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November 9, 2017

Big data and the legal community

As big data finds multiple applications in the work undertaken by law firms, legal research has been slow and sometimes neglected.

By James Nunns

Big data is a challenge facing many organisations. They confront it by deploying information management strategies that combine and integrate different types of data.

For individuals too, big data is increasingly part of their lives in the storage and transfer of personal information which presents different potential challenges. New systems facilitate the analysis of this data so that patterns and trends can be identified to predict outcomes with greater certainty. With so much potential data available for analysis, there is significant potential value for legal practitioners.

For lawyers using systems supporting new legislation and judgments, this means they can take advantage of the digitisation of historic and new data, at least in theory. Despite its availability, it is not always easy for lawyers to manage or access those data sets.

That is not to say that big data is not being used widely in law firms, it is. However, its application is primarily targeted at improvement of their internal systems, such as billing and document production, or in predictive analysis using AI software. Commoditised work in contract drafting and document management is being made more efficient by a plethora of new technologies, as tech companies continuously innovate to develop systems that save time in organising and analysing data, creating genuine efficiencies.

But the same cannot be said regarding the innovation of tools for the preparation of cases or research that are often essential for lawyers’ advisory work. Academics, students, and practitioners do not benefit from the same easy access to much of the big data they need because the relevant tools are simply not available.

Although databases are managed by well-established legal research companies, the substantive archive of historical case information that they hold, often across multiple common law jurisdictions, is not easily accessible. Nevertheless, for those engaged in legal research, this is the default position from which to begin their work, despite the search engines deployed providing few, if any, advanced analytical tools. Nor is the position any better for researchers who want to access only new data: the same deficiencies apply.

For most legal researchers, traditional platforms do not therefore offer the right kind of technology solution to create simple and intelligent access to the wealth of data which they hold. What is needed instead are platforms that can deliver targeted technological support which allows researchers and practitioners to review case law as it is created and made available.

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JustisOne has been designed to deliver the right solution. Operated by Justis, this legal research platform aims to make a fully comprehensive range of reported and unreported judgments accessible for users. But it goes further than that. By including data analytics as an automated part of the research process, JustisOne enables practitioners to identify and isolate the specific details of each case instead of having to examine judgments at length in order to find supporting case law. To create this solution, Justis uses a combination of sophisticated technologies that are not currently offered by existing providers.


One analytical tool, Key Paragraphs, provides a simple but highly efficient route to examining the key aspects of any published judgment, by highlighting paragraphs that are most frequently cited in other cases. It then provides a link to the relevant parts of those cases where they are discussed.

Beyond cross-referencing, the Justis team of legally qualified editors can also analyse the treatment given to each case by the judgment. This allows practitioners to see the status of the law instantly by referencing an abundance of relevant judgments.

A further supportive element is the unique data visualisation system, the Precedent Map: individual judgments can be seen and contextualised with all other cases where they have previously been referenced. Practitioners can then immediately view which other cases have discussed or made reference to the current case, as well as the relevance of each case, chronologically ordered, and their degree of influence upon each other.

To be effective and deliver real value innovation does not have to be complex. By increasing its efficiency, even simple innovation can have a genuinely beneficial impact on legal research. There are other integral features such as SourceLink, which can be accessed simultaneously with other platforms’ content, that is indexed and links directly to the source, and a legal taxonomy comprising over 1.5m search terms. Together, all of these features help to simplify the process of searching and analysing cases, and reduce the time and effort required, thereby freeing up more time for other tasks.

As big data finds multiple applications in the work undertaken by law firms, legal research has been slow and sometimes neglected. But it is now catching up at a rapid pace.

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