As dealing with unstructured data feels daunting and all-consuming, many procrastinate on tackling the problem either intentionally or inadvertently. But cleaning up unstructured data creates several benefits associated with regulatory compliance and strong organizational reputation.

Most companies and law firms are in the dark about their data—they’ve been collecting it for years, since the advent of computers, and don’t have a clue what they’re holding on to. Most of this data is redundant, obsolete or trivial—digital data they continue to retain even though the information has no business or legal value. While some of the data is well-organized in structured databases like Oracle or SQL, the vast majority of the accumulated data results from interactions between people and is referred to as unstructured data because it is data that cannot be easily categorized, analyzed or stored in formalized repositories. It is found in such places as email, websites, instant messages, file shares, mobile applications and more.

In the legal world, such unstructured data includes client matters, case files, court filings, deposition transcripts, personnel records, contracts and more. Research shows that unstructured data comprises 80%of total data volume for legal organizations, which means that on average, only one-fifth of the entirety of the data set is properly secured and actively managed. The sheer volume of unstructured data—and the troubling unknowns about the nature and risk associated with what’s floating in the ether—should give legal organizations pause.

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