Practical Law Dynamic Tool Set: a review by Sterling Miller, CEO & Senior Counsel, Hilgers Graben
When it comes to Practical Law, long-time readers of my “Ten Things” blog know I wear my heart on my sleeve: I believe it is hands down the best tool for in-house lawyers and in-house legal departments on the market today. This holds true for both small and medium-sized businesses where in-house legal resources are often scarce to non-existent and for large businesses with corporate legal departments that need a sophisticated platform of continuously maintained resources to round out their value proposition.
Armed with Practical Law, legal teams are placed on an even playing field, without adding headcount or busting budgets. Teams of all sizes can easily increase the quality and velocity of their work — smaller companies may even be able to skip the lawyers altogether, while larger departments keep more work in house. The product is that comprehensive and easy to use.
Similarly, it is no secret that I am enamored with the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to dramatically change the legal landscape, in terms of both lowering the cost of legal services and providing tools capable of increasing the productivity of lawyers generally. I wrote about this several years ago in a multi-part series of articles for Thomson Reuters titled Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Legal Technology: To Boldly Go Where No Legal Department Has Gone Before. Since then, I have been eagerly watching legal technology announcements for the next big breakthrough of AI for attorneys. I have seen some interesting things but nothing that got me very excited — until now.
For the past few weeks, I have been privy to some exciting technology from the team at Practical Law. Technology that makes a great product even better. Technology that uses artificial intelligence to make searching the huge amount of Practical Law content, easier, faster, and better. I am talking about the new Dynamic Tool Set (DTS). While not all of the new features utilize artificial intelligence, the scope of what is new is like putting a jet engine in a Corvette.
This is one of the first truly “turnkey” practical uses of artificial intelligence for in-house lawyers and corporate legal departments.
What is Practical Law?
Practical Law is a highly developed legal resources tool that features content prepared by over 300 expert attorney-editors and contributions by well-regarded lawyers at name-brand law firms. The content is constantly maintained, meaning Practical Law's attorney editors are tracking changes to the law and updating everything with the latest developments. In addition to 16 practice areas (from litigation and commercial transactions to capital markets/corporate governance), cross-practice collections (global COVID-19 resources and startups and small businesses), and industry sectors (retail, construction, financial services, technology), Practical Law provides the following:
- Practice Notes
- Standard Document Templates and Clauses
- In-House Resources Center
- Global Guides and Trans-Border Topics
- “What’s Market”
- And much more
With the assistance of AI serving up the expert legal work of more than 300 fulltime attorney-editors, an in-house practitioner can even more quickly get up to speed on a myriad of legal issues and tasks, such as drafting contracts, preparing litigation pleadings, or detailed summaries of the law. It can turn a single person legal department into a Swiss Army Knife of legal skills, providing expert legal guidance in hours, if not minutes.
While the current version of Practical Law is great, the new Dynamic Tool Set (DTS) makes a great product even better. Before DTS, users would start their Practical Law journey by typing a basic query into the search box and getting a long list of links to Practical Law content back as the result. The user would then scan the links and click on those that seemed the most promising. Enter Dynamic Search.
The folks at Practical Law have married artificial intelligence to its robust search features. With Dynamic Search, when you enter your question into the search box (think “Google search”), not only do you get back the familiar links to Practical Law resources that tie into your query, you also get materials that answer your question directly! In most cases you get:
- An editor’s summary of the answer (a new Q&A content type drafted by Practical Law's editors).
- Up to three AI "answer cards” each highlighting a portion of a Practical Law resource that most directly answers your question.
- The usual list of links to all of the Practical Law content that may answer your question, including templates, Practice Notes, checklists, etc.
Below is a screenshot of my inquiry about the different types of mergers showing what I mean:
This incredibly powerful combination of artificial intelligence search and Practical Law content is a winner for both busy in-house lawyers in large law departments and lawyers for small business owners, a combination providing comprehensive answers to legal issues fast, materials and answers that put the legal department on par with outside counsel.
As much as I love Dynamic Search and its use of artificial intelligence, I think my favorite new tool is the Knowledge Map functionality. Knowledge Maps are data visualizations for lawyers that allow you to enter a search and then visually — and quickly — navigate through the entire Practical Law collection of resources and related topics. Most importantly, Knowledge Maps allow you to see issues you may have missed or not considered when starting your search. For example, I entered a search regarding the difference between Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service agreements and got the following initial Knowledge Map:
The highly visual map allows me to see at a glance all of the different resources available to me by category, such as Standard Clauses, Toolkits, Checklists, Practice Notes, etc. I can click on a resource and get taken to that content plus see additional relevant content added to my map automatically. Here, I clicked on the Practice Note Cloud Computing: Understanding the Legal and Business Issues and got the following additional content and set of issues to consider:
The map allows me to quickly hop around different related topics and resources while the tool keeps track of where I have been so I can always select — and easily get back to — the resources I think will best help me solve my problem.
Interactive Matter Maps
With the new Interactive Matter Maps feature, I can create a list of tasks and phases, with links to Practical Law resources, I need to complete a certain type of project from start to finish. I can use preset maps found in different subject categories, or I can now create my own custom Interactive Matter Map. For example, if I use the existing Interactive Matter Map for federal discovery, I get the following:
I can rearrange the tiles to fit my particular matter, I can color code tasks, and if I click on a tile I am taken to a list of Practical Law resources; for example, “Issue Document Requests” in column three above takes me to links to templates and other materials on preparing document requests (and I can add other hyperlinks or Practical Law resources to the tiles as I see fit). I can also share this task list with my team and even assign tasks, leveraging the power of Practical Law with basic project management.
There are two other Dynamic Tool Set tools added to the mix.
What’s Market Analytics – The existing What’s Market tool searches public databases to provide users with summaries of contracts and certain contract clauses containing certain language (or not). This allows you to analyze and compare terms or features across multiple deals, along with links to the underlying contracts. From this you can determine whether something you — or the other side — is asking for in a contract is “market.” What’s Market Analytics adds the ability to instantly draw insights from and create graphical visualizations of the information for a certain sub-set of deals and agreements. I can use these analytics when negotiating contracts. For example, if I wanted to know the range of “break-up fees” in merger agreements I can get this chart:
Quick Compare – With a few clicks you can now create custom charts showing answers to legal questions across several states. For example, you can compare the applicability of Impossibility, Frustration of Purpose, and Impracticability of contracts in Florida, New York, and Texas:
This is incredibly useful for litigation and dispute analysis and you can also use it up front when deciding which state law you want to apply to your contract depending on the legal issues that concern you most.
The power of AI to drive answers
Practical Law puts a tremendous library of resources in the hands of in-house lawyers and legal advisors for small businesses. Not only can you find an amazing amount of content on basic “how do I” questions, but you can now utilize the power of artificial intelligence to drive answers to your legal questions — crucial for when time is short and the team, or an executive, wants answers now. It will be interesting to see how Practical Law adds to these new tools and how they further innovate the product overall. For example, will Thomson Reuters tie the new HighQ Contract Analysis AI tool into Practical Law? We’ll see. But for now, definitely a “wow moment” from Practical Law with the Dynamic Tool Set.
STERLING MILLER, CEO &SENIOR COUNSEL, HILGERS GRABEN PLLC
Sterling Miller is a three-time General Counsel who spent almost 25 years in house. He has published four books and writes the award-winning legal blog, Ten Things You Need to Know as In-House Counsel. Sterling is a frequent paid contributor to Thomson Reuters as well as a sought-after speaker. He regularly consults with legal departments and coaches in-house lawyers. Sterling received his J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis.