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Visual analytics (VA) and its potential (or mirage) to help legal department managers make sense of voluminous data

An article about human cognitive limitations mentions that software can help us cope. Unable to make sense of a swamp of output from, say, a matter management systems, managers can enlist visual analytics. “Defined as the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces, VA combines computer science with cognitive and perceptual sciences to generate interactive applications for knowledge work.” The quote comes from Info. Mgt., Jan./Feb. 2010 at 24. VA could help general counsel of large law departments make sense of mountains of data.

Allow me to fantasize. With VA, someone could see onscreen and play with the relationship between amounts of invoices and sizes of law firms. The screen would show a complicated scattergram. From there, it would be possible to “filter” for US firms only or for matters just involving acquisitions. Each filtered view would list in a sidebar the outliers, those whose metrics were well above or below average. Another sidebar would translate the data (drawing on notions like trend lines in Excel) into a formula: “the larger the office of the firm – as distinct from the total size of the firm – the slower the billing. Every 25 additional lawyers adds 2.3 days to the invoice time.”

Still another click of the button would display by color the invoices of the department’s preferred law firms and the software would display the difference between their average speed of invoicing and the speed of all other firms. A sidebar would calculate the analysis of variance (ANOVA) so that the user would see at once whether the difference was statistically significant. Graphs, calculations, and interpretations would follow each twist of the dial.

Fun to imagine. Technology exists to do such visual manipulation and math but I doubt the GC market will sustain development of VA. For many years, it will have to content itself with incremental improvements in the traditional reporting capabilities of matter management systems.

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