Legal research is the life blood of any good litigator. Precedents are essential to the foundation of a strong argument, and it is commonplace for a lawyer to spend many hours prior to arguing a motion or going into a trial reading, and reviewing pertinent case law that can be utilized. Preparation is a key necessity for any successful litigator. While there are some excellent, free sources available for past judicial decisions as well as current and previous iterations of legislation, many litigation firms choose to utilize pay-for-use online legal research options which provide far more than just case law, and with good reason.
Despite the availability of these services, there are still law firms that prefer to do their legal research the old fashioned way – by using free resources or heading over to the local law library. It should be noted that this article is not being written so as to denigrate those who would choose this methodology for their legal research and their legal practice. Rather, it is intended to encourage an open discussion of the benefits of embracing these readily available technologies, and how best to improve the practice of law through better service to clients.
Several of these pay-for-use options offer countless services far beyond mere case reporting, all of which are in furtherance of proper and efficient legal work. More than just access to primary law, pay-for-use legal research also allows litigators to access court documents, case briefs, annotated legislation, pending legislation, statutes, rules, forms for rules, and many other useful elements that will be of tremendous use to any practitioner. Additionally, some of these legal research companies have their own proprietary citation trackers, making it very easy to navigate their databases, and find relevant, topical case law and documents.
While there are free resources aplenty, they do not offer the same breadth of information that can be acquired through the large legal research companies. With access to these online repositories, there is always a precedent or good case law to be cited within easy, accessible reach. Though it certainly is an added cost for a law firm or a sole practitioner to have access and utilize these research options, the benefits will almost certainly outweigh the costs.
Some of the obvious benefits associated with using one of the legal research companies include ease of access to your research, certainty of results, the ability to link to decisions at courts above or below, and friendly user interfaces which make navigation simple. Furthermore, with some of the newer versions, you have the ability to save and store cases, files, briefs and rules in folders and subfolders. All of this information is available to a lawyer from his desk via the internet.
It is true that all of the information that the legal research companies provide is available in the public domain, via a law library, or through diligent, careful research. However, each of the above options for accessing case law or whatever information the litigator requires is an intensive, time-consuming process.
The simple fact is that when there is this technology which exists, aggregating all of this information, making it accessible with a few clicks of the mouse, and minimizing the potential for error, it is surprising when law firms do not take advantage. Certainly, there are situations with smaller law firms or sole practitioners for whom this may not be a financially feasible option. However, when you factor in the time that can be saved, and the multitude of combined resources, utilizing one of these research companies seems like a wise investment.