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Harnessing the Power of Data Governance: A Strategic Guide for Legal Professionals

  • Legal Operations
  • 3 Mins

Legalweek NY 2024 Session Recap

Data, Data, Data. Data. Data. 

Most business processes today rely on technology, and technology generates data. Email, documents, chats, structured data, logs, etc. – companies are creating an increasing amount of different types of data every day. Data may be a company’s most valuable asset, but it’s also a liability. Data governance practices supply a framework for organizations to maintain high-quality information while eliminating redundant, outdated, and trivial (ROT) data.

Since technology generates data, organizations may see their IT group as responsible for assessing and deploying its data governance strategy. However, organizations that successfully craft and implement data governance practices employ cross-functional groups, with legal being a key stakeholder in the process.

Legalweek 2024 attendees had the chance to learn about legal’s strategic role in deploying information governance practices.  A panel discussion on this topic, “Harnessing the Power of Data Governance: A Strategic Guide for Legal Professionals”, was moderated by Anne Costello, Senior Information Governance Consultant at Epiq, and the panel of experienced information governance attorneys included: 

  • Lisa Lukaszewski, Of Counsel, Gunster
  • Emily Collins, Senior Information Governance Attorney, Southwest Airlines
  • Kevin Brady, Senior Counsel, E-Discovery & RIM, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.

There were several key takeaways from the discussion:

  1. When assessing your organization’s data governance strategy and the maturity of that strategy, partnering with outside consultants and counsel is invaluable. Besides providing fresh perspectives on internal workflows and industry best practices, partners can help develop metrics to measure the company’s progress toward improving their governance.

    The panel agreed that while benchmarking performance metrics with other organizations is important, it shouldn’t be the first step, as every organization has unique circumstances.  Lisa Lukaszewski added, “If you’re beginning and you have nothing else, you have to have a policy that says this is what you need to keep, and this is what you can dispose. Strategies are never one and done, they’re always evolving.”
  2. Successful data governance deployments happen when there is strong, cross-departmental leadership to take charge. Organizations may do this by bringing governance to the c-suite through a chief data officer (CDO). For organizations without a CDO, legal is a logical choice for ownership of the governance. Given the legal department’s understanding of a business’s compliance and regulatory obligations, and cross-departmental roles, it should have the knowledge and relationships necessary to implement governance.

    On this topic, Emily Collins added her perspective that people have the most impact on governance programs (more so than process or technology). “First you have to figure out who your stakeholders are across the company, that’s critical. Pretty much every person in your company is a creator of data, so you have to have everyone represented at the beginning.”
  3. Collaboration between departments, especially legal, technology, and traditional records management, leads to smoother implementations. As opposed to traditional siloed approaches, today’s technologies used to manage governance use holistic methods across applications. Successful data governance teams work across silos. When legal takes charge of the process, they should lead governance and build a collaborative data retention culture.

    Emily Colllins also provided caution on silos, quoting Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, who said “Tribalism is the enemy of altruism”. She went on to add that “data governance is really hard when we work in distinct silos. You have to get everyone in the room from the outset. Let people have a voice so there is less ‘ownership’. Data governance is getting big, and it impacts everyone because everyone is creating data.”
  4. Data governance helps organizations do business by providing high-quality information used in decision-making and building IP. Governance helps legal help the business DO business. This includes providing legal advice, choosing outside counsel, and building efficient eDiscovery workflows.
  5. Even organizations that may not be jumping into the AI pool today should consider AI, machine learning, and other evolving technologies when building a data governance practice. As new as these technologies may be, the age-old rule of garbage in garbage out still applies. Data governance will help surface the most relevant data by eliminating ROT from the sources the AI engines consume.

    On this topic, Kevin Brady added, “It’s important to know what technology is out there, and what’s being developed, but the key thing to remember is that the technology must support the processes you in have in place. As your processes change, the technology will have to continue to support them.”

Data governance is essential for managing the quality and risks of a business’s information assets. A cross-departmental working group with involved executive leadership and guidance from outside partners is the ideal team when developing and accessing an organization’s governance practice. Legal should be a key stake holder in the data governance team and is often the best candidate to lead governance efforts. 


The views expressed by the quoted individuals in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of their companies. 

The contents of this article are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.

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