What kind of data culture will facilitate the legal industry’s success?

 Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse, October 8, 2015

Microsoft is America’s third-largest company (and it just had a huge few days). Its brand is synonymous with enterprise computing. The company’s products have contributed meaningfully to society’s progress. And, they’re now developing this (augmented reality lens, very cool).

Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s CEO, has been since 2014, and he’s worked in the company since 1992. He is credited with transforming Microsoft’s business and technology culture from client services to cloud infrastructure and services, and with creating a more cooperative company willing to partner with competitors.

As Justly blasts off on its voyage of discovery we can only dream of reaching Microsoft’s orbit. Solving the problem of opaque and unpredictable legal costs (for enterprise first) will require unprecedented feats of engineering and a strong network effect at our backs. Breaking free of the legal industry’s gravity will not be easy; particularly in America, where law firm revenues float around $275 billion, and where enterprise clients — despite resounding dissatisfaction with the cost of legal services and the “billable hour” — tend to be cautious or (worse) complacent.

Despite these fievelous challenges, even though we know how very far apart we are, it helps to think that Satya and us are thinking about the impact of data in the same way.

During a keynote at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce ‘15, Mr. Nadella was asked what keeps him up at night. His response, “culture is everything.”

Mr. Nadella’s message is decidedly positive: Microsoft’s “success” (and society’s) is determined by its culture, and that is what he as Microsoft’s CEO “worries” most about.

There Mr. Nadella was speaking directly to his management philosophy, and to the environment he is seeking to foster. What inspires us is the consistency of his vision, particularly when speaking to the impact of data.

In this next clip Mr. Nadella again emphasizes culture, specifically in describing how he thinks about “Big Data.”

It has been said that data tools and philosophies are changing long-standing ideas about the value of experience, the nature of expertise, and the practice of management. Mr. Nadella calls this phenomenon “data assisting intuition,” and it carries vast implications for the legal industry and other professional services.

Where we’re focused for example, given our ability to aggregate and process data:

* Common course events and the uncertainties inherent in legal matters can be classified and modeled;

* All manner of legal process — from litigation to deal work to regulatory inquiries — can be mapped from inception, and forecasts can be adjusted as in case developments emerge; and

* Key performance indicators for lawyers and other professionals can be measured and standardized.

And with all this, as the world turns, market forces will mobilize to finish the task of recasting economic incentives for both sides of the market. However this thing ends, data culture will fundamentally change the way firms and commercial lawyers deliver legal services and the way those services are financed.

At Justly, what keeps us up at night isn’t whether law firms will give up on the billable hour and accept standardized pricing models. Like Mr. Nadella, what we worry about is positively nailing the “curation of culture” as we execute against our vision. What kind of data culture will facilitate the legal industry’s success?

In looking up to companies like Microsoft we appreciate the importance of communicating a clear and consistent vision. Ours rests on three core principles:

1. Sustaining existing relationships between lawyers and their clients;

2. Aligning the cost and value of legal services; and

3. Enabling professionals to be engines of progress.

We are guided by Mr. Nadella’s message that this era will be characterized by what we did with data. As the legal industry goes, let it be said that we did it justly.

Goodnight Satya, we hope you’re not kept up too late in that big somewhere out there.

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