Is data science all smoke and mirrors? We break down what data science and a data scientist is all about, and why your law firm or legal department should care
No doubt you’ve heard the term, and for those in forward-thinking companies, you might even have one or two in your organization.
But as a relatively new role – coined only 20 or so years ago – the terms data science and data scientist are still shrouded in mystery. It’s a bit like 5G phone networks – everyone says you need it, but you’re not sure why what its purpose is or how it works. And vitally – why you should care.
Like 5G, data science is already, or will very soon, touch most of our lives – from the simple – such as better recommendations on Netflix to personalized supermarket coupons, to the complex – conducting data analytics that leads to legal case prediction.
But what is a data scientist and what role are they/will they play in the legal sector?
What is data science & a data scientist?
Data science emerged at the dawn of the dot com boom when technology became omnipotent and organizations created more data than ever before – the Big Data era. The smart companies began to understand that using the huge amounts of data within their walls could help them better understand their businesses, their customers, and their markets.
Data science is essentially making sense out of massive amounts of data. It incorporates various other disciplines such as data engineering (manipulating data), math, statistics, analytics, and advanced computing using different scientific methodologies.
Back in 2012, HBR named the role of data scientist the sexiest job of the 21st century. And in some ways, that’s even more true today. As companies create ever more data, the understanding that that data can be used for business advantage has grown exponentially and so needs someone to make sense of all that data; enter the data scientist.
A data scientist is a person who’s an expert at using technology (including programming languages such as Python, Panda, and R) to manipulate and analyze data and then applying that information to the business or problem at hand. A data scientist uses various tools, from machine learning and AI to data preparation and cleansing tools, to visualization tools, to gather, interpret and analyze your data and communicate that to help streamline and grow your organization.
What does a data scientist do?
Despite having a ‘sexy’ reputation, data scientists spend much of their time cleaning and preparing data ready for analysis. The moniker ‘trash in, trash out’ has never been more applicable than when it comes to getting data science right. So data scientists spend up to half of their time mending and checking the data and coding they want to use to get the answers they need.
For example, your organization wants to look at the number of contracts you have with different vendors – such as outside law firms, recruitment, or IT, to consolidate your vendor portfolio. A data scientist would spend much of their time organizing and cleansing the data within your contracts. On a simple level, this cleansing could include ensuring all the date fields use the same formula, ensuring currencies are correct and naming conventions.
Data cleansing and QA to ensure data integrity must be conducted at both ends of the analytics process. Before the data goes in to ensure accurate results and again once the analytics is done to check for anomalies or incorrect data fields. This process is continually tweaked and tested by the data scientist.
The other half of the time is spent on things such as coding and programming using different languages, visualization tools (making sure the data can be interpreted by non-data scientists), data gathering, and spotting trends or outliers in the analytics and reporting.
Why should you care?
Put simply, a data scientist could influence the success or failure of your law firm or legal department.
While this might seem like a grandiose statement, consider the intelligence that a data scientist can help you gain, and the impact this has on your firm or department, and then the ripple effect across your business.
Take your contracts for example – there’s a goldmine of data that is hugely undervalued. A data scientist would help you use and interpret that data to deliver business impact. Data analytics would reveal revenue leakage, find patterns and trends in your pricing and payment terms, ensure obligations are met (and therefore avoid costly charging), and SLAs are adhered to and optimize your contract management strategy for the benefit of the entire business.
Not only that but having a data scientist on board can help optimize your team and your legal strategy when it comes to contract negotiation for example. Inefficient contracts cost firms 5%-40% of the contract value, according to HBR, a data scientist would be able to perform analytics on your existing contract base to see what type of contracts are worth negotiating and which are simply not worth the effort, regardless of their value.
As part of a more advanced strategy, a team of data scientists can help you manage risk exposure by analyzing cases you’ve won and lost or see which types of contracts have led to costly disputes. Some law firms are already using their in-house data scientists to predict case outcomes based on data from previous cases, helping them manage client expectations and give better counsel on whether to settle or not.
Data scientists give you insight based on facts, and help you manage and predict risk by using the data you already have within your business. They turn data into decisions. It’s a game-changer.
Like 5G, data science will have a transformative effect on our lives. Except this isn’t just about being able to stream movies on the train or get augmented reality advertising like 5G.
Data science and data scientists will make sure those adverts are tailored just for you, they’ll influence which film you choose to watch on the train and which device you choose to watch it on by serving you relevant online ads and targeted content.
From a legal perspective, data scientists have the power to be just as transformative and influential. The power of understanding the data already within your organization and presenting it in a consumable way as evidence as to why you should, or shouldn’t take that case, client, or contract on will impact the future of your organization.
A data scientist holds many of the keys to help you transform the legal department from a cost-center to an outcome-driven hub of the organization. Isn’t it time you got to know your data scientist better or talked to your HR director about why you need one on your team today?
Want to know more about how a data scientist can transform your legal department or law firm? Talk to our team today.