Lexis and Westlaw laid the foundations for today’s online research market in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Their dominance in the legal research arena was challenged on two fronts in the 2010’s. First they were challenged by the emergence of two full service competitors: Bloomberg Law and Fastcase. More surprising was the disruptive impact of the disgruntled, entrepreneur lawyers with a good idea and some venture capital who invented some completely new ways of approaching research and delivering insights..
Spinning Analytics Gold From Dockets. Lexis and WESTLAW were in the docket business for decades but it Lex Machina (now owned by Lexis Nexis) which invented a way for lawyers to use analytics for pitches and litigation strategy.
Lex Machina took the most mundane of legal data sets– docket entries and spun it into a goldmine of legal insights. Lex Machina started as a public interest project at Stamford Law school in 2006. The product leverages machine learning and natural language processing, to normalize, structure, and analyze raw data from millions of case dockets and documents. Lex Machina’s Chief Evangelist and General Counsel, Owen Byrd often described Lex Machina as liberating lawyers from “anec-data” and offering them actual insights into litigation trends. For the first time lawyers could have desktop access to a tool which provided insights into motion grant rates of judges and districts, motion grant timing or the likelihood of damage awards for specific types of litigation. A lawyer can prepare for a pitch knowing how their firm’s experience compares to an adversary for a specific type of litigation or before a specific judge.
Market Impact: Bloomberg Law, Westlaw Edge and Fastcase/Docket Alarm as well as niche competitors such as Gavelytics and Docket Navigator continue to expand the reach and functionality of litigation analytics.
The Brief as Query. Until the launch of Casetext CARA, lawyers relied on traditional citators to identify all relevant precedent for a brief. No prior technology analyzed the contents of a brief to identify missing precedent. The founders of Casetext invented a technique they call “the brief as query.” All a lawyer has to do is drag and drop a brief into the CARA analyzer. Instead of searching with keywords, CARA data-mines the brief by extracting both the text and the citations from the document. The CARA analysis looks at direct relationships and “implied” relationships between the cited cases in the brief and related opinions in the Casetext database. CARA uses latent semantic analysis to sort the results. The CARA results report includes a list of “suggested cases” not included in the brief and a CARA generated analysis of those cases. A concise summary includes a citation and the case holding derived from judicial “explanatory parentheticals.” CARA can also be used to analyze an opponent’s brief to identify vulnerabilities.
Judges Analytics (Precedential Behavior Analysis) Like Casetext CARA, Ravel Law invented a completely new kind of research. Unlike Lex Machina Ravel was not analyzing case dockets. Ravel took the case law the foundational content of Lexis and Westlaw and discovered a way to deliver completely new insights. Ravel invented new ways for lawyers to seek a competitive advantage by discovering citation and textual patterns and judges opinions. Ravel judges analytics exposed the precedents and language that judges rely on to address specific legal issues. I have always described Ravel as providing “Precedential Behavior Analysis”. Ravel provides analytics on the number of opinions judges authored on specific issues, how often judges ruled in your clients favor on an issue, what circuits, judges and cases they tend to cite for specific issues. Perhaps most importantly Ravel uncovered the language each judge finds persuasive on an issue. Ravel was purchased by LexisNexis in 2018 and the product has rebranded as Context in Lexis Advance.
Market Impact: Westlaw has added a judicial precedent analyzer to Westlaw Edge.
AI enabled Research The rise of “Legal Answer” Tools. (Timesavers – Not Robot Lawyers)
In 2016 Ross Intelligence using IBM Watson technology launched an a new product Ross, as well as an unfortunate frenzy of “Robot Lawyer” hyperbole in the legal press. Although Lexis and Westlaw had offered natural language search capability in the 1990’s they were not the first to turbo power their search engines with AI. During the past decade all three companies offered “answers” functionality which enables a lawyer to engage in a Q and A session with the research platform. For example asking a question like “Are punitive damages available in a fraudulent transfer claim?” a response will include a relevant statement of the law along with a list of relevant cases and other materials. The current generation of Answers products can not address all types of legal issues but all of the products use machine learning to ingest and incorporate new precedents and principles.
Market Impact: Westlaw launched a human curated “Westlaw Answers” in 2016 which was replaced in 2018 by WestSearch Plus in Westlaw Edge. Lexis Launched Lexis Answers in 2017.
Deal Term and What’s Market Metrics
While much of the innovation has benefited litigators several vendors launched products leveraging deal analytics. Bloomberg Law (Deal Analytics) Wolters Kluwer ( M&A and Capital Markets Clause Analytics) and Intelligize (now a Lexis Next company) launched products using AI and proprietary algorithms to uncover insights for transactional lawyers. These new products can make the drafting of deal provisions more efficient by providing insights into “what’s market“ data for deals by industry, deal types or for peer firms. Lawyers can quickly compare their documents and clauses to “what’s market” standards or generate statistics on market standards or generate a firms league table “on the fly.”
It was a great decade for innovation in legal research. The ‘virtuous circle” of innovation drove competition and inspired new innovation. The legal profession will continue to benefit from this turmoil in the knowledge and insights marketplace. Exciting to anticipate the powerful new tools that the next decade could bring,
NOTE: This post originally appeared on Above the Law January 2, 2020.