Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to change the functionality of online legal research engines to produce (much) better results

If Ms. Abraham doesn't patent this first, there's no doubt someone else will (and in the age of Watson, we won't have to wait long). From the blog Above and Beyond KM:

A Notice to Lexis and Westlaw:  You would be well-advised to read this post since it proposes a better model for your products.  (As for the royalty checks you’ll owe me, let’s talk…)

. . . .

[T]he current approach to legal research is fundamentally flawed.  Lexis and and Westlaw have created these enormous databases of case law that cannot be completely mastered unless you have world class research skills. In fact, what they’ve created is a frustrating game of “find the needle in the haystack.”  The problem is that the people who need the cases aren’t always the best equipped at finding the cases, and the people who are expert at finding cases aren’t the best equipped to analyze and use them. Further, most law firms don’t promote lawyers on the strength of their research skills. Rather, they promote lawyers on the strength of their analytical, advising, negotiating, writing and business-winning abilities.
It would be better if Lexis and Westlaw aligned themselves with their customers’ need to improve analytical capabilities.  Here’s the new model I propose:  instead of forcing lawyers to come up with appropriate search queries, Lexis and Westlaw should ask lawyers questions to elicit information about the case at hand.  In other words, the role of the lawyer searching for precedent would be to analyze their own case and strategy and provide that information to Lexis and Westlaw: what are the pertinent facts of the case, what jurisdiction, what procedural approaches is the lawyer considering.  Then, Lexis and Westlaw would deliver to you links to groups of cases that match your facts within your jurisdiction.  You could then review them to see how closely aligned they are to your situation.  Ideally, this approach would reveal the array of ways in which lawyers before you had handled this fact pattern in your jurisdiction and would highlight opportunities for following precedent or striving for innovation.  Better still, this should reduce (if not eliminate) the nagging worry that you’ve missed a case.
As long as Ms. Abraham's proposed search engine also delivers analogous cases where facts may be different than the original search query (much like West's key number system organizes results based on topics and "ideas" rather than facts), I think this is a great idea.  You can read more here.


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Posing legal queries is what Legal Zoom and similar non-lawyer services do and look at the problems they have faced with the bar over claims that they are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law! Could the bar give the publishers a pass without calling into question the assault on non-lawyer legal services providers?

Posted by: Jim Fischer | Apr 5, 2011 1:08:04 PM

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