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Gray Rule
July 2012 | VOLUME 13, NUMBER 3
Gray Rule
Impact of New Legal Research Platforms on Attorney Research
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Impact of New Legal Research Platforms on Attorney ResearchBy Mike Dahn, Senior Vice President, New Product Development, Thomson Reuters Westlaw, Eagan, MN
The economic challenges faced by law firms in the past three years have required them to innovate and adapt to meet the changing expectations of clients.  ...

Specifically, new developments in legal research are transforming the way attorneys approach finding a solution for their client. The legal industry saw a dramatic leap forward in the area of legal research with the launch of WestlawNext® in February of 2010.

Innovations in the form of a powerful search engine, collaboration tools, and mobile technology are enabling legal professionals to find the best information for their client's issue quickly and cost-effectively. The quality of the results and the time savings and efficiencies that these innovations offer translate to higher-value work and savings to the client.

Cutting-Edge Search Technology: A Better Answer, Faster

It's what's behind the search box that matters.
One of the most significant advancements ushered in by modern legal research technology was to substantially improve the research experience by making the interface easier to use, more like navigating the Web, and to improve the search technology dramatically. While new legal platforms offer a global box similar to Internet searching, the difference is in the content and quality of the results that they deliver.

For example, in WestlawNext one can enter the issue in simple descriptive words, Boolean, or even a citation into an all-in-one search box. WestSearch®, the powerful search engine, automatically recognizes the search format and does a global search across the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of legal content gathered from the courts, legislatures, and leading authors of analytical content. This saves time because researchers don't have to pick a database, run multiple searches in different databases, or go to multiple resources to do research.

The search engine also addresses the issue of language variety by employing editorial enhancements and proprietary research tools, and goes beyond literal text searching to retrieve relevant documents even if they contain phrasing different from the query. With Boolean searching or literal search engines, the burden is on the researcher to know all of the terms to describe the particular legal concept or fact pattern in the jurisdiction. The syntax often varies widely and thus, the researcher runs multiple searches to identify all the terms that may be used.

In contrast, the modern legal search engine applies advanced search technology from the fields of artificial intelligence, data mining, and natural language processing to the over 125-year collection of editorial analysis of the law available through the West Key Number System®, KeyCite®, headnotes, notes of decisions, proprietary indexes, and secondary sources such as American Law Reports (ALR®), American Jurisprudence (Am Jur®), Corpus Juris Secundum® (C.J.S.®), Causes of Action (COA®), and the only completely annotated Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). As a result, WestSearch is able to retrieve relevant documents even when the legal term of art or the language variety that is used to describe the particular legal concept, fact pattern, or issue in a jurisdiction is not known. This is something no other search engine can do.

For instance, with older technology, a search for "noncompete agreement" would return only documents with that phrase. However, WestSearch will return documents that use variations of "noncompete agreement" such as "covenant not to compete" or "non-compete provision" or "noncompete clause in the contract."

Another compelling example is the feudal maxim, "A man's home is his castle," which formed the basis of the defense of habitation and gave rise to the modern castle doctrine. In Pennsylvania, there are no cases with the term "castle doctrine" in them. However searching "castle doctrine" in WestlawNext, the top 10 cases are all about defense of habitation and/or self-defense.

WestSearch is able to retrieve these results because these cases contain relevant discussions of defense of habitation and/or self-defense and each of these opinions has a headnote classified under 203k802 of the Homicide topic: Self-Defense, Duty to Retreat or Avoid Danger, Confrontation on Accused's Own Premises. If you run this search in other services, the relevant cases do not come up or are buried far down in the result list.

In these examples, the researcher would save valuable time and be confident of having on-point materials and important law, especially when under a tight deadline.

Proven efficiencies – help deliver client value and control costs.
Not only does modern legal research technology enable a better understanding of the law and identify additional and relevant sources that otherwise might not have been found, but it also helps attorneys deliver better client service at a lower cost. Results of a study conducted by the Legal Research Center show that attorneys using this cutting-edge technology successfully completed assignments 64% faster. According to Tom Scrivo, managing partner of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter's Newark office, "With this platform in place, we turn around research projects in one-tenth of the time that we did before using different research tools."

For instance, in literal search engines, the cost of rerunning searches in an effort to account for language variety and in additional content types can result in unforeseen legal research costs to the client both in research costs and billable time. As a result, research can be written off or written down. In fact, market research has shown that, on average, 95 hours of associate research time is written off annually, which equates to about $20,000 per year. However, with modern legal research technology, it is likely that there will be fewer write-offs or write-downs. Imagine improving research realization by 10% for each associate at a firm? This represents a gain to the firm of over $2,000 a year per associate!

The ability to reduce research time can either be a direct cost savings to the client, or it can free up time to create higher value work product for the client in the same amount of time. Researchers can focus on core aspects of the matter, find the solution, and deliver better advice or work product much faster than before – thereby improving client service and overall value.

