Beyond Excel: Overcoming Obstacles to Get the Business Intelligence You Need

How is it that legal services have remained largely immune from the march toward data-driven analysis and decision-making? A look at Gartner’s list of the top strategic trends over the last decade shows that “Business Intelligence and Analytics” is a perennial priority for corporate executives. Yet when “Chief Learning Officer” magazine surveyed corporate legal departments to ask how many of their outside counsel provided useful business intelligence to their team, 68% of respondents said, “zero.”

In other words, leveraging powerful insights from business intelligence tools is a priority for corporations, but legal is still left in the dark. Why are law firms stuck with Excel when the rest of the world consistently leverages the power of big data to drive their business?

Overcoming Our Love of Excel

It’s no secret that a huge driver in the cost of resolving legal disputes–especially litigation–is eDiscovery. Lawyers ask questions about the data but answers are often provided in difficult-to-understand Excel spreadsheets.

Competitive advantages exist for companies that have access to the insights provided by business intelligence (BI) platforms, but these platforms have been difficult to deploy in legal. Recently Fronteo, a legal services provider, commissioned third-party research that revealed that an incredible 63% of responding law firms still use manual spreadsheet entries to track eDiscovery metrics. This, despite the fact that a full 74% of the IT departments expressed a need for dashboards.

The Power of Dashboards

Real-time dashboards enable smarter discovery that leads to reduced cost and improved efficiency and represents the next generation of legal process management. With immediate access to who has done what, when, and how, key stakeholders can make immediate decisions to control costs. Dashboards allow you to monitor the progress of collection, processing, and review for important custodians and prioritize (or scale-up) to meet deposition deadlines. You can review costs that have been incurred, forecast future needs, and collaborate in real-time. Most importantly, you can identify inefficiencies and act on them; with better tools come better projections. Imagine being able to confidently predict project delivery times, provide accurate budgets to the dollar, and enter into alternative fee agreements with more confidence, bringing transparency to the entire process. Attorneys can set thresholds for project managers to monitor through the dashboard, helping to set expectations and reduce waste.

There is No “Killer App”

Considering the enormous advantages to be realized, many litigation support departments are on the prowl for a “killer app,” a software solution that will make all their dashboard dreams come true. However, the inconvenient truth is that a perfect dashboard tool does not exist, and even if it did, it would only do as much good as the data it could reach.

If dashboards do not have access to data, they cannot display it. This problem, the “reach problem,” ends up being the most important challenge to overcome if BI is going to make its way into legal.

The Reach Problem

It is fairly simple to implement BI technology in most industries because companies have control over their data on a corporate server: Google Drive, Dropbox, or whatever. Rarely is it on servers outside the control of their own IT administrators.

Legal is different because most law firms and corporations rely heavily on service providers: hosting vendors, review/staffing companies, processing shops, etc., to assist with eDiscovery. By outsourcing data, firms and corporations effectively put the data, and any insight one might gain by analyzing it, out of reach.

When data is dispersed to multiple vendors, using multiple data centers and stored in multiple proprietary applications, BI becomes extremely difficult. To solve the reach problem, organizations must first bring data back under their control.

Solving the Reach Problem: Insource v. Outsource

There are multiple ways of gaining control over one’s data, but the solutions typically fall into one of two categories: insource or outsource. Build an in-house solution and bear the costs associated with infrastructure, software licensing, and human resources, or outsource to trusted vendors and by doing so, risk losing control over costs, data security, and service levels.

This binary choice is not unique to the legal industry but the stakes are particularly high in legal due to the extraordinary costs of electronic discovery and the outsized risk associated with exposing sensitive client data–a risk made even higher as clients seek tighter control over the data they send to outside counsel for discovery. One hundred percent of the data must be accounted for–every file, every piece of media, with air-tight integrations between client, outside counsel, and vendors.

Oasis–Cloud Solutions for Legal

Oasis is a solution provider that works with legal teams to bring data under control by taking a new approach to the traditional insource v. outsource models. Oasis builds private cloud environments specifically for legal departments, law firms, and the vendors that support them. Working alongside an organization’s internal IT, Oasis creates a cloud-based solution that complies with the firm’s internal security policies and adheres to ISO27001 and SOC II, international standards for data security, and privacy. Once built, migration plans are developed to bring data under full control of the firm.

