Technological Tips and Tools to Help Bar Associations Build Trust and Support Members – Part 2

If you’re looking for tips and tools to help your bar association make the most of the internet, you’re in luck! Vocalmeet and Lexum’s new series has got you covered. Last week, we looked at how to improve your association’s website; this week, we’ll be delving into one of the most crucial components of the legal field: research!

Tip: Enhance Your Research

The ability to research effectively is a crucial skill in many jobs–especially when in connection with the law: for bar associations and their members alike, fast, accurate legal research capability is essential. Because of this, it’s important to properly organize your association content and boost its accessibility by making it as easy as possible to find; this is particularly important if your association is promoting CLE training and publications. Thankfully, there are a few proven approaches to do exactly that!

Leverage Document Software Designed Specifically for Legal Research

When providing access to legal material, bar associations should use a solution that facilitates searching, highlighting, and annotating legal documents. It’s important to pick one that’s user-friendly and intuitive, as well as one that fully integrates with your website and your learning management platform. You want something that’s a pleasure to use and that allows seamless navigation with the rest of your web environment. For this reason, white-label integration is a must!

And, because you’ll likely be using it frequently, you’ll want one that loads quickly. Focus on SaaS applications (we’ll get to that in the next post!) so you can access content directly on your browser; no external programs means you don’t need to worry about access points (or about carrying around your work PC!). Not only that–web-based solutions are also more likely to incorporate the latest innovations for saving bandwidth and loading time, such as dynamic caches, lazy-loading, and infinite scrolling.

Provide Advanced Search Capabilities

Any modern legal research solution should allow users to combine full-text search in the body of your documents with search-by fields (such as date, author, field of law, etc.). At the minimum, your search engine should support Boolean operators, including:

  • AND: Adding “AND” means all linked words must be included.
  • For instance, searching pink AND blue AND green will only give you results that include all three colors; this limits your results.
  • OR: Using “OR” means one or the other–not both. 
  • For instance, searching pink OR blue OR green will give you results that give you only pink, only blue, or only green–but not a combination of any of them; this gives you a larger pool of more specific results.
  • NOT: Searching “NOT” filters out results that contain the word.
    • For instance, searching pink NOT blue NOT green will only give you results for pink, removing anything that mentions blue and/or green; this considerably fine-tunes your results.

Ideally, however, your research solution should also enable users to complete proximity searches; for instance, it should allow for searching within sentences (/s) or paragraphs (/p). Wildcard operators (*) are also highly appreciated by legal researchers, as they allow truncated words and look for all derivatives of a keyword from a single query. For instance, if one were to search “injunct*” to get documents, the solution would also match either “injunction” or “injunctive”. The best legal search solutions provide stemming capability by default, weighing in the possible derivatives (including singular and plural forms!) in their lists of results automatically. Now, that’s helpful!

You’ll probably agree that a common annoyance when browsing the Web is getting a long list of search results without any context about why you’ve received these results in the first place. To guarantee your members reach the pages and documents you invested your efforts in, make sure your search results page guides them in the right direction. 

Employing the use of short snippets that are automatically generated from the body of your content and include keywords in context (in bold) are a must. Various ranking mechanisms (by relevance, but also by date, by popularity, etc) can also aid members in their searches. In addition, your members will greatly appreciate the ability to refine their searches directly from the results page (instead of clicking back and forth between distinct search and results pages)!

Finally, when your members reach their destination on the page or document you’ve produced, why not help them navigate it even faster with keyword highlights? This is particularly relevant for larger publications, in which the significant content may be hidden deep within the document.

Curious to see how all of this advice can be combined in practice? Here’s how the State Bar of Wisconsin has done it for its Books Unbound service!

You may also like: Academic vs Association LMS: 4 Key Differences


Research improvements can’t be overlooked when it comes to boosting value for bar associations. With the right tools and savvy, you’ll be able to offer your members an unparalleled search experience!

Next week: the Cloud!