There was a time when the roles of corporate professional advisers were sharply defined. Accountants did the sums, audited accounts and gave financial advice while lawyers dealt, largely reactively, with a well-compartmentalised class of problems which involved meeting legal obligations, securing proprietary rights and bringing or defending litigation claims; IP specialists and a range of others with specific skills or qualifications were hired as needed.
That compartmentalisation broke down when the larger accounting firms extended their roles, either by taking work away from lawyers or by offering services which met clients’ needs (whether they knew of those needs or not) and furthered their objectives. I refer in this context, as I have done before, to an article written in 2011 by Tom Kilroy, now Chief Administrative Officer and Chief of Staff at Misys, called Big 4 a reason. The article describes how the big consulting firms moved on from the provision of “esoteric areas staffed by technical propeller-heads” to a wider understanding of clients needs, to developing internal skills necessary to serve those needs, and to shepherding the clients down new routes by their understanding both of the problems and of the potential solutions.
Drinker Biddle & Reath is a law firm with offices in Washington and ten other US cities and, now, London. It provides all the services expected of a large national law firm but goes one step (and a big step at that) further in its ability to address the growing needs of clients in the areas coming under the broad umbrella called information governance.
This sweeps up eDiscovery (a subject which Drinker Biddle has long since tamed and controlled for its clients’ benefit) and all the developing areas of regulatory compliance, security and multiple other disciplines which bring together data and business needs.
This is not accidental. Drinker Biddle has a dedicated information governance and eDiscovery team built up by bringing in Bennett Borden, Jay Brudz and Jason Baron, each of whom had a strong reputation derived from his work in legal practice, corporations and government. Like the big consulting firms referred to in Tom Kilroy’s article, Drinker Biddle excels at developing the services which clients need to solve problems which arise faster than most companies can anticipate them, let alone meet them. Whilst containing cost and risk is important, the identification of value and the development of relevant processes is equally significant. It is not surprising that the Information Governance Initiative grew out of this team.
Drinker Biddle has now expanded its information governance practice team to include data analytics and has named Bennett Borden as Chief Data Scientist leading the firm’s data analytic strategy. I started coming across Bennett Borden at information governance events some years ago and recognised a new force capable of redefining the role of lawyers.
Bennett Borden says this of his new role:
“Harnessing the power of data is essential for our clients to drive value in their business operations and to tell their side of the story in litigation. Finding relevant information within a large body of data can provide significant strategic legal advantages well beyond mere discovery for the party employing them. With the expansion of our practice into data analytics, we will be able to provide advice around the implications of this data in a way that no other law firm can.”
The team which Bennett Borden heads will work with clients to apply data analytics to a wide range of legal information governance purposes, including investigations, due diligence and compliance tasks. The press release, which you can find here, identifies a range of services in much the same way as Tom Kilroy’s article described how the Big 4 anticipated and developed new skills. Drinker Biddle’s range includes:
- Advising clients on the development and use of analytics models that assist in data storytelling, data remediation, and autoclassification.
- Using the team’s research on the use of machine-based learning and unstructured data to build data-driven early warning systems for detecting and preventing corporate fraud and other misconduct.
- Building machine-based learning models to improve process and legal outcomes in corporate matters including mergers and acquisitions, data remediation and autoclassification, information governance program development and enforcement, litigation and investigations, and business intelligence.
It will be interesting to see how it goes. I predict success.