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Lawyers hate math. At least most do. It’s why they became lawyers. Which means working with data isn’t appealing to most lawyers, either. But law practices are businesses, and these days, successful businesses leverage data to thrive.
Companies use data largely because they can. Data is readily available and consumable; access makes its use more likely. Data is also just plain useful.
Imagine a solo practitioner who decides to start a blog on her website. This requires resources: time, maybe some money, maybe some help. Is it worth it? What if she went through all the trouble and no one cared? What if people would care if they knew about the blog, but no one can find it? What if people like the blog’s content but don’t want to hire the lawyer?
To know whether this venture is worth the effort, this lawyer needs data. She needs the data on how many people are coming to the blog and how long they are staying there. She needs data on whether people find her blog interesting, and if not, why. She also needs data on how many of her new clients hired her because of her blog. This is just one example, but you might imagine a number of ways in which data can help answer nagging questions about your practice.
Gathering and analyzing data in a highly sophisticated way takes time, energy and training. But most lawyers don’t need to work with data in a highly sophisticated way. Here are some tips to inspire you to learn more about embracing data to grow your law practice.
It’s true, lawyers don’t typically do consumer or market research. They don’t have tons of survey data sitting around, ready to be mined for insights. But that’s OK. You don’t need to conduct large surveys or do focus group interviews to work with data. Data comes in all shapes and sizes, and you can access it more easily than you think.
It can be as simple as asking first-time callers where they heard about you. Or sending an email to clients after you’ve wrapped up their case, asking them how you did. You can use Google Analytics to track traffic to your website and measure the return on your various marketing and advertising efforts. If you’re wondering whether your website is easy to use, ask 10 acquaintances to pretend they have a legal problem and let you know how easy your site was to use. You can keep it simple.
Some analysts love to swim in data. For them, the more, the better. But ask them to come up with meaningful insights, and they’re often not sure where to start. It’s hard to get the right answers when you start with sheets of data. The better way to go is to start with the right question. Maybe you’re curious whether you’re getting as many referrals as you think you are. Maybe it’s whether your website is turning users into callers. Whatever it is, if you start there, you’ll have a better chance of getting the right data, data that is directly relevant to the answers you want to find. Which is really all you need.
It’s easy to assume that you can stop asking questions once you’ve gotten some basic answers. It’s a trap many novice researchers fall into: They tally up numbers, arrive at a finding and feel satisfied. Solid data analysts may have more questions after their analyses than before.
Say you launch a digital ad campaign and realize that your ad reached far fewer people than you had hoped and didn’t do much to improve business. Some would conclude that digital advertising for you is a failure. But a curious analyst would ask why it failed. Was it the content of the ad? Was the message off? Or maybe the wrong people saw it. (For example, a digital ad for an estate planning practice probably won’t do well if it appears on sites largely used by people too young to care about wills or trusts.) More research can answer these questions. And that research will yield even more questions.
Working with data is not a one-shot deal. You don’t need to do it all the time, but thinking about it as a process rather than a discrete task will get your business where it needs to go.
It’s a myth that only people with statistics degrees can work with data. Hopefully, these tips inspire you to try, if you haven’t already.
Like most things, however, it’s possible to know just enough to be dangerous — but not enough to get it right. Just as research is an ongoing process, so is learning about how to do it. It’s worth reading up on the basics of research processes and methodologies. If it’s in your budget, it’s also worth hiring a consultant or market researcher, if only on a contract basis.
What I don’t recommend is letting your distaste for numbers force you to shy away from data analysis. Chances are a few of your competitors are crunching numbers and improving their businesses as we speak. Why not do the same?
Nika Kabiri is Director of Strategic Insights, Law and Society Analyst at Avvo. A sociologist by training, she leverages learnings from political science, economics, psychology and sociology to frame what people go through as they navigate personal challenges that intersect with the law. Nika received her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Washington, and has a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. Follow her @.
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