American legal training hinges on the combined power of research and analysis.
Legal research is, and has always been, the core of legal practice, from litigation to transactions, from BigLaw to solo shops. Lawyers use their training to continually become more efficient, thorough, and insightful legal researchers.
But a new and equally valuable tool has presented itself to practitioners: legal analytics. While many lawyers use the terms legal research and legal analytics interchangeably, they are distinct concepts. Nonetheless, they complement one another. Skilled attorneys can, and should, use them together to not only save time and money, but to more effectively accomplish their legal tasks from client counseling to building a case strategy.
To understand how, it is critical to know the key differences between research and analytics.
Legal Research as Investigation and Parallel Reasoning
In both law school and legal practice, lawyers are trained in a type of parallel reasoning that involves studying an established case, mapping out the progression of the legal analysis throughout, and applying this legal analysis to the facts of another case. In other words, they examine what happened in a prior case, and determine whether the result should be the same in the present case. This is the core of legal research: identifying relevant law – from statutes to case law – and applying the law to the facts of a particular legal scenario.
Lawyers use legal research to remain informed on the practice areas that govern the legal issues they routinely handle. They also use it to educate their clients, prepare case strategies, build arguments, and look for holes in their cases or their opponents’ arguments. The ability to find relevant cases, parse dense facts, and determine how to use precedent to either bolster or pierce a case is an essential skill for lawyers across practice areas.
Legal Analytics as Data Mining and Processing
While legal analytics facilitates legal research, it is an entirely different process. Legal analytics employs machine learning and natural language processing technologies to collect, store, and analyze information from millions of data points, from docket entries in cases to official filings. Said differently, it mines data found in court records and aggregates that data to provide predictive insights into the judges, attorneys, law firms, and business entities involved in a legal dispute.
Litigation professionals use legal analytics to study trends and patterns in past cases to develop case strategies – from selecting a venue that will yield the most favorable outcome, to studying opposing counsel’s track record and related experience. Similarly, in-house attorneys leverage legal analytics to determine the best available outside counsel to engage, based on their past cases, and more specifically, whether they have experience handled certain case types and legal issues, and/or which judges they have appeared before.
The Combined Power of Legal Research and Legal Analytics
Attorneys in firms, corporations, and solo shops can use analytics and research together to create a streamlined, efficient information-gathering process. Using analytics, attorneys can short-circuit what would otherwise be a laborious and time-consuming research process.
Consider the associate assigned to research a legal issue. By studying analytics on similarly-situated parties in past litigation, the associate can quickly locate and study the dispositive cases on the matter he or she is researching. In a similar vein, both litigation and in-house attorneys can use research and analytics together to advise clients on the likely risks of pursuing litigation. Attorneys can first research the state of the law governing a client’s legal issue to determine whether the law is on its side. Then, they can turn to analytics to see how similarly situated parties have fared in past cases in that jurisdiction. If the analytics indicate an unlikelihood of success, attorneys can change course and advise the client to abandon the case. Facts determine outcomes, but analytics are great at revealing underlying predispositions and biases of litigants, judges, and attorneys.
Lawyers who use both legal research and legal analytics have a competitive advantage over those who do not. Possessing more thorough information than the other side is critical, and leveraging the power of both traditional research and the tool of analytics will position lawyers for success.