For many lawyers, legal research is an inescapable—and sometimes tedious part—of practicing law. Fortunately, legal research has changed significantly over the years and is now more intuitive and affordable than ever before.
Prior to the turn of the century, legal research was a cumbersome endeavor, and its cost was a significant part of overhead for most law firms. Fortunately, times have changed.
Machine learning and natural language processing have come of age, offering exciting, increasingly affordable and new ways to serve up precise and relevant legal research results. The end result is that lawyers in 2019 have a host of different legal research tools to choose from at a variety of price points.
In this article, I’ll be focusing primarily on legal research products that have incorporated artificial intelligence technologies into their platforms. Pricing for most of these products is not provided on the companies’ websites, but if pricing information is available, I will include it below. Note that this article is not all inclusive but offers information about some of the more interesting and unique legal research tools that are currently available.
AI and natural language processing
First, let’s talk about the technology that is at the heart of 21st-century legal research tools: artificial intelligence. AI is having a decided impact on legal research, and the vast majority of legal research companies are now incorporating machine learning into their platforms. Natural language processing is being used to analyze the search terms and then provide results based on the queries entered along with the past behavior of the user and other users who’ve made similar inquiries.
AI-based legal research tools lead to results that are more uniform across the board. Because the results are based on a broad set of data analytics, rather than just a Boolean search based on the terms entered, the results are intended to be more precisely aligned to the information that the user was seeking to obtain. The end goal is to reduce the amount of time that lawyers spend conducting research by providing increasingly relevant results.
Incorporating AI tech into software
Many legal research providers, both old and new, incorporate AI tools into their platforms. Each system purports to use AI in a proprietary manner, and it’s often difficult to determine exactly how AI is used to provide more relevant results. That being said, providers large and small are incorporating AI into their platforms in a variety of interesting ways.
First, let’s take a look at AI tools from LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters, since these companies have been leaders in the legal research space for decades now. (Note that I am a Thomson Reuters author and, thus, receive complimentary access to Westlaw).
Both tools use natural language processing and AI algorithms to identify key phrases from a user’s query and then provide responsive results.
On the LexisNexis front, one new release ground in AI technology that is of interest and was announced over the summer is the Lexis Advance AI research assistant, Counsel. This intelligent research assistant makes research more personal, guided and conversational. It does this by transparently tracking a user’s activity in Lexis to provide context and personalized results. Using this information, it creates a map of the user’s activity in the sidebar.
The sidebar includes the user’s step-by-step activity road map, making it easy for the user to easily return to a specific point in the research trail, and the user can search for terms within the sidebar, as well. Counsel has been released in beta to a small subset of customers but will be released more widely in the future.
One interesting and notable AI-driven feature offered by Westlaw is Folder Analysis, which is driven by the user’s interaction with the search results. During the course of your research, after you’ve placed a few documents into a folder, the folder contents are analyzed and sorted by issue. Then Westlaw recommends additional cases to you based on the issues identified as a result of the folder analysis.
Bloomberg Law also offers AI-driven legal research tools, one of which is Points of Law. This tool uses natural language processing to flesh out connections between cases and then provides a summary of the court’s holding. It also provides language that would best support the arguments you’re seeking to make in your case.
Finally, two other companies that offer AI-based legal research tools are Ross Intelligence and Casetext. Like LexisNexis and Westlaw, Ross Intelligence and Casetext use AI algorithms to analyze the search terms entered and provide uniquely tailored results. Casetext’s pricing is $65 per user per month if billed on an annual basis or $89 per user per month if billed monthly. Ross Intelligence’s pricing is $69 per user per month if billed annually or $89 per user per month if billed monthly.
Brief analyzer tools
Ross Intelligence and Casetext, along with a few others, also provide a brief analyzer tool as part of their research platform, which is a cutting-edge approach to using natural language processing to serve up highly relevant legal research results.
Casetext was the first company to release an example of a unique 21st-century legal research tool: a brief analyzer. This cutting-edge tool that Casetext calls the Case Analysis Research Assistant allows lawyers to drag and drop a brief or memo into a secure web page to obtain a list of suggestions for cases that are relevant to the issues addressed in the document but that are not yet cited in the brief.
Since Casetext released its brief analyzer in 2016, a number of other legal research companies have followed suit. The first was Ross Intelligence, which released its version of this tool, EVA, in 2018. Then, this year, two other legal research companies released their own brief-analysis tools.
In July, Thomson Reuters unveiled Quick Check, and Bloomberg Law released an as-yet-unnamed brief analyzer in beta. So no matter what your legal research poison is, you can rest confident in knowing that a brief analyzing tool will likely be part of the mix, ensuring that you have one of the more promising natural language processing legal research technologies available to you as part of your firm’s technology arsenal.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google Scholar. While not AI-based, it’s in a category all its own since it offers lawyers access to a robust 21st-century legal research tool that is entirely free to use. In recent years, its research capabilities have greatly improved, making it easier than ever for lawyers from firms of all sizes to conduct online legal research—for free. Notably, Google Scholar now includes built-in features that make it easy for lawyers to check the citations of relevant cases.
Even though Google Scholar doesn’t provide natural language processing, it nevertheless offers comprehensive and free access to a wide range of legal materials, including caselaw and articles, all of which are accessible and searchable using Google Scholar’s easy-to-use interface.
You can learn more about the ins and outs of using Google Scholar for legal research in this guide. The bottom line: Don’t overlook Google Scholar if you’re in the market for a legal research tool, especially if cost is an issue.
No matter what your legal research needs are, there’s undoubtedly a modern, affordable and robust legal research platform available that’s a good fit. But before you commit, make sure to give your tool of choice a test drive to ensure that it’s intuitive, comprehensive and accurate, and that it includes coverage for all the legal databases that are relevant to your areas of practice. Then once you’ve done your research and made your choice, you can rest easy knowing that you’re well on your way to a more accurate, streamlined and 21st-century legal research experience.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.