Making Advanced Technology Work for Lawyers


28 November 2020

In legal research, the challenge is finding the right balance between a user’s desire to control the experience and the use of advanced technologies that deliver important data insights.

Much has been written about the challenges facing law firms and legal departments: Do more with less. This effort to achieve greater efficiency and productivity has led to organizational review of workflow, the push for legal process automation and the use of technology to drive gains in knowledge insights.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning specifically promise to yield significant improvements in information review for lawyers. But with the expanded use of these technologies, attorneys want to have more control over the increasing use of AI in the products they use. While little is at stake when AI is applied to a search for a local pizzeria, the same cannot be said for searching for legal information for a client.

Although the term “artificial intelligence” invokes caution and wariness among some attorneys, most will agree that advanced technology has become a necessity in the practice of law. There is far too much content to cover and not enough time to review that content. The challenge is finding the right balance between a user’s desire to control the research experience and the use of advanced technologies that deliver important data insights.

Before we dive into how to take control of your legal research experience, it’s important to look at what’s influencing the behaviors and sentiments of today’s legal practitioners.

Only Review 10 Documents? At What Risk?
In today’s fast-paced, high-demand business and legal environment, attorneys need fast answers. When a client is looking for immediate counsel on a pressing matter, there is little time for thorough, manual research and analysis—not when clients know that the information is readily available with a few clicks.

This increased demand for immediate answers has led to, or was perhaps even driven by, the “Googlization” of search, a behavior that many legal professionals already experience in their personal lives. Today’s search engines have conditioned us to not look beyond the first page or two of search results.

And with the recent advent of Google “answer cards,” many people may not look at results lists at all. This behavior carries over into legal research as well and is even more prevalent among younger associates and law students—digital natives who have grown up with technology their whole lives.

At LexisNexis, we see this same behavior by attorney researchers. Our usage data shows that, of the top 200 search results for a given query, the first result drives about 28% of all clicks. The fifth result achieves about 5% and the 12th result gets only 1%. But what if a little-known but highly relevant case appears at number 40 in a broad search query such as “Contracts and Bad Faith?” In law, it is highly likely that more than 10 documents are highly relevant to a search.

Increasingly, the challenge is to leverage the appropriate use of technology, especially AI and data-visualization capabilities, to ensure the best possible insights from information review. Practitioners can harness advanced technologies to gain a better understanding of their search results, achieve greater control over their search experience and meet client expectations.

A Picture Says [or Shows] a Thousand… Results

Given the precipitous drop in search result interaction, data visualization becomes essential to surface relevant information and insights regardless of where they exist within the search results. Data visualization encourages users to navigate through the larger data set to find the most compelling and responsive documents to the query.

It can empower users to drill down into a document to find clusters of relevant info or showcase the efficacy of particular search terms. This gives users a tremendous amount of control over the search experience by illuminating the interconnected relationships that a text-only results list could not—not to mention saving time and avoiding the frustration of pursuing fruitless searches. In the figure displayed, the interaction with documents ranked 25-75 in a results list increases by several hundred percent. Data visualization is capable of drawing concept and relationship connections that can be missed through standard term-based searching.

Learning from Machine Learning
Using AI and machine learning is not ceding control—in fact, it’s just the opposite. Computers are more capable of reading millions of documents and organizing information more accurately than humans can. This allows users to make better, more informed decisions.

The ideal implementation of machine learning is where the user doesn’t even know it’s there—they just experience better results. When executed poorly, however, it is painfully obvious and leads users to mistrust it. Machine learning has evolved to the point where it can assess the intent of the user’s query. In the future, it’s likely that service will ask the individual for clarifying questions, which in turn leads to more relevant results. This question/response mechanism will likely be another way attorneys ultimately take control over their research and become comfortable with the results.

Machine learning insights are not limited to just research. They exist in legal analytics, contract analytics, document and brief analysis, practical guidance and other applications where technology recommends cases, briefs, citations or even specific language for attorneys to use. But machines aren’t perfect—algorithms often need guidance from the user or opportunities for the user to assert control over the results. For instance, popular search engines and research applications have a ‘must include’ feature for this very reason—it forces an algorithm or machine learning program to honor the intent of the researcher.

When conducting research for a legal matter or document, there are no shortcuts in law. Advanced technologies can greatly accelerate and enhance the process, but ultimately attorneys will make decisions based on the most relevant information that’s available. Ever-growing volumes of data and limitations on human review of text require technology to improve techniques to find, review and consume data insights. The good news is that legal technology is rapidly evolving to aid the work of today’s data-driven lawyer.


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