What About Proactive Legal Research?

Let’s face it, legal research is something lawyers do in reaction to external events impacting their practice.  In a typical case, you first get into it following a meeting with a client raising a new or unfamiliar issue.  The client expects expert advice and sufficient knowledge to take a position and define a legal strategy.  Online legal information databases are one of the means to come up with those deliverables.  But, once this phase of the relationship is over, the legislation, case law and secondary material supporting the case are most often stored in the client’s file or printed.   Being disconnected from their respective sources, these documents remain static over time and age quickly.  And when a subsequent event occurs over the duration of the case, such as a trial, you have to confirm whether the material is still up-to-date.  Since several months or years have generally elapsed in between, there is a high probability that by this time the techniques and queries used to locate the relevant legal information have been forgotten permanently.  In this context, most lawyers take for granted that legal research needs to be started all over again, from scratch.

But why should legal research be so reactive? And why should anyone have to rerun the same legal research queries again and again simply to be certain that nothing has changed since last time?    In the era of the “web of things,” when you can receive real-time notifications about your baby’s sleeping position, it would be worrisome for some to learn how their representatives keep track of changes potentially affecting their cases.

Lexbox has been designed specifically to enable lawyers to keep track of their online legal research.  It does so first by storing links pointing to where legal information resides on the internet (instead of downloading and storing documents elsewhere). This approach preserves the relationship with the original publisher, which is essential to update content over time.  It also makes it possible for Lexbox to support several key legal information websites, allowing you to continue using your preferred research tools while assembling the fruit of your online investigations in a single personalized workspace.

Second, Lexbox allows the creation of alerts based on the specific legislative texts, case law or works that are significant to you.  This approach is dramatically different from what most current awareness services designed for the legal profession have been offering up to now.  Notifications are not based on general interest in a field of law or on ongoing updates from a jurisdiction, which in any case generate way too much noise to be relied upon systematically.  Instead, they are tied specifically to the documents which are relevant to your cases.  You can get notified when they change, when they get cited or simply when one of your past queries returns new hits.

The third way Lexbox enhances the tracking of your online legal research is through monitoring of your search history.  Sometimes legal research is not significant because of the results it has generated, but for the absence of results.  In such a situation, keeping a record of the steps taken can dispel any doubts about the final conclusion.  It also makes it possible to review those steps at a later stage, in the hope of identifying a new angle that may have been overlooked earlier.

These features have the potential to fundamentally change the role of legal research for practising lawyers:  from a reactive task that needs to be started anew at regular intervals, it can be turned into an automated process generating new opportunities.  Legal changes impacting specific cases and clients can be detected as they happen, and without much effort.  This knowledge can be used to update clients in a timely fashion (“Take notice: the regulation you are relying upon has just been amended.”), to improve productivity across practice groups (“There is growing case law on XYZ: I have compiled the sources for you in Lexbox.”), or even to identify new sources of revenue (“This new landmark case is a game changer. We should talk.”).

While this blog post is centred on litigation lawyers, the benefits associated with proactive legal research are definitely not. For writers, it can facilitate ongoing updates of electronic publications, instead of working by “editions,” as in the old days when content production was limited by printing constraints.  For in-house lawyers it enables the creation of one-of-a-kind legal information databases bringing together material focused exclusively on their unique corporate interests.  Ultimately, Lexbox users will be the ones showing us how far this new approach to online legal research can impact their day-to-day work.