Size Matters: An Introduction to Big Data

“We’re here to tell you that size matters.”

This is how we began a presentation today on Big Data. I had the pleasure of presenting with Maura R. Grossman, Counsel at Wachtell Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and Chad C. Ergun, Director, Global Practice Services & Business Intelligence, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

[These are my notes from the 2012 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those.]


  • What are the Hallmarks of Big Data? Some refer to the three “Vs” while others refer to the five “Vs.” All are agreed that Big Data has the attributes of huge Volume, Velocity and Variety. In addition, some would add issues of determining the Veracity and Value of the data.
  • What’s the Big Challenge of Big Data? We’ve been spoiled over the last few years — deluded into thinking that we can capture useful data, cram them into spreadsheets and then analyze them at our leisure. However, as data grow, that approach becomes increasingly unviable. According to the IDC, less than 10% of Big Data is structured data. That leaves over 90% that is unstructured content such as social media streams (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), video and images, mobile data (e.g., GPS), text messages, emails, documents, IT and operational data, transactional data, search engine data and sensor data. Our simple little spreadsheets can’t begin to handle this variety of data, much less make sense of it. Further, we can’t manually populate and analyze these spreadsheets quickly enough to keep us with the high speed at which the data are created.
  • Why Bother with Big Data? A recent McKinsey Global Institute study identified Big Data as the “Next Frontier.” Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT say in Big Data: The Management Revolution that Big Data can measurably improve productivity and profitability:

Companies that inject big data and analytics into their operations show productivity rates and profitability that are 5% to 6% higher than those of their peers.

  • Our Clients are Interested in Big Data Client interest and activity in the Big Data arena is growing. You can find many examples of how organizations are using the new insights that come from Big Data analysis: (1) Walmart analyzes 267 million transaction per day in order to stock its shelves more appropriately and profitably; (2) Google tracks flu trends based on search queries relating to flu symptoms; (3) medical scientists are uncovering the genetic and environmental causes of disease; (4) thousands of sensors provide data that helps scientists under the environment and changes in weather; (5) real-time analysis by computers of video feeds helps fight crime.
  • What are the Law Firm Opportunities and Concerns? The most obvious way to use Big Data analysis is in competitive intelligence research. Another possibility on the horizon is to use Big Data analytics to help us understand better the staffing, pricing and profitability of matters. Ideally, this would be done by searching all the unstructured and structured content within the firm to find the patterns. Another opportunity is in eDiscovery. The problem is that while it may be cheap to store data, it’s is still expensive to conduct an eDiscovery review of that data using current methods and technology.
  • Mashup Magic. Starting with the provocative question “What decisions could we make if we had all the information we needed?” the audience brainstormed to create a list of new data mashups that could solve law firm business problems. Among the suggestions were: (1) analyzing unstructured content to help uncover possible client conflicts; (2) analyzing emails to identify trending topics; (3) analyzing financial data filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to find early warning signs of financial distress (or even bankruptcy) of current or potential clients; (4) comparing government economic data with initial public offering pricing data; (5) recording, indexing and analyzing phone calls to find opportunities for cross-selling; (6) comparing pitch document contents to pitch success rates; (7) comparing the content of pleadings with matter success rates; (8) comparing weather data with sales data in your law firm cafeteria.
  • What’s the Future of Big Data? For those of you who thought Big Data was a passing fad or a science fiction fantasy, think again. Surveys of senior business leaders indicate that Big Data is one of their primary strategic concerns. In fact, a recent McKinsey survey found that 60% of the CEOs and CIOs contacted believe their companies should use Big Data analytics to generate insights regarding customer preferences. Meanwhile, spending for Big Data is set to rise:

Big data will drive $28 billion of worldwide IT spending in 2012, according to Gartner, Inc. In 2013, big data is forecast to drive $34 billion of IT spending.

  • Final Thoughts.  Used creatively and thoughtfully, Big Data can provide important insights into your firm’s operations and business environment. Our clients are embracing Big Data. Can law firms afford not to?
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    For additional notes on this session, see David Hobbie’s blog post.

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