We can’t do data governance because we can’t have data owners

This is one of several obstacles law firm leaders raise when launching or extending a data governance initiative; it’s perfectly natural.

The perceived wisdom within many law firms is that ownership of anything lies with the partners. 

This attitude is understandable because most operations have a dotted line of ownership that rests with a Partner at some level.

Data Governance needs data owners. 

People need to take responsibility for data to coordinate change effectively.

But there’s a problem…

Partners don’t want to be owners, or they don’t have enough time.

It is more common to look to business services for operational leadership, so what we need doesn’t feature in a Partner’s role.

As a leader building a DG strategy or leading any data initiative that depends on DG, you now have a dilemma:

Without data owners, you can’t build a robust operating framework to deliver what the firm expects of you.

So what’s the solution?

The best way to solve this challenge is to re-think the term ‘owner’. 

You need to find a label that best defines the intent of the data governance ownership role you need. 

And the real intent of the role is accountability. 

Law firms are uncomfortable with ‘ownership’, so don’t use the word owner. Find a label for the group of accountable people that fits better into your firm’s vocabulary.

Here are some examples of how we’ve labelled these people to explain their accountabilities within their firm’s context:

  • Data Ops Manager
  • Data Governor
  • Functional Data Lead

But let’s go deeper down the rabbit hole by exploring some different types of accountability…

We found a pattern when we examined recent law firms where we’ve applied this technique. We saw how ‘ownership’ was defined as a set of accountabilities that mirrored the data maturity level of the firm.

A) Functional Accountability. A senior manager in each business services function is accountable for all of the data in that function’s systems

B) Matrix Accountability. A group of managers from several functions (including IT) are collectively accountable for a set of data

C) Domain Accountability. A senior manager is cross-functionally accountable for a set of critical data assets

Hopefully, this gives you a taste of the different accountability structures you can adopt in a law firm.

When I spoke to a client about this approach, they said it was the breakthrough that led to the acceleration of DG in their law firm.

The client had more confidence in defining the roles required and was less frustrated when explaining the role of ‘data owners’ to key stakeholders. It was then easier for them to appoint the right group of accountable people to drive the strategy forward.

Next steps…

I’ve got a checklist of things to consider when defining your data owner accountabilities.