By: Olga V. Mack Career and Technology columnist for, vice president of strategy at Quantstamp and former general counsel at ClearSlide.

In today's tech-powered business world, data is paramount. And as lawyers, we are no strangers to hoarding information. But to truly make the most of data, it's important not only to hoard but also to track. In-house counsel often want to know what they should be tracking, where they should get the data, and how they can get their teams to start caring about the whole process.

Stephanie Corey is the co-founder of UpLevel Ops, which provides a range of legal operations support to companies, and the co-founder of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). Corey also used to work at major technology companies such as VMware and Hewlett Packard Company. With her wealth of expertise harnessing the power of metrics, Corey definitely has straight answers to these questions.

1. Ask why

Corey likes to start with the "Why?" of metrics. "Why track metrics in the first place?" she asks. According to Corey, "First and foremost, you can't control what you don't measure. The data collected keeps you well-informed about what's going on in your department." She continues, "Without it, how do you know whether or not you're delivering effective legal services? The truth is, you don't!"

[Related: Measure Your Impact: 8 KPIs for In-house Teams]

"By collecting and analyzing data," Corey explains, "you can ensure that you're focusing your resources on what's most important to the company. And over time, this data tells a story, with a past (where you've been), present (what's going on today), and future (what is the trend showing for tomorrow and beyond?). This data will also let you know when you've hit (or missed) your targets."

2. Ask what

The next question to ask is "What?" "What should the metrics look like?" Corey asks. "First, it should be clear to everyone what the metric is and why it's being tracked. For instance, if you're focused on pulling more work in-house and reducing outside counsel spend, those priorities will affect the metrics that are meaningful to you." She explains that the metrics may include:

  • Internal people spend to external outside counsel spend (i.e., is outside counsel spend decreasing as you hire internal heads?);
  • Spend with specific firms (i.e., are you sending trivial matters to expensive firms?);
  • Budget to actual (i.e., are your firms doing a decent job of budgeting accurately?);
  • Year-over-year trends; and,
  • AFA usage.

Corey also adds that if you're implementing a new ethics and compliance program, you might want to measure:

  • Types of matters being reported;
  • Root causes of matters;
  • Matters by location; and,
  • Average time to resolve.

"The point is, the metrics should support whatever goals you're trying to achieve," Corey says. She adds, "Good metrics will help you drive the strategy of the department and provide focus and performance for your team."

3. Ask how

The final question is "How?" Knowing about metrics isn't enough — in-house counsel also need to have a definite strategy for implementing them. How can you take the steps to establish effective metrics?  "The first thing you want to do is identify what you want to measure," Corey says. "If you're a nerdy MBA like me, you may even want to think of the 'SMART' acronym when defining your metrics — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based."

Corey also recommends that your strategy be goal-oriented. "Be sure that what you're measuring supports the company's goals," she says. "In other words, the CEO's goals should influence the GC's goals, and the legal department metrics should measure the progress towards those goals." She adds, "This is a critical step in getting buy-in from the team."

[Related: Why Your Company Needs a Data Inventory]

This is especially crucial considering the high degree of coordinated investment required to successfully implement metrics. "Once you move towards a data-driven legal department, there is a good chance that you may need to change many of your processes and possibly even your culture, and because of that, you need the team to buy-in to these changes," explains Corey. "Gaining an understanding of how their activities influence the company's goals is an important step in this process."

4. Take data inventory

"Another consideration is understanding where the data resides and the best way to collect it," Corey explains. "Some of that data will be easy to collect, such as spend data out of your eBilling system. But other data might be tough, especially if you don't have the systems in place designed to track and report, and therefore will need to be collected and tracked manually." She also emphasizes the importance of processing your gathered data. "Once you've got collection figured out, you're ready for the fourth step, which is to monitor and analyze the results regularly through dashboards and reports."

5. Share the data

Finally, it is important to use the data and share the results. "The data you collect should drive decision making and effect change, and the results should be communicated regularly to the team to keep them motivated and interested in continuing the metrics program," she says. To make your metrics truly valuable, they need to be visible and have a tangible impact.

[Related: Beyond Data Collecting: How to Protect and Leverage Big Data]

Despite her clear enthusiasm for data-driven legal departments, Corey ultimately recommends moderation. "Don't bite off more than you can chew!" she warns. "Start small, because going through all these steps is hard and it takes time." She adds, "A few meaningful metrics is better than 25 metrics that are used for nothing. Change them if they need to change, and stop if they're not being used. Metrics should evolve with your changing department, and at the end of the day will show all the great progress you and your team have made." While easing into metrics is no small task, with Corey's five-step process, in-house counsel at companies of any size can benefit from the data-driven power of metrics.

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