LEGAL RESEARCH CORNER
BY G. PATRICK FLANAGAN
Legal publishers and legal research vendors continually improve their offerings, with lawyers often paying a premium for the latest information and enhancements. Which products will improve your practice and how should lawyers determine this? This article presents considerations for determining if any given offering is worth the cost for your practice’s research and information needs. Whether just starting a solo practice or negotiating multifaceted renewals for a large organization, there are fundamental questions for evaluating research technology that impact how legal researchers keep up with the law and analyze legal issues.
Research is Self-Education
Fundamentally, research is an exercise in self-education and every researcher learns in different ways. Even the most routine matters might require awareness of new developments or surprising uses of old precedents. As an initial matter, the organization should develop a sense of how members acquire and engage with information. For example:
• Voracious readers who need to pore over the written word to really absorb ideas will value comfortable text layout.
• Those who prefer incremental updates in their in box rather than navigating websites for new information will benefit from robust alerting features.
• For those who understand an issue only after discussion and hashing out ideas with colleagues, wide availability and easy sharing will be important.
Rather than allowing the tools to dictate the use, organizations should inform their choices by reflecting on how individual researchers learn best.
By the same token, lawyers and researchers can get stuck in ruts when they do legal research and should be open to innovations. It’s easy to slip into thinking the familiar is the only way to accomplish a task. We may, for example, instinctively turn to “Shepardize” a case, when the task is more fully described as “determining if there is later authority that disrupts a holding.” Or. we might lean heavily on an ever-useful title like Colorado Causes of Action, when we should be open to every method to identify appropriate legal theories for a lawsuit. It’s entirely possible that a new platform or publication will come along that helps us learn more quickly, more accurately, or more cost-effectively.
Usage Data Should Inform Subscription Decisions
Decisions on updating or replacing research platforms should be informed by how researchers use existing research tools in addition to qualitative user feedback. It is possible to know with a great level of detail exactly how researchers interact with online information. Vendors should be forthcoming with how organizations and researchers interact with their platforms. Online activity trackers can also provide objective information across a variety of sources.2 Lawyering and legal research, like most professional knowledge work,3 is a very personalized craft. That personalization is essential to delivering client...