LexisNexis Seeks to Turn Lawyers Into Data Analysts

We often discuss here on Slaw the future of legal publishers, especially in a digital era. Although some of them have tinkered in-house with their own technological and big data solutions, none have independently brought anything revolutionary to the market to date.

Instead, what we might expect is that these legal powerhouses will either partner up with startups, such as with Thomson Reuters and Blue J Legal last year, or will simply purchase them outright.

In some ways, these patterns are not unique. Quicklaw was first created by the late Hugh Lawford at Queen’s University in 1973. Steven McMurray and Ron Plashkes of Western University created PClaw in 1982. LexisNexis purchased both of them, Quicklaw in 2002, and PCLaw in 2005.

LexisNexis’ newest acquisition this week is RavelLaw, a “new category of intelligent tool that combines legal research and analytics,” founded in 2012 at Stanford University.

LexisNexis already acquired Lex Machina in 2015, which provides analytics for trial strategies based on behaviours by litigants, counsel and the bench, using Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. Starting 2018, they plan to combine the insights from RavelLaw to also formulate the type of arguments most likely to be persuasive to a judge.

The goal appears to be “to turn lawyers into data analysts.” RavelLaw seems to provide better data visualization techniques than other platforms, but information visualization is not itself anything new in computer sciences.

Technology has long been used to improve user comprehension of data, but also is prone to oversimplification of the data and a propensity for false positives due to artificial artifacts. Some techniques are also more useful than others. For example, Mackinlay illustrated in 1985 that certain types of data visualization techniques are more effective given inherent limitations in human perception and processing.

Data visualization is found extensively in the business world through proprietary tools such as Microsoft’s Excel and Visio, Tableau, Watson Analytics, Data driven documentsPerfuse Toolkit and Gephi. Downsides of these can include cost and ongoing need for technical expertise. The approach that LexisNexis appears to intend to advance with includes integration of the data collection, processing and visualization.

Of course even with the prettiest of graphs, lawyers will not become data analysts overnight. The more serious and dedicated disciples will learn R for coding and use of Weka for data mining.

The one major upside of LexisNexis’ acquisition of RavelLaw is they will be honouring a commitment to complete the digitization of Harvard case law library in a public access database.

While this might be appear to be a strange endeavour for a legal publishing company to engage in, it also signals a truth we’ve seen for some time now – legal publishing of the future has very little to do with unprocessed data, and even less to do with physical books. It will all be in the big data and the analytics.

 

Comments

  1. “It will all be in the big data and the analytics.” What are the implications if any for access to justice?

    I’ve been perusing public libraries looking at what’s available to the general public with regards to reference materials for legal subjects for anyone wanting to read up on law and procedures that may affect every day people and what I find are selves of books from Carswell and a few from Irwin Law. The libraries also provide access to a TR database. Go to the bookstore and there is Gary Rodrigues’ Pocket Criminal Code. Don’t find anything from LexisNexis. I can only surmise that accessibility doesn’t fit into their strategy.

  2. “It will all be in the big data and the analytics.” What are the implications if any for access to justice?

    I’ve been perusing public libraries looking at what’s available to the general public with regards to reference materials for legal subjects for anyone wanting to read up on law and procedures that may affect every day people and what I find are selves of books from Carswell and a few from Irwin Law. The libraries also provide access to a TR database. Go to the bookstore and there is Gary Rodrigues’ Pocket Criminal Code. Don’t find anything from LexisNexis. I can only surmise that accessibility doesn’t fit into their strategy.

  3. Verna,

    I’d suppose most public libraries are stocked by the in-house librarian, not by any donations by publishers, legal or otherwise. I’d also assume that the librarians, in an era of cost cutting, are encouraged to avoid redundancies.

    The selections you’ve observed may in fact simply be the function of an individual or centralized librarian’s personal preference.

    I’m not really in a position to conclusively conclude either way, or respond on behalf of any legal publishing company.

  4. Great post Omar —however– LexisNexis is not seeking to have lawyers turn into data analysts. It is the market and CLIENTS, particularly corporate law departments that pay the vast majority of legal spend, who have a reasonable expectation that the business skills required of other disciplines are also applicable to their legal service providers. You don’t get to escape with a humanities degree. This is why the growing emphasis in the coming years will continue to be on multi-disciplinary skills and the T Shape Professional. It’s also the most glaring gap between law school and market reality and a large driver of the mass dissatisfaction of clients with their legal panel.

  5. Jason,
    That particular characterization was borrowed from the linked article in the piece.

    Realistically, the functionality that these platforms would provide visual representations of the underlying data, but without proper training, often would result in inadequate understanding of what the data truly represents.

    It’s true that it would allow lawyers to provide better representations to clients in the form of graphical distributions, but my words of caution hold equally true here in terms of what representations are made to third parties on the basis of any analytics or graphical representations.

    We are in complete agreement on that basis that a broader understanding of what the technologies provide and are capable of is needed in both law schools and in the profession.

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