We want data to work smarter for us and the whole legal profession - Vicky Crichton

We live in a data-saturated and data-driven world. So many of the tools we use in our daily lives – from social media to smart watches – rely on data to provide us with a service. Governments, companies and organisations rely hugely on data to understand, to learn and to adapt their services accordingly.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is no different. We hold data on over 15,000 complaints made about lawyers and law firms over the past 15 years. Each of those complaints tells an individual story, but collectively they help to build a picture of what can go wrong and why, when and how problems can be amicably resolved, and how similar issues could be avoided in future.

The SLCC has a statutory duty to identify any trends in legal complaints, to publish them and share them with the legal profession. That’s vital because dealing with complaints isn’t just about resolving the problem for the person who complained, but also reflecting on what happened to learn from it and to try to make sure the same issue doesn’t happen again. Knowing when – and crucially, why – complaints commonly arise means law firms can think about their own practice and how to manage that risk.

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Our data also helps us to monitor our own performance to see how long we are taking to deal with complaints and to quickly identify areas where we can make the process more efficient. That has been vital in helping to inform the improvement work that has seen us half our complaint journey time in recent years.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
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Now we want to take this work to the next level. We set out bold digital ambitions in our current organisational strategy, including exploring opportunities to use new data analysis techniques to help us get the most out of our data. This year we’ve worked with The Data Lab, and have had the opportunity to offer a placement to a fantastic data science MSc student they matched us with to really test out what could be possible with the data we hold.

We’ve been looking at what the data can tell us about correlations between the type of complaint and how likely it is that we can help to resolve it, or how long it might take us to deal with. That means we can better understand how to target our resource, helping us to be as efficient as possible, as well as offer the best possible service to our customers. We’ve also been looking at what natural language processing might be able to tell us about the language of complaints, which can often be highly emotive for complainers and lawyers alike.

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This work is both helping us to derive new insights from the data we hold, and challenging us to think about how we collect, manage and analyse that data to make it work smarter for us.

Ultimately, it’s all about improvement. It’s about providing us with the data to highlight areas where we could improve the way we work. And it’s about providing the most useful insight to the legal profession to help them better understand what causes complaints so they can take action to avoid those issues arising for their clients. The usefulness of the data is in our reaction to it – seeing, understanding and then taking action.

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Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

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