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Over the past few years I have been less than impressed with the types of new research tools that have entered the legal market. Especially from the major players. In the past five years, all of the major vendors have re-vamped their flagship products, or have merged with other companies and have updated the interface, and the back end. This makes for a slicker look and feel and some enhancements on the user’s experience, but when you really break it down, it’s really just the same concepts with a few new features and (hopefully) better functionality. When I worked for the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network, way back between 1999 and 2002, I felt like the legal technology field was on the cusp of something really great. Thirteen years later, I feel like I’m still waiting on that greatness to actually arrive. It’s been over a decade of technologies just not quite reaching that threshold, but maybe my wait is finally over.

In the past week I’ve talked with a number of people that have come out of Stanford University’s CodeX, the short name for The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics program. It may be the first time in a decade that I’ve actually gotten excited enough about legal information technology that I thought I need to quit my job immediately and find a way to get involved in these start ups coming out of California. The ideas coming out of CodeX are actually novel concepts, rather than what we’ve seen for many years of simply repackaging old ideas into cheaper, better, easier, or more accessible platforms. CodeX is having a FutureLaw Conference this week, and I’m sorry that I’m not going to be there to see first hand what is the latest technology being incubated in CodeX.

I want to touch on three products, not as a full product review of those products, but rather just from the idea of how they are looking at things differently. All got their start through the Stanford program, and all have some truly unique and original concepts of how to pull relevant information from legal documents.

First up, Lex Mechina.

Lex Machina isn’t new on our radar. We did a bit of a review on this last year. The idea comes from what they call “Legal Analytics” of parsing large amounts of information about judges, lawyers, and other points of data regarding IP Litigation. The concept of analyzing the data to help “predict the behaviors and outcomes that different legal strategies will produce.” The most impressive review of Lex Machina came from an attorney that told me he was tired of getting beat by opposing counsel because they had this product. That is perhaps the best quote to ever hear from your attorneys when you are contemplating buying a new product. It’s hard to argue against.

Second is Ravel Law.

Jean O’Grady has reviewed and talked about Ravel Law, so there’s no need for me to rehash that here. As with many law librarians, sometimes we have to see with our own eyes before we actually “get it” when it comes to new products. I have to admit that happened to me with Ravel Law. I saw Ravel Law’s Co-Founder and CEO, Daniel Lewis, present alongside Fastcase’s Ed Walters at the ARK Group’s Law Library conference back in February, and have to say it was at this time that the “light went on” in my head that we were looking at a different approach. Information laid out in a readable and effective method, along with visual representations that allow a researcher to quickly spot the relevant information quickly and move in a non-linear method toward additional information. The Judge Analytics is one of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in a while.  It was pretty amazing to watch it all unfold, and come to realize that they were definitely on to something with this product.

Finally, there is Casetext.

Just as with Ravel Law, I just didn’t immediately “get it” when it came to Casetext. However, after having a two and a half hour long call with Pablo Arredondo last week, I immediately became a fan. Just as with the other products, the information is compiled and displayed differently than we typical researchers are use to seeing. Heat maps and summaries and context and innovative citing methods are used to create visually stimulating and logical organization of the information all within the visible screen area. Add to this the ability for users to add in relevant information, upload briefs, and join communities, it just shows the potential of this platform and a truly novel approach at leveraging a community of legal researchers and practitioners.

Are We Seeing the First Steps Away From Keywords?

This is something I think I will come back and visit in later posts, but I wanted to touch on it here. It is my belief that in the next five to ten years we will no longer look at keywords as the primary way to research legal information. I think we are seeing the genesis of that concept here with these three products. In a way, we are looking at a high-level of compiling documents, information, topics, and insights through advanced algorithms or crowd sourced trends and actions. Think of it as the traditional digest system, only automated and always morphing as new information is added or the actions of individuals change throughout the research process. It is a fascinating idea to contemplate, and I really think that we are on the edge of a monumental change in how we typically “find the law” in legal research.

Content Is Still King

What I’m seeing with these product is that we are simply scratching the surface of what is coming next. Lex Machina is taking a tiny slice of the legal information world with its IP Litigation docket process. Ravel Law and Casetext are doing great things with a core set of case law. Imagine what would happen if these and other products start parsing larger amounts of data. No one seems to be touching statutes and regulatory information. Dockets are a logistical mess, but the potential is huge. News, law reviews, blogs, internal documents, state, federal, and foreign and international information are ripe for exploitation from these new thinkers. It will be interesting to see if there are ways that these powerhouses of idea generations will be able to team up with the mega information holders, whether that be governments or private holders, and really test the limits of how we conduct legal research in the future. I, for one, am excited to see what’s next.