Season 2 Episode 6
Welcome to Season 2 of the Law Firm Data Governance podcast, the data governance companion for law firm leaders who want to know more about implementing and improving data governance. Each week I’ll help you with your law firm’s data governance initiative by sharing something I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of working with information and data in law firms.
Over this season, I’ll explore law firm drivers for data governance and the benefits of data governance. So whether you’re making the business case to create your data governance capability or getting some support to get started with data governance, I hope this season helps set you up for success.
In this episode, I’ll talk about how not having a common vocabulary is a problem and how data governance can help create a shared language for a firm. I’ll also describe some benefits that building a data glossary or business glossary can bring to a law firm.
Law Firm Data Governance Podcast
- Do you want learn more about the podcast?
- Are you curious about what’s coming up in future seasons?
- Do you want to listen to the latest episode?
Answers to these questions and more can be found on the podcast page.
Welcome to Season 2 of the law firm Data Governance Podcast. I’m CJ Anderson, founder of Iron Carrot, and I’m thrilled to be back with another season of the Data Governance Companion for law firm leaders who want to know more about implementing and improving data governance.
Each week I’ll help you with your law firm’s data governance initiative by sharing something that I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of working with information and data in law firms. Over this season, I’ll explore a law firm’s drivers for and the benefits of data governance. So, whether you’re making the business case to create your data governance capability or you’re making the business case to get some help to get started with data governance, I hope that this season helps to set you up for success.
This is Season 2 Episode 6 of the Law Firm Data Governance Podcast. In this episode, I’ll talk about how not having a common vocabulary is a problem and how data governance can help create a shared language for a firm. I’ll also describe some benefits that building a data glossary or business glossary can bring to a law firm.
A big challenge in law firms is when different teams use the same word to mean different concepts. On the legal side ‘Bond’ is a word that always drove me crazy when I worked in knowledge management. Across a big law firm’s many practice groups and service lines, a bond could be one of many things. Off the top of my head, I can still remember four definitions: Bond, a financial instrument evidencing the issuer’s debt. Bond, a formal written agreement by which a person undertakes to perform a certain act. Bond, a specific type of construction guarantee or, Bond, a type of insurance policy. I’m sure you can think of many other examples in legal and also across business services. Things like headcount and department are two that spring to mind.
The resulting confusion results in wasted time and effort trying to work with matching data sets that don’t fit or match but shouldn’t. Or trying to solve data problems where the stakeholders have a fundamental misunderstanding of the concepts and therefore the data which can lead to solutions that don’t actually solve the issue or help the firm. Having a firm-wide shared language as a taxonomy with definitions in a business glossary is something that data governance can help you with.
As firms grow and adopt specialised business service teams and technologies to help them, the firm’s language becomes increasingly specialised within these teams and becomes a barrier to cross-functional understanding. This disconnected vocabulary is often a source of confusion and frustration for lawyers particularly, who receive different data reports with the same labels, but which don’t make sense to them.
A common example I encounter is the challenge of the finance team’s headcount report, which has a different FTE number than the HR team’s headcount report. Each team, of course, is adamant that their number is right and the other team’s number is wrong. And usually, conversations to try and resolve this become the immovable force versus the unstoppable object. Of course, the reality is that they are both right, but right within their own contexts. They’re just using different calculations to get to the FTE number, and those two numbers were never supposed to match. Nobody expected that anyone would be trying to compare or match the reports. A cross-functional approach to the firm’s language makes it easier for business services teams to manage and to share data. It also makes it easier for lawyers and senior stakeholders to understand the dashboards and the reports that they use, which in turn increases their confidence in the firm’s data.
Within your data governance framework, a shared language’s most significant impact is how the members of each group work together, particularly within the community of data stewards. This shared vocabulary builds the foundation for solid communication because everyone on this team understands what the other is saying. Buzzwords and shorthand acronyms are replaced with consistent terminology that is clear for everyone. It helps the data stewards to understand the goals, objectives, and expectations around the data itself.
The shared vocabulary also increases efficiency and productivity because data stewards don’t lose time negotiating the details of the topic under discussion, it’s obvious which data concepts are being discussed, and this standard nomenclature helps people clearly and effectively get their points across. Over time, shared experiences improve culture and camaraderie. For example, think about the inside jokes that you share with your long-term friends. Having a firm-wide vocabulary; a defined shared common language recreates this trust and understanding in a workplace context. Data governance helps firmwide colleagues to find shared business terminology and rules so that everyone speaks the same language. This common language enables a shared cross-team understanding and allows people to leverage appropriate, consistent, and trusted data.
This is done by creating a business glossary. I explained more about what a data glossary is and isn’t in season 1 episode 4: The difference between a data glossary and a data dictionary. In short, a business glossary has defined terms with authoritative sources to clarify which data sets do and don’t match up. For example, finance headcount and HR headcount, unique labels like ‘Bond Financial Instrument’, and ‘Bond Guarantee’ helps to ensure that terms aren’t matched up when they shouldn’t be.
Achieving this common language will take the effort of many individuals, but the advantages to your data governance initiative and beyond make the time investment worthwhile.
So, to sum up, what I’ve talked about, it’s challenging when different teams use different terms or labels for the same concept. Having a firm-wide shared language which has been created cross functionally makes it easier for teams to be effective in managing the firm’s data. It also increases confidence in the firm’s data, because lawyers and senior stakeholders will find it easier to understand the dashboards and reports that they use.
A data governance initiative will help create this common vocabulary by facilitating the creation of a business glossary which in turn will support the data stewards to become an effective team.
Thank you for joining me for this law firm Data Governance Podcast episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share, like and review the episode so that more law firm leaders can learn about data governance. Join me next time for Episode 7: Easier innovation and collaboration.
Make sure you always catch each episode by following Iron Carrot on social media. If you still need to do so. And please get in touch if you’ve got questions or topic ideas for future episodes.