The law is evolving at a rapid pace, and when it comes to credible, current legal information, sometimes Google just doesn’t cut it.
To research the law is to climb through a dense jungle of cases, legislation, expert commentary and journal articles. Generally, you need to perform research tasks in order to find:
- Primary sources of the law or a primary authority in the appropriate jurisdiction (statutes, regulations and case law).
- Supporting information and secondary authorities such as legal dictionaries, forms and precedents, encyclopaedias, commentary and analysis, law reviews, journals and textbooks written by experts in their field.
In the digital age, online legal research has assumed primary importance as it allows practitioners to access and share a wealth of information and stay on top of recent legal decisions and developments with a substantial degree of flexibility and mobility.
Some may begin with free sites such as AustLII and government legislation websites like ComLaw, but most practitioners will find they need a little more sophistication when it comes to quality online legal research and commentary.
So with a range of platforms out there, how do you choose the best one?
What is your practice area?
A boutique intellectual property firm may need a specialised database or patent research and analysis tools, whereas a sole practitioner in the area of conveyancing and wills will have different research needs entirely.
Using an online legal research platform has the benefits of access to expert knowledge and a large amount of resources in specialist areas, as well as an extra dose of confidence in knowing the information is up to date.
With the Thomson Reuters Westlaw AU online law library, you can search over 300 legal products and access authoritative legal information anytime and anywhere. Features include access to more than 490,000 case records, law reports and judgments, fast and comprehensive search functionality, a complete legal library no matter which area you practice in and expert commentary from trusted authors in the industry.
Reviewing your firm’s main practice areas is a great way to start narrowing down your legal research options. Finding a customised, tailored solution for your firm will mean you won’t be paying for access to information you don’t need.
What is the size of your firm and who is doing the research?
Taking into account the size of your business and the person or company that conducts the research may also assist you in deciding on a suitable product for your firm. Different types of users will obviously have different needs and access privileges.
Sole practitioners and small firms will probably require a simple, cost-effective and streamlined research tool as they won’t have the money, resources or time to invest in a large legal research product. A sole principal or small firm may even consider outsourcing legal research to a third party to free up more time for legal work and business development.
Speaking with Lawyers Weekly, Justin North, director of knowledge management consultancy Janders Dean, said that search tools in larger law firms “must understand the different levels of lawyers – a first-year-qualified, second-year-qualified, senior associate or a partner – and why they look for things, when they look for things and what types of things they see as valuable”.
It is worth taking note that a range of professionals engage in legal research – paralegals, law clerks, solicitors and librarians – so any research solution you choose should be intuitive and user-friendly or the investment won’t be worth it. Most companies offer a free product trial or demonstration for a limited period, so test out the solution before you implement it.
The bold future of legal research
As reported in Lawyers Weekly, law firm search tools are getting smarter, more integrated and even socially aware. We’ve come a long way in the last five years.
Things are heating up in legal research circles and the functionality of legal research tools is improving rapidly. Think advanced filtering, data-mining systems, integrated citation analysis and related document automated queries.
It’s high-tech stuff, but it’s also giving lawyers the freedom and flexibility they need. To find out more about how digital technology is changing the legal research landscape read our Guide: Legal Research Trends in Action.