Processes, trends, and expectations are always in flux, and technology so often drives the changes. As you enter a new decade, a refresh of your routine is in order. So, whether you’re new to legal research or looking to stay on top of your game in the 2020s, here are some modern best practices for legal research every attorney should implement.
1. Start with a quick scan of relevant law
There’s a lot of law out there. Reading all of it is simply impossible. Today’s lawyer in-the-know also turns to synopses, descriptions, and filters to get a rapid look at the summary and holdings of a case. These tools help winnow out information that is perhaps related, but not necessarily relevant to your research. Saving precious time spent digging deep into what could be a dead end.
2. Prioritize freshness in your legal research
The importance of dealing with up-to-date information is obvious. But looking past mere awareness of current law, attorneys must take steps to ensure that they know how it differs from previous versions. Without that context, it’s easy to misunderstand the current state of the law, and what impact it has on your case. Fortunately, a historical view is easy with modern legal research tools such as Statutes Compare and Regulations compare which highlight changes for quick insights into the past and present.
3. Eliminate invalid citations as quickly as possible
Building your case on solid footing is essential to clients. Doing so in a timely fashion is essential to your bottom line. In the new decade, the top attorneys will use every tool in their kit to get to work efficiently while maintaining (or improving) the quality of their work. KeyCite flags in Westlaw Edge provide a shortcut to the most negative treatment of a case without having to navigate to the full document. It’s the assurance you need, right within your search results.
4. Use AI to see beyond the obvious issues
Legal AI technology has unlocked insights that lawyers of the past could never see. For example, whether a case may be implicitly undermined based on its reliance on an overruled or otherwise invalid prior decision. So, while checking your work with KeyCite was previously good enough, in the years to come, you can count on a new level of scrutiny on your citations. Ideally, you will be the first to find those at-risk citations and not your opposing counsel or judge.
5. Stress-test your work before going public
In the same vein, AI-powered legal research tools have enabled attorneys to check their work with far more rigor than was previously possible. Using technology like Quick Check on Westlaw Edge, attorneys are now putting their legal briefs and documents through the wringer in the safe confines of the office, before sending them out into the world. Just like spell check, the new best practice is a simple step that saves you from potential embarrassment – or worse.
6. Use data and history to plan your strategy
Think of it this way: The “Moneyball” season when updated data sets revolutionized major league baseball was 18 years ago. Have you updated your approach to analytics and strategy yet? With modern access to a trove of data, Litigation Analytics and Precedent Analytics place real-world information at your fingertips. Make use of this newly-accessible historical record, to discover what made cases like yours succeed, or fail, in the past.
7. Optimize your workflow by learning your tools
Working smarter, not harder isn’t exactly a groundbreaking idea, but so many of our days are lost to repetition and rebuilding. Get out of your own way by learning the ropes of your legal research tool and customizing your experience to suit your unique needs. Consider saving frequently-run search queries or taking advantage of the ability to re-run filters from your past using Westlaw Edge. Similarly, familiarize yourself with the “notes” icon in your documents to remind yourself of where you left off.
While these actions may not completely change your day, when it comes to optimizing your own ways of working, little changes do add up over time. Regardless of the season, calendar year or decade, the sure-fire way to stay at your best is to remain open to new ways of working, and to the tools that enable them.