BigData: Friend or Foe? Why Law Firms Should Join the Discussion on Data Protection & Digital Privacy

BigLaw used to instill fear and awe in members of the legal profession. Today, the same can be said for Big Data.

In an Internet age, people should be both impressed and frightened of big data power.

In fact, so many modern business models surround the collection and distribution of data as the sole source of their importance. It’s a way to outsmart your rivals and more closely target your customers.

Data is being collected everywhere you look, from the Internet provider you use to log onto the World Wide Web to the mobile app that located the nearest Starbucks, you are being monitored personally and professionally.

In fact, the face behind the monitor is getting many companies, like Uber, in trouble. How far should private firms be allowed to go in violating the privacy of their customers?

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack—as well as other concerns over Internet control—the justice and interior ministers of 12 European countries released a joint statement calling for government intervention over digital communications, reports TechCrunch.

The statement reiterates concern at, “the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law.”
“With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.”At first, it’s easy to rally around such an idea. Shouldn’t we all feel more protected against the threats of terror, especially those made more accessible via lax Internet security?

However, upon further reflection, this joint statement should make us wary.

The world is still recovering from the brazen attack on French freedom of speech and press. Charlie Hebdo represents exactly that, and the satirical magazine was targeted specifically by Islamic extremists to send the message that more liberal societies should afraid of what they say and to whom.

Isn’t this joint statement by governments bordering on the same oppression? That we are not at liberty to express ourselves, our opinions, online?

In the world of vigilantes, hackers have taken this matter in their own hands. A group who use the Twitter handle @OpCharlieHebdo claimed responsibility for shutting down a known French jihadist site. Now the site redirects to Duck Duck Go, a search engine.

The group Anonymous also listed the names of dozens of Twitter account handles that the hackers group claim belong to jihadists. They posted them on Pastebin, a website that lets people post information anonymously online, reports CNN Money.

These acts were in conjunction with a Friday announcement by members of Anonymous of their operation #OpCharlieHebdo, which is a declaration of digital war on Islamic extremists.

Legal professionals in the United States are on the verge of addressing the most important issue of this generation: Where do we draw legal lines for freedom of speech, press, and (digital) assembly in the Internet age?

One step law firm professionals can take immediately is to embrace the good that comes from big data. Big data doesn’t have to be used for piracy or spying. On the contrary, big data can be used to make your employees happier, to leave your clients more satisfied, and to win your hail-Mary cases.

Collecting profitability data at your firm can help your administrators with better budgeting, like targeting profit margins for timekeepers or allocating resources where they’re needed most.

This same data can help you craft and manage alternative fee arrangements that assess risk versus reward, and help your firm in retaining cash-strapped clients looking for fee flexibility.

Finally, back-end data collected from your firm can help facilitate future hiring and salary decisions.

Your firm is already collecting data through its current systems, whether you know it or not. So, it’s time your harnessed this power for good, not evil.

Create a better work environment for your employees and win more cases for your clients. Increase your firm’s bottom line and payout for partners. All this and more is possible with the proper technical guidance.

If your IT department needs a refresher, consider the Center for Competitive Management’s webinar “Law Firm Profitability: Using Profitability Data to Improve Processes, Make Better Business Decisions, and Increase Net Income Per Partner,” which is live Thursday, January 15, 2015, from 2:00PM to 3:15PM EST.

Big data is a big discussion. Don’t be afraid to be a part of it.

-WB

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