Rob Mackinlay talks to CJ Anderson, Head of Information and Research at Linklaters about the complex challenges of using internal data to support lawyers in their client facing work.
The information revolution upsets traditional business models in every sector. At Linklaters – one of the UK’s top five law firms – the challenge is to make information management and technology useful without disrupting a successful business model.
“It’s about can it work, does it make things better for our clients?” says CJ Anderson, Head of Information and Research at Linklaters, “A law firm is in the business of law, and that’s the focus we keep at the front of our minds.”
The value the firm could leverage from its internal data has recently been a strategic focus and changes are already coming thick and fast. “For law firms, the idea that data is as valuable as the knowledge that’s in people’s heads is relatively new. In all honesty, the underlying data isn’t really changing. The databases and technology we use to get into some of that data is what is changing. It’s the how, not the what.”
Joining up the firm’s internal data and making it accessible to machines will enable technologies like artificial intelligence. CJ says: “This process is happening. You need to have your structured data structured in a good place – that’s where taxonomy and the relationships between vocabularies also comes into play. Then graph databases, etc, are for your unstructured data. And the challenge is to connect the structured and the unstructured in a way that makes sense to the organisation.
For example, being able to link things – not that we are yet – but things like does the seniority of the lawyer on the deal impact the length of the documents that are written and, therefore, the amount that we bill the client? It’s those kinds of questions you can get to. We’re just at the first steps on that journey, but we are starting to combine our marketing and knowledge data with our financial data, to try and support the lawyers a bit more in their client facing work.”
So, while the underlying data might not change, the whole culture around it does. At Linklaters, information professionals operate as account managers with skills and confidence that was not necessary a few years ago: “It’s a recruitment process but it is also something that we try to train them in. We do put them through account manager training and make sure they get the skills and the opportunity to develop them. But we have got to have people that can stand in a room full of lawyers and credibly hold their own and add ideas and take ideas back and actually do something with them. It’s a lot more proactive and it’s really been accelerating over the last 18 months.”
How it works
The autonomy of the Linklaters information professional works on many levels. They act as lynchpins in a bottom-up management system. “We have information advisers in various offices around the world.” CJ says: “They tell us their lawyers are asking for X. So X just becomes part of our strategy. You can’t say, as a management team, our strategy is Y.”
They are also free to work with people in other departments. “At the moment there is someone in my team who owns a couple of our internal databases who has spoken to our data architect – in our technology architecture team who is responsible for how all the databases join up – and said ‘I think I have a use case for a particular technology’ and they have set up a project, got some funding and are off doing some proofs of concept together. It’s weird to explain because it’s not like a normal corporate, where you have to go through a hierarchy, it’s more like a start-up where you have people of the right skills just coming together to do stuff.”
An early example was Linklater’s Business Intelligence team which was set up to answer questions like “we’re about to talk to this client can you give me snapshot of opportunities they might be interested in?” It used 100 per cent external resources, starting out with a team of two internal people. CJ said: “We changed the name to Competitive Intelligence because our internal financial reporting team became Business Intelligence. We wanted to disambiguate and that led to the Competitive Intelligence Team being asked to do research that combined internal and external data to support our tactical opportunities team and our thought leadership team.”
The team now employs eight people and CJ said: “I think that combination of internal and external data has been so beneficial that’s what we want to see more of. It has been recognised as a success.”
Where is it going?
The hope is that linking all the firm’s internal data with the external data it buys in will provide the raw material to power artificial intelligence projects that are being worked on.
CJ said: “We are looking at a lot of the AI technology out there. But further down the line we are looking at workflow technologies, things that can help manage legal work in a bit more of a structured way. Our goal is to get our knowledge and learning to fit the matter management. So when a lawyer is at a certain point in a transaction and about to use a certain document, the system will say ‘here’s a template, here’s a note, here’s a video of a partner talking you through how to do it’. That kind of thing. That’s ultimately where we would like to go but how we get there and which tools we use that’s what we’re exploring and playing with.”
As she has said before, the data, and most of the information already exists. “Everything is available online already, but if you want it you have to go to the knowledge base, if you want training you sign up for a training course, or go to our video portal. It’s all a bit flat and we want to bring it into a portal that tracks where you are with your work.”
She says these workflow tools may already exist elsewhere “but with the multiple moving parts of a global law firm like this it’s an extra challenge. Because you are looking at… just take product types… there are hundreds…. is it mergers and acquisitions, is it a bank loan?”
CJ is a keen supporter of CILIP’s plans to launch a K&IM chartership programme. “We always encourage people to actively engage in the profession but it’s been harder in the last decade because of the changes in our team. Recruitment at a junior level is a challenge for us because the appetite to get a qualification – Masters – is not there. We do take on people and train them but, at the end of it, it’s nice to be able to help them through a professional body qualification that recognises what they’ve learned.”
She said: “Ultimately it’s all the same skill set. I did a degree in librarianship and it’s still those skills that I am using. But having a K&IM route will fit our organisation and our people much better and it will help keep that link with the wider profession.”