Moreover, the efficiency and improved productivity enable outside counsel to explore alternative fee arrangements (AFA). Being able to project reduced time and billable hours provides an incentive to consider value-based AFAs. This has been the case for Goulston and Storrs, a Boston-based law firm. "We certainly believe that [modern legal research technology] is one of the technologies that helps us bring efficiencies to the client and therefore offer alternative arrangements that are different from the traditional billing methods," says Marty Fantozzi, co-managing director of the firm.

Collaboration Tools: Connecting Research to Value

Folder sharing introduced new ways of collaborating in the research process. While sharing documents in other applications is common (such as in a document management system), the ability to share documents as part of the research workflow drives even more efficiencies.

This innovation provides greater opportunities for a practice group or client team to collaborate on research and to leverage the collective knowledge of their entire organization. This means the most knowledgeable lawyers in the organization can share their expertise easily. The research and accompanying citations stored in folders are updated automatically in real time, showing whether the prior case or statutory law is still good law. Moreover, the ability to add notes to documents and highlight within the document as part of the research workflow saves valuable time and ensures better organization of documents, both of which directly impact the bottom line.

To realize the benefits of folder sharing, research should be organized by practice area, projects, or issue. This creates a dynamic categorization system that can be used by others, even after a researcher has left an organization. The risk of research being misplaced, lost, or difficult to find is no longer an issue when it is stored in folders. This is far superior to research saved in shared drives or email management systems, which do not provide the same search and real-time updating as WestlawNext folders. Repurposing prior research for future projects saves a tremendous amount of time and enhances productivity.

Mary Ellen Kass, library director for McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, says, "Within the library, we can use folders to good advantage by saving articles and materials on certain issues that we search for frequently, and we are likely to have to produce it at a moment's notice, usually for that 3 o'clock meeting that's happening in five minutes. Putting that kind of information in folders internally is a good way to leverage the power of [modern legal research technology]."

In an effort to control legal costs and deliver value, law firms are supporting folder sharing initiatives to avoid billing a client for duplicative research by others on the research team. These folders are knowledge collections that can be leveraged to drive efficiencies for both parties, creating mutually beneficial savings through lower costs and enhanced value in the legal research process. In some instances, law firms are using folder sharing to drive AFA initiatives.

Sharing research between in-house counsel, outside counsel and co-counsel through folders provides benefits in connecting legal services to value. In-house and outside counsel are able to share information in a timely and efficient manner and ensure that work is being handled properly. This saves photocopying and scanning costs, as well as delays with mail or email. Most importantly, stronger partnerships and trust are created through transparency in the legal research process.

Access Anywhere, Anytime: Greater Responsiveness

Mobile communications technology such as smartphones, the iPad, and eReaders are changing how legal practitioners communicate, access information, and present ideas, from the boardroom to the courtroom. According to the American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey, 88% of lawyers used a smartphone for law-related tasks while away from their primary workplace in 2011. Among those same users, 20% regularly used mobile-specific research apps on their smartphones, compared with 16% in 2010.

While there are legal research apps available to practitioners, greater efficiencies and productivity are realized when the app offers comprehensive capabilities. The flexibility to conduct research while you are away from the office, in court, or at a deposition enables an attorney to be more responsive so the client doesn't have to wait. Even when offline, one can be productive by viewing and annotating documents, and when reconnected, the annotations synchronize automatically. Lawyers can take advantage of downtime while away from the office, which helps time management.

Tim Johnson, a Houston-based attorney, is an avid user of his legal research app. "I can pick up where I left off on my research sessions at any point in time and really address the issues that my clients are having. Having that access and the ability to take advantage of those spare moments in time while I'm on the go is just a tremendous benefit to the client and to the firm, because you can work more efficiently." The ability to share research through folders and to access internal work product via a legal research app drives even further efficiencies and savings that benefit the client. Teams working remotely are also able to collaborate and share research using mobile technology.

When leveraged efficiently, mobile technology can eliminate the need to bring supporting attorneys to trial, or for that matter, boxes of supporting hard-copy documents that have been stored in folders. This translates to savings for clients because they are not being billed for the additional legal staffing or the cost of document production. Mobile computing provides an opportunity to have both a competitive advantage and to differentiate service.

Impact on Legal Delivery Services – Value and Cost-Control

As innovations in legal research technology are embraced by both corporate legal departments and law firms, greater value and cost-control are achieved. WestlawNext presents a paradigm shift in the legal research process, offering significant benefits as law firms think creatively about new initiatives to meet the evolving expectations of their clients.

For many law firms, modern legal research technology has helped differentiate client service. "Clients have become more sophisticated in the last few years in a number of ways," says Richard Rosensweig, litigation group director, at Goulston and Storrs. "They consume a lot of legal services, and they don't necessarily use one firm for all of their needs. So it's very easy for them to compare the work that you're doing with the work that other law firms are doing. ... if you don't have the best technology, that comparison is not going to necessarily inure to your benefit. So you need to make sure that you've got the best technology, and that you're operating efficiently so that you comparatively don't come off like you're less efficient than your competition."

If implemented in the right way and to benefit the client, modern legal research technology can enable a law firm to differentiate its service, remain competitive, and gain a leading edge – all critical to succeeding in the new economy.

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