“Law” and “technology” rarely appear in the same sentence outside of antitrust cases, but Canadian business firm McMillan LLP is aiming to change that.
Last week the Toronto-headquartered organization, which employs some 300 lawyers and 600 additional staff in six locations across the country and in Hong Kong, announced that it would be collaborating with IBM Corp. to develop new analytics software designed to improve both the value and quality of client services, in addition to giving McMillan’s own human resources practices a boost.
“One of the big pressures facing the legal community right now is around pricing,” says McMillan executive committee member Tim Murphy, who is serving as the partnership lead between IBM and McMillan. “Clients are demanding a better – quite rightly, and aggressively – correlation between the price they pay for a service and the value of the service provided.”
By analyzing past cases – which, depending on the subject, can frequently number in the hundreds – McMillan could identify not only routine components it can assign to associates, thereby streamlining costs, but the individual elements it incorporates into its prices, Murphy says.
“For example, when it comes to facilitating the purchase and sale of a business, which is a standard legal service that happens all the time, we’re looking at… how long the average transaction takes, how much partner and associate time it requires, the variables that cause delays or pricing increases, etc. etc.,” he says. “We can then use that information to sit down with the client and have a more informed discussion about what they should expect.”
Human resources-wise, predictive analytics can be used to better recognize staffing requirements, he says.
“For example, if you look over 200 business transactions and the average is 30 per cent partner time and 70 per cent associate time, and then one project has 50 per cent partner time, analytics can help us figure out if it’s a particularly complicated project, or if we’re not putting in the right resources on it,” Murphy says.
“Our intention is to use analytics to drive those learnings systematically across as many areas of our business as we can,” he says.
IBM was a logical partner for three reasons, Murphy says: the company offers some of the best cloud-based predictive analytics software in the industry; McMillan’s IT director had connections there and was able to facilitate discussions between IBM and the firm; and IBM’s data scientists were as curious to learn how analytics could be applied to law as McMillan executives were.
“They were willing to collaborate with us in learning about a new sector, for them and for us, and were quite helpful in the process,” Murphy says.
Eventually, the plan is to deliver a platform that offers standardized metrics for a range of legal services, rather than forcing McMillan to rely on individual practitioners’ experiences. The result will be more accurate prices for clients and allow McMillan to hire staff based on demand.
However, the project is still in its early stages, so Murphy admits the firm has not seen a dramatic benefit yet.
“We’re announcing the beginning, not a finish,” he says. “To be honest, I don’t think it will ever finish, because what we’re trying to do is institutionalize analytics into our business.”