Since the first day I walked into a large law firm, I have been amazed at the vast amount of information that is compiled within the four walls of each of these firms.  Even more so, I’m am amazed at the normalization of the data that is compiled.  Each office has a specific designation number; as does each employee; each vendor; each client; each matter; each saved document; so on and so on.  This type of information can and should be the Holy Grail when it comes to building a knowledge tool and a competitive intelligence resource that will leverage existing information against the firm’s future challenges.  Remember, it sure helps to know where you are going, if you know where you’ve already been.

However, it seems that all of this normalization gets siloed into its own little database and becomes so compartmentalized that it looks to be almost impossible for one database of information to link to another.  Each piece of information usually begins as a unique process, such as a conflicts check, and it lives and dies within that space.  Even when we buy expensive third-party projects, like CRM tools, we tend to have issues normalizing the data we import into that resource because we tend to not structure our existing data in a way that allows it to play well with the other data (let alone the new information we are compiling.)
Just off the top of my head, here’s a list of information that firms compile and normalize:
  • Employees (Employee ID)
  • Offices (Office ID)
  • Clients (Client ID)
  • Matters (Matter ID)
  • Matter Type (Matter Type ID)
  • Practice Groups (Practice Group ID)
  • Adverse Parties (Conflict ID)
  • Vendors (Vendor ID)
  • Filed Cases (Docket ID)
  • Courts (Court ID)
  • Documents (Doc ID)
Now, there are probably a few dozen more specific data points that we compile into the multiple systems we use in the every day life of running a law firm.  
Let’s think about the external information that is out there that could also be used as a reference point:
  • Companies (DUNS ID; FEIN;)
  • Attorneys (BAR Number)
  • Individuals (SSN; Drivers License; e-mail)
Then there are more generic, but specific ID information out there:
  • Telephone Numbers
  • Zip Codes
  • Cities
  • States
  • Country
  • URL (
The moral of this story is simple — ask yourself this question before you bring on a new database:

How can I link this new information to my existing information?

If there is no “hook” between the new and the old, then are you really serving the needs of your firm by bringing in this new database?  If you cannot tie an individuals information that is housed in your CRM to any of your existing databases, is the CRM really worth the huge investment (both time and money) you are putting into it??
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, Knowledge Management, IT, and Competitive Intelligence professionals within the law firm need to create a strategy of making sure that each piece of data compiled can be connected to other pieces of data, regardless of which database that information resides.  If it cannot, then why purchase it?