NEW YORK — Data-driven decisions are hot right now — legal industry players are eager to figure out how to use data in decisions on pricing and resourcing matters, among other things.
One barrier to the use of data, however, is the lack of standardization in the way their systems describe legal work — areas of law, types of processes, etc.
During the recent Legalweek 2019, the Standards Advancement for the Legal Industry (SALI) Alliance released Version 1 of its matter category standards. SALI has been quietly plugging away at building a coalition of support around the standards among law firms, clients, and solutions providers, and the effort came together in early 2018 with the support of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) and the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA). SALI’s membership-based organization now includes, besides those two organizations, a couple dozen law firms and solutions providers as well as client companies from several major industries.
The idea behind SALI’s matter standards is simple: the industry needs, like any other industry, a common vocabulary to describe legal work. And not just the task codes that are well-entrenched (if poorly executed) in many firms’ billing systems. There needs to be codes that are robust enough to describe multiple aspects of the work including areas of law, type of matter or process delivered, jurisdiction, industry, etc. If such codes can be uniformly applied throughout the matter lifecycle — from intake to matter management to billing — then meaningful data can be collected and shared. (See our earlier description of the matter standards concept.)
The recent release of the first version of the standards kicks off a marketing and membership drive for the standard. Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie and board member of SALI, reports that the Legalweek announcement attracted a great deal of industry interest and that many firms and clients are expressing interest in membership. Because most organizations in the legal supply chain are starting to see the value of data to support pricing, practice, and business decisions, they can also see the disadvantages of the non-standard way that the data is collected and organized across the industry today.The next step for SALI is a reference implementation — a real-life test of the standard using real providers and real data. Microsoft and Greenberg Traurig have stepped up and are prepared to run those reference implementations. Microsoft is already a client of Greenberg, and they are looking for ways to leverage their deployments together. A second, expanded version of the standard can be expected later this year.
Industrialization comes in many forms, and currently a lot of focus is on bright shiny technologies such as AI, blockchain, and various forms of automation. But every other industry relies on some form of standardized data to make decisions, and this form of standardization could help provide the legal industry with the fuel it desperately needs to build efficiencies and value — better data.