I thoroughly enjoyed attending this year’s CALL conference in Moncton. It was especially interesting to see and hear about some of the new products and services developed by the English legal publishers.
The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (“ICLR”) is a non-profit that publishes the official law reports for England. For reported decisions, they include links not only to the cases cited, but also to cases cited in the argument.
Justis is an English publisher of unreported judgments; their product Justcite has a fantastic new feature that shows the treatment of cases: a circular visualization of the interrelationship of case law.
As much as these sophisticated new features impressed me, I couldn’t help but think: who can afford this level of legal research? Clearly, there are some mega-cases where the amounts involved will support deep-dive research. Some firms may do enough of this kind of work to justify the cost. But can parties to a typical action afford the research fees that will surely accompany the use of these tools?
I got the impression that these new features are not for saving time but for doing more, and I wonder about the utility of products that just make life more complicated.
I’m concerned that these products developed will probably only be used in cases where large amounts of money are at stake, while most actions or matters cannot possibly support that depth of research.
Will this level of research become the norm? Will the standard of practice be raised to a level that can’t be supported by the economics of most law firms?
Countervailing forces (for example, the common use of Google as a first stop for all kinds of research) pull us away from deep-dive research. I keep hearing about the legal research habits of law students and newer lawyers: they start with Google and often go no further.
Some librarians also report that the lawyers with whom they work seem to want just one good case; that is, something they can start a discussion or negotiation with; something that sets out the relevant law.
Meanwhile, we constantly hear about our access to justice problem. I wrote about this issue four years ago, and I don’t think the situation has improved.
The complexity of law and legal information is an access to justice issue. Many more citizens would have a better experience with the justice system if the law itself could be more easily understood. If the law itself was more easily understood, it may be easier to identify the true issues at the bottom of disputes (money, broken hearts, etc.).
We know that trials are taking longer, and litigation is getting much more expensive. I worry that deep-dive research tools encourage the no-stone-left-unturned approach to litigation. In other words, they add complexity (more issues, more rabbit holes to follow) that is probably not needed.
What does this mean for the development of legal resources? What is the sweet spot? We need to develop tools that can handle deep research as well as tools that meet the need for just one good case or answer. We need to develop better tools to determine relevance.
One possibility is to develop resources in layers: from a checklist of a process (providing a quick answer), to a secondary source with explanation of the process, to deeper discussion of the primary law (for example, what are the trends in the cases? where is the law heading?).
I see many exciting opportunities ahead to design new information products and services to meet the emerging needs of the profession.