How to create a Data Governance Roadmap for your Law Firm (New Step-by-Step Case Study)

In this guide, I will share the exact process we recently implemented for one of our international law firm clients, looking to build out a data governance program to accelerate their data initiatives.

This case study typifies the key steps, deliverables, and obstacles you’ll need to address when launching your initiative.

You’re going to learn how to achieve success using our step-by-step blueprint.

Let’s get started.

The background

2 years, no progress  

The Global COO and a Senior Partner Sponsor were leading the data pillar of the firm’s strategy. The firm had already spent two years (and several consultancies) on “Data Governance” but hadn’t made much progress.

A restructure within the Business Services leadership provided an opportunity to re-visit the firm’s need for data governance.

Lack of internal data governance expertise

Unfortunately, none of the remaining team members had been involved in the earlier data governance projects or had any data governance experience.

In parallel, the innovation lead was working on data projects but had no clarity of data ownership or authoritative sources.

The IT team was trying to support the innovation team’s work but was making assumptions and decisions that didn’t match the views of the other business services.

Previous advice is conceptual, not practical

The firm couldn’t understand how to operationalise data governance based on the insight from their consultancies who didn’t speak the language of the law firm.

They had a draft 34-page policy document and a 12 slide deck to support implementing it. But the COO felt it was too conceptual, and none of the Business Services Teams could translate it into something practical.

Moving from theory to operational

I had previously worked with some of the Business Services leadership and because of my background in data governance, law firms, and stakeholder management, the COO asked me to help review progress to date and re-energise stakeholders to adopt data governance. 

Building the Data Governance Roadmap

Most law firms have the people, processes, skills, and knowledge to implement data governance, but due to siloed working, they’re found in isolated pockets across business services.

It is common for functions to work in silos and for subject matter experts (SMEs) not to have a cross-functional network.

The purpose of a data governance roadmap is to guide a firm in utilising the collective knowledge and skills that they already have to achieve their data goals.

Shaping the Data Governance Vision

Broad support (with a hint of concern)

The initial conversations we had with the COO and Partner Sponsor highlighted that the Business Services Heads supported having data governance, but weren’t clear what it could do for them or if it would create extra work for their teams.

Winning hearts and minds

The first activity was to have a 1-to-1 conversation with each of the Heads of Function.

These conversations had a dual purpose.

  1. Clarify the message: They helped us explain what data governance is (and, more importantly, what it isn’t)
  2. Gather feedback: They allowed the leaders to share their thoughts on how it could help.

Promotion from the top

The output of these meetings helped the COO and Partner Sponsor create a short statement that explained what they hoped data governance could do for the firm.

Sharing the path forward

It was an aspirational, simple vision statement that shared their ‘future state’ or outcome of implementing data governance. Using that vision statement as a guide, we reviewed the meeting notes to identify success and benefits criteria and ways to measure them.

Articulating Data Governance Goals

The Heads of Function identified the stakeholders in their teams who could be either data owners or were the line managers of data owners.

Identifying the trust gap

They also highlighted the lack of trust between the different business services. The teams were not always “playing nicely with each other,” and in some cases, they didn’t know the key players in other functions.

Reaching common ground

We led this stakeholders group through a series of workshops to help them get to know and trust each other while identifying the goals the firm needed to achieve to realise its data governance vision.

The goals included things which the firm needed its people to:

do differently (processes)
learn about (changes)
use differently (technologies)
share better (communications)
understand better (data & metadata)
get to know (other data stakeholders)

Doing the Gap Analysis

In parallel to the workshops, we used our knowledge of law firms and best practices for stakeholder accountabilities and core documentation to undertake a gap analysis.

Localised fundamentals – sharing a priority

We identified that some functions had some fundamentals (e.g., glossaries/dictionaries/lineage), but it was all localised, fragmented, and not joined up with other teams. When we played these gaps back to the stakeholders, it helped inform their thinking about priorities.

Roles and responsibilities

We also used the findings to shape the roles and responsibilities of members of the data governance framework groups to meet the firm’s exact requirements.

Objectives and timeframe

The Heads of Function identified the subject matter experts in their teams who were operationally responsible for data management. We led this subject matter expert (SMEs) group through a series of workshops to identify data governance objectives to meet the goals.

Getting to know each other

This group was the most siloed, so the first workshop focused on the SMEs getting to know each other and being comfortable working together.

SMART objectives

Despite the size of the group (30 SMEs), they were able to prioritise the goals and make them SMART (simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound).

Data Governance Framework Roadmap

Roles and Responsibilities

Using the outputs from all of these steps, we created a simple layered strategic, tactical, and operational data governance framework for this law firm, led by their newly found (internal) Data Governance Lead.

Working with this lead, we set out member roles and responsibilities in clear terms for sharing with prospective framework group members.

Implementation Steps

We also fed the framework into the two-year roadmap, which set out the objectives and implementation steps in a straightforward proposition that could be explained to the rest of the firm as a simple single-page diagram.

This was supported by a more detailed roadmap document for the Data Governance Lead to take forward.

Getting stakeholder buy-in

Using a phased workshop approach helped people understand the benefits of Data Governance and how it supported the Firm’s Data projects and future aspirations.

The Heads of Function were more willing to support change and devote their team’s time to support data governance when they correctly understood the vision.

Having the Technology department sit in on all the workshops let them hear and acknowledge the business SME’s perspective, making them more open to re-thinking their approach to data projects to make it more inclusive.

Breaking down silos

Having the SMEs get to know each other and participate in workshops to agree on shared objectives started breaking down silos. All of the sponsors, heads of function, and senior stakeholders had highlighted silos as the barrier to progress.

Even before the roadmap was complete, we heard stories of the SMEs picking up the phone to each other to talk about a data problem rather than just logging a ticket with IT Support.

Managing expectations

The COO and Partner Sponsor were better able to manage the expectations of the firm’s management committee. Since two years of work had been done already, they set deadlines to see data governance adopted in weeks, not months.

Having a clear two-year roadmap and a narrative that explained why it would take two years and the dependencies helped the Partner Sponsor and COO manage the need to take things slower and spend more time and money to get it right.

Summing up and Next Steps

Final advice

Data Governance is a marathon, not a sprint, but it’s also just a way of making sure that the right people are having the right conversations to agree and implement the right actions for the firm’s data.

Use every opportunity to break down functional silos while getting collective support for your data governance program’s vision, goals, and objectives. In that case, you will have created the momentum and buy-in for a successful roadmap implementation.

Ask us for help

Innovative law firms have big goals for improving the client experience through data innovation. The problem is that many law firms struggle with a lack of data maturity and alignment between their strategic objectives and the siloed reality of their data.

Iron Carrot has developed a unique data governance road-mapping approach to help law firm leaders launch the proper foundation for data governance through our extensive law firm background.

We’ve used our five-step road mapping process to quickly help law firms deliver a complete framework and plan for assuring the governance and quality of their data so that they can realise their strategic goals.

To talk to us about your challenges with data governance