Enough is Enough: How Do You Know When It’s Safe to Stop Researching Case Law?
We’ve all been there or heard the stories: You’re a junior associate working on a make-or-break case. Partners are breathing down your neck to meet deadlines. The entire case rests on your shoulders so you have to get it right – even if it means pulling a fourth all-nighter – because if you miss a critical case or motion or piece of expert witness testimony you could ruin a carefully crafted legal strategy or sink the matter entirely.
With so much at stake how do you know when it’s safe to stop researching?
Overcoming Analysis Paralysis
Lawyers — especially digital natives — are hungry for technologies that help them expedite legal research tasks with a high degree of confidence. Because the sheer volume of case law and other related data is massive and amorphous, lawyers are rightfully worried about missing an important case, motion, or legal development that’s pivotal to their argument.
Researching complex legal issues can easily take 10 to 15 hours or more per matter, especially when you factor in the high volume of search results, the review of irrelevant documents, and the fear of missing relevant ones. Because one can’t be 100% certain that there isn’t a more relevant or authoritative case law citation or other relevant document waiting to be found, attorneys oftentimes struggle to know whether their research has exhausted all avenues.
Fortunately, next-generation legal research tools address these pervasive pain points by reducing the abyss of information that attorneys must wade through for every matter and making searching easier and more intuitive.
For instance, when searching for cases that closely resemble your own, analytics can extract datapoints from thousands of documents to find ones that best meet your criteria – whether it involves a specific judge, venue or party, type of matter, or outcome. You can discover the potential value and likely outcome of your case through analytics derived from jury verdicts and settlements by merely inputting your case topic and jurisdiction. When vetting an expert witness, you can retrieve a report analyzing all challenges to the testimony of that witness, and the associated outcomes, simply by inputting the expert’s name. In short, analytics are extracted from many different types of content, ranging from caselaw to dockets, and they pertain to every legal entity, from parties in litigation to expert witnesses. Analytics are truly becoming table stakes and many top legal solutions have them baked-in or available as stand-alone solutions.
Advances in natural language search let you frame your query with greater specificity and nuance to help you find the best answers. The technology has progressed to the point of understanding the context of and relationship between query terms – so when you type “seat belt,” the AI extrapolates that you also mean seatbelt, lap belt, restraining belt, passenger restraining system, and safety belt, to name a few. Some platforms even directly spotlight the best, most relevant answer or passage within a specific document at the top of the results list, which saves a tremendous amount of time, and then lists other highly relevant results if additional research is needed. Gone are the days of getting hundreds of blue links to manage and sift through manually.
Other technologies, such as data visualization or Shepardization built into the search results, create a more intuitive user experience and help lawyers improve comprehension while consuming data more efficiently. Being able to visually see which cases are connected through a citation graph (a network of all the citation relationships within a given set of cases), whether a case is still considered good law, or where specific search terms are referenced within a document, can greatly expedite caselaw research and give users confidence they’re not overlooking relevant cases or details.
Work Smarter Not Harder
Another game-changing innovation that emerged recently is specialized, topically focused search tools that provide results based on the specific facts, issues and topics related to your case. Just start typing an issue into the search box, and the tool will propose highly granular legal topics generated using machine learning to get you started. Select a topic, add a jurisdiction, some facts and issues, and the tool will surface the most relevant cases and content across a variety of sources. Behind the scenes, multiple search algorithms, each optimized for the type of content being searched as well as your topic and any additional facts and issues, are automatically generated and then search all the most relevant sources. Despite the specificity of these searches, zero results are avoided because the tool automatically removes search terms that would cause zero results.
This mimics how an attorney would approach caselaw research but greatly streamlines the workflow and aggregates all the results – including caselaw, analytics, practical guidance and other relevant practice area content such as medical or patent info – into a single dashboard view. This holistic overview of the most relevant case law, analytics and other content you need to review, saves you time and minimizes the fatigue and workflow disruption from constantly switching between multiple applications and online sources.
For even more certainty, new brief analysis and contract analysis technologies can help bulletproof your document or find weaknesses in opposing counsel’s. For instance, when drafting a motion, uploading your opponent’s brief is all that is required to see whether the authorities it cites are still good law and whether there are other supporting or opposing cases on its arguments. The same technology is used on contracts to point out relevant concepts and clauses that others have successfully used in the past. These insights can help boost an attorney’s confidence greatly while saving time.
Many firms are implementing their own dashboards and applications to help their attorneys work smarter. Some examples include aggregating internal firm data with external data and technologies so attorneys never have to leave their familiar native environment. Using APIs, for instance, firms can securely import practice-specific content, analytics about judges and other entities, company overviews, financial data, news and more, and display all of this within their own internal applications alongside the firm’s own confidential and proprietary data.
No Stone Unturned
Although research may not be the most glamorous aspect of being a lawyer, it is an essential, foundational skill that can make or break a case. With legal and business data growing at an exponential rate, it is now impossible to conduct effective research without help from next generation technologies – perpetuating the fear and doubt that many attorneys experience.
However, providing attorneys with tools to better navigate the task of finding and analyzing complex data at scale, and correlating it into a cohesive case, will make them more efficient, productive, and confident that they have left no stone unturned. With these tools, attorneys can spend less time building better arguments that lead to more favorable client outcomes.