With the advent of user-friendly business intelligence and data analytics tools, a new role has emerged in corporate America and in many law firms: the “citizen data scientist“. Traditionally, dashboard and report creation is farmed out to IT, but now, tech-savvy subject matter experts (SMEs) are being empowered to create meaningful data visualizations and dashboards that provide valuable insights.

Rewind to two to five years ago, many progressive companies and firms felt they needed to hire data scientists in order to properly staff their data teams so that, in addition to analytics, the team could focus on statistical analyses and creating algorithmic models for machine learning purposes. Fast forward to 2019, developments in BI tools are coming fast and furious. At least two of the four “leaders” in the business intelligence space release new features and updates on a monthly basis, and some offer “Dashboard-in-a-Day” training. Capabilities are improving at lightning speed, and these tools are becoming more user-friendly. The result: Machine learning tools no longer require a data scientist’s level of expertise; they, too, are becoming more practicable.

At Ballard Spahr, Jim Boyer, Director of Matter Management and Efficiency, meets regularly with clients to identify what metrics and KPIs are most important to our clients and our attorneys. Then, he and his team create visually appealing dashboards (using Power BI) as part of our Ballard360 ValueMatters program. This is made possible by actively using two of the top four BI “leaders’” tools (according to Gartner’s 2019 Business Intelligence Report; the other tool we use is Qlik Sense). Jim and the legal matter management team have quickly become some of several citizen data scientists at our firm.

Within my group, Data Management, we have recently created an enterprise data warehouse (EDW) based on Microsoft’s best practices. The initial effort was laborious and tedious, but well worth it since our firm and its clients will have more data at their fingertips than ever before.

For example, we can now juxtapose case management data with publicly available “big data” in addition to the financials that our clients care about. With this EDW, we are able to create custom data marts for our business units as well, and, as we introduce the EDW and custom data marts to each group, who better to work with us to validate the data than our resident citizen data scientists? At a glance, they can see outliers quickly and are empowered with tools to dissect apparent anomalies on the spot.

A recent International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) email announced a joint Association of Legal Administrators (ALA), Legal Marketing Association (LMA), and ILTA collaboration on a “2019 Compensation and Benefits Survey.” The executive summary quickly created a lot of buzz, as someone commented, “Really glad that I am not a paralegal in the North East.” What prompted this comment? According to the survey, paralegals in the northeast portion of the country work 3,579 billable hours per year. (That’s 9.8 hours per day, every day, including weekends!) And guess who was vocal about this data anomaly? The northeast paralegals, of course! The main take away: By empowering the “experts” in your organizations with great tools, you are, in essence, extending your BI team.

As we work together to validate and gain valuable insights that would not have been readily apparent, our clients, IT, and other practices and administrative groups can have confidence in the data. The thought of having non-IT folks creating dashboards is the stuff of CIO nightmares since IT departments have typically controlled access to such tools. How can IT organizations ensure data quality and enforce internal standards along with best practices? Stay tuned for a future post on how to create an effective data governance strategy within your organization.