Although Oasis is technically a vendor, the private cloud approach allows clients to remain in full control of their data, processes, and costs. Clients enjoy the benefits associated with insourcing while avoiding the cost, risk, and pain associated with building and maintaining an internal solution.

Once the infrastructure is set and data is in place, clients choose from a list of available technologies to meet their operational goals.

RelativityBrainspace, and other leading discovery software can be included in the monthly subscription or made available on demand.

Oasis separates the technical aspects of eDiscovery–software and infrastructure–from the services delivered by project managers, consultants, and other litigation support professionals. Oasis’ role is to secure the data, identify, and license the best applications, and make sure all the technology works as it should, providing legal professionals with the tools they need so they can focus on their most important work.

The Other Problem: Platforms

Unfortunately, it is not just the reach problem that is holding back widespread adoption of BI in legal; there is also a “platform problem.” Data still needs to be normalized across platforms for dashboards and other BI tools to take effect. Sheila Mackay from Conduent put it this way in last year’s ILTA White Paper:

Most review platforms have dashboard functionality that allows users to view various metrics associated with their eDiscovery projects. While useful for single matters or across cases when a single platform is used, in reality, most corporations and law firms use multiple review tools and, therefore, have manual processes for comprehensive reporting. Multimatter, cross-platform, unified reporting would provide important information for weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly reports to management or to clients.

Take, for example, the process required to forecast an accurate budget for an upcoming matter. Information may need to be gathered from various applications and systems: Relativity, Outlook, Sharefile, Excel, the firm’s billing software, vendor invoices, and more. The usual manual, time-consuming process is better than nothing but a far cry from the type of dynamic analysis available in BI platforms. True BI platforms aggregate data across platforms, data centers, offices, and vendors and then present the information in a dynamic, easy-to-understand format. Not Excel.

Litsy–Business Intelligence for Legal

Several years ago, we saw law firms adopting legal project managers to assemble this source data across platforms. However, effective legal project management should not rely on manual data manipulation, it should be automated, real-time, and available for key decision making at a moment’s notice.

To address the platform problem, Oasis developed Litsy, a software application that gives legal teams the tools they need to manage their business operations using data-driven analytics and key performance indicators. In other words, business intelligence for legal.

Where the private cloud solution from Oasis effectively brings data under control (solving the reach problem), Litsy solves the platform problem by normalizing data across the various applications, aggregating various sources into a single, unified series of customizable dashboards.

The Litsy dashboards are powered by Tableau, the BI market leader. Tableau’s intuitive, flexible, and powerful toolkit gives Oasis clients the ability to visualize information like revenue projections, cost forecasting, team productivity, and hardware utilization. Clients choose from a standard dashboard or select from a menu of widgets to build their own custom visualizations. (If you do not know about Tableau, you may want to check them out. Tableau’s user experience, flexibility, and innovative designs are setting the bar for what BI can be.)

In addition to the dashboards, Litsy provides solutions for ticketing, workflow management, communication, invoicing, reporting, and administering complex eDiscovery technology. It is designed specifically for legal professionals, giving them the tools they need to organize tasks and stay in the loop with timely, accurate information.


The legal industry has been slow to adopt business intelligence and analytics tools. This is not for a lack of interest but because of the distributed nature of how work is completed. The industry is comprised of a tightly integrated web of law firms, software companies, and service providers that work together to help corporate legal teams solve complicated problems, first among them electronic discovery. Because of these technical challenges, data can easily end up dispersed across multiple organizations, effectively rendering business intelligence platforms powerless.

Since there is no single software application that provides an end-to-end solution for eDiscovery, information must be extracted from multiple applications, adding even more roadblocks to the realization of true business intelligence. The good news is that we are on the path toward data-driven decisions. As vendors consolidate and both firms and corporate buyers embrace single-source managed service providers, business intelligence in legal is closer than ever before.

Co-authored by: Philip Weldon
Philip Weldon, CEDS, is a legal technologist working in New York City. His primary focus is on cost control in litigation through the use of automation and smarter review methodologies. He is an active member of the ILTA Content Coordinating Committee, an organizer for the NYC LegalHackers and a volunteer member with the FBI’s InfraGard Team.

Co-authored by: Brandon Law
Oasis Founder and CEO