District-based law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath said it has opened up a data analytics practice and appointed its first-ever chief data scientist, branching out beyond the traditional role of a legal firm.

Plans are for the new unit to advise on legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of data analytics and to provide consulting services to help companies undertake their own big data projects, said Bennett Borden, the firm’s new chief data scientist.

“We’ve used analytics in our investigations and white-collar practice for years,” said Borden, who recently obtained a degree in business analytics from New York University. “Now we’re packaging it into an official practice.”

Companies that operate in heavily regulated industries or have government-compliance requirements stand to benefit from legal advice in this area, Borden said.

The firm also sees an opportunity to provide consulting services to large corporations such as retailers that want to study consumer shopping habits or banks trying to spot financial wrongdoing. For instance, the firm says its expertise can help companies build early-warning systems for detecting and preventing corporate fraud and other misconduct.

“Data scientists at companies put together projects, but they haven’t always been trained in the ethical or legal outcomes of those models,” Borden said.

Drinker Biddle is best known for its lobby shop focused on federal health care. The firm has rebranded itself to pursue other work in recent years.

The new unit will be housed under the firm’s information governance group, which has about a dozen lawyers, Borden said.