There is a dirty little secret lurking in your matter management application and it is called Dirty Data. Dirty Data is a nasty little beast and it can make your data unreliable and lead to incorrect reporting and a lack of trust in your application.
Dirty Data is defined by Wikipedia as “inaccurate, incomplete or erroneous data, especially in a computer system or database.” While Dirty Data can occur from something as simple as user error and inconsistency of data entry, the results can be devastating. Imagine you run a report based on your current data for management, and it is not accurate. It’s missing a key piece of information due to a simple typo. Management is embarrassed and no longer trusts the data in your application.
So, how do you prevent Dirty Data? The simple answer is by maintaining data integrity. Data integrity, in this article, refers to the accuracy and consistency of the data stored in your database, data warehouse, etc. My experience has taught me that prevention is the best medicine in maintaining data integrity. A series of routine data audits that catch mistakes quickly when they are fixable, some rules that enforce common practices, and vigilance will go a long way in preventing Dirty Data.
Dirty Data, just like a dirty house, is a never-ending process, but there are tools to make this job easier and they can even prevent some of the problems from even occurring. Some of the tools available include wizards or templates to open new matters or add a new contact; mandatory fields so data isn’t missed in the intake process; the use of drop-down lists instead of free text fields (for example, California could be spelled out by one user, abbreviated to Calif. or Cali. or Cal. or CA by other users, resulting in reporting inconsistencies); rules and validations (if the matter is litigation, jurisdiction fields need to be populated). Accurate and consistent naming conventions are another must, and they need to be documented and communicated to your users. Naming conventions not only relate to matters, but to contacts, document types and any other data in the application. Another tool is the use of notifications sent when a new contact is added or at key times in the life of a matter (a notification can be sent to the invoice coordinator when a new vendor is added or to an paralegal when the phase on a matter is updated) and finally there are audit reports to make sure things continue to move smoothly and to catch any problems when they are still small and easily fixed.
Reports are your best friend in the data cleanup and maintenances processes. Report on specific fields and then clean them up. Don’t try to clean it all at one time, but take in a small chunks so you can see the benefits immediately. Finally, if the same errors are made repeatedly, contact the people or groups making the mistakes. Don’t be afraid to speak up, clean data is everyone’s responsibility, not just a system administrator’s.
There are three more key pieces in the puzzle of maintaining your data. A good training program, well documented processes and procedures, and finally good communication. If your users know what is expected and know that you are checking on them, they are more liking to adhere to your processes.
Now that your data is clean, you can move on to more exciting things, like docketing and file management.