with the river and make sure it’s a healthy ecosystem.” Just because the data is in your system doesn’t mean you own it and just because you don’t use the data doesn’t mean it’s not important.

As part of the data strategy it’s important to recognise and communicate the impact the data has on the business and its future, then aligning responsibility and accountability to ensure processes are followed. CJ suggested that the consequences of not following processes may form part of an employee’s appraisal or bonus scheme: “There’s got to be something that encourages people to make the change.”

An effective data strategy impacts your employees, clients, and profitability

Data sits at the heart of every client interaction, employee task, or strategic decision. When you have easy access to accurate data, it make running a law firm easier.

Implementing an effective data strategy ensures that your people, processes, and technology align to enable you to fully utilise the data you hold. Whether its financial, client, operational, or sales data – you’ll be better prepared to make quick business decisions with the right data strategy in place. This will help you to exceed client expectations, strengthen employee retention rates, improve ROI on tech investments and much more.

Watch the full interview with CJ Anderson now to discover more advice and guidance on utilising your firm’s data. You’ll also hear CJ’s exclusive advice on how to successfully migrate data to a new software and achievable data governance goals for the next 12 months.