A few days ago, I walked into my local Walgreens to buy a few household odds and ends. Along with my receipt, the cashier handed me a stack of coupons. As I exited the store, I glanced down at them and noticed that one was for my favorite brand of detergent and another for my dog’s favorite treats. I didn’t buy either of those items that day, but Walgreens, like other large corporations, makes routine use of the data it collects about me to know what I’m apt to purchase in the future.
Known by the term “big data,” Netflix uses similar information to decide what shows to suggest for its users. Starbucks uses big data to determine optimal locations for new stores (even if it’s directly across the street from an existing store). Even more beneficially, Microsoft is working on using the data it collects on Bing searches to predict a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
But where do law firms fall when it comes to harnessing the insights provided by big data?
Legal Tech’s Beginnings
The very first wave of legal technology consisted of software relating to billing, timekeeping, and docketing. As with any other technical advances, these tools improved lawyers’ efficiency.
The second wave came with the digitization of case law for attorneys conducting research. Companies like Westlaw provide vast libraries of case law, agency determinations, law review articles, and other publications. These libraries were initially searchable with Boolean connectors; however, in the last few years, the search capabilities have transitioned to a Google-like natural language style.
While Westlaw charges for the use of its database, some believe the wealth of case law should be available to the public in digital form for free. Ravel Law, for instance, has partnered with Harvard Law School to digitize Harvard’s entire collection of U.S. case law in order to make it freely available online.
The third wave is the legal world’s use of big data.