Legal analytics can help your firm become more competitive

  • July 10, 2018
  • James Careless

Legal research can be that spot between a rock and a hard place: doing it properly should better your chances of winning your case, but if you’re a sole practitioner taking the time to do it properly, chances are you’re not doing at least a few of the many other things you should be doing to earn money.

This is where legal analytics software, which uses pattern-seeking algorithms, can help. “Legal analytics can accurately assess a vast amount of case law that the human mind couldn’t do as effectively, or wouldn’t do as efficiently,” says Omar Ha-Redeye, of the boutique Toronto firm Fleet Street Law.

“Legal analytics involves analyzing legal data to extract litigation and business intelligence,” explains Mona Datt, president and CEO of Loom Analytics, a Toronto-based firm providing legal research analytics. “This intelligence can be used not just for legal research, but also for making strategic business and hiring decisions,” she said.

In plain language, legal analytics does the legal research “grunt work.” The humans still have to review this computer-generated information to make their own decisions, but they don’t have to expend precious human hours compiling it. The sheer cost of developing and maintaining an in-house legal analytics capability is beyond the reach of most small law firms, but fortunately companies are cropping up to provide this labour-saving technology at a reasonable price: Loom Analytics, for example, only charges $100/month per user to access its services.

Toronto-based Blue J Legal, which provides legal analytics services in employment law (Employment Foresight) and tax law (Tax Foresight), also keeps its prices affordable. “Our legal research tool pricing options cater to firm size,” said Michael Rodgers, Blue J Legal’s marketing manager.

The architecture of legal analytics

“Garbage in, garbage out” is a popular adage among computer programmers. Simply put, if poor quality information is put into data analytics software, the resulting analysis will also be poor quality.

Legal analytics firms take quality very, very seriously. Loom Analytics has an in-house legal research team that reads through case law, classifies it by case type, decision outcome, and judge (among other factors), and enters it into the Loom database platform.

“Users can run searches on the Loom platform to find case law that fits their precise criteria, as well as view graphical breakdowns of outcomes and judicial decision publication time, says the Loom website. “For example, users can quickly find all decisions authored by a particular judge, all personal injury decisions that contain a specific motion, all decisions where a plaintiff won at trial, etc.”

“Law firms can analyze case law to understand judicial and jurisdictional patterns” using Loom’s database, says Datt. “They can analyze corporate litigation patterns to pitch for new business. And they can analyze internal settlement data to help clients manage risk and plan for new litigation.”

Blue J Legal also uses machine learning – software that uses algorithms and other statistical techniques to analyze data, and improves its accuracy/conclusions every successive time that it does so – in its legal research tool software.

They start by identifying a fact-intensive question of law – for example, whether it's legally permissible for an employer to drug-test an employee. “We leverage machine-learning algorithms to predict how a court would rule in new circumstances based on the hidden patterns found in the data,” says Rodgers. “On average, when tested against cases the system has never seen, it's able to achieve 90 per cent or greater accuracy.”

The users speak

Jennifer McNenly is director of library and information services for Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP’s Ontario region. “We have a licence for Loom Analytics in our Toronto law library,” she says. “It’s mostly used for research, after lawyers know which judges they are going to face in court.”

Asked to assess the usefulness of Loom Analytics’ database for analyzing the histories of specific judges – with an eye to giving lawyers insights in how best to appear before them – McNenly said the product does “a fairly decent job of slicing and dicing the case law.” The results also help clients decide whether to proceed, and aids firms in planning time and resources to contest such cases.          

Blue J Legal’s clients are similarly impressed by its legal analytics services. “Tax Foresight poses the right questions and the analysis it does, seemingly by magic, produces well-articulated results and the key cases that you would likely need in order to address the questions you have,” said John Sorensen, a partner in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office. “A practitioner must not miss a leading case, and powerful research tools like Tax Foresight are a safeguard against the risk of negligence.”

“Employment Foresight reduces the time it takes to make reports from four hours to one hour,” noted Stephen Moreau, a partner at Toronto’s Cavalluzzo LLP. “It makes the practice more efficient and more accurate.”

It’s important to remember, however, that legal analytics reduces the workload of human researchers – it doesn’t eliminate it.

“Legal analytics supplements the legal research that we do,” said McNenly. “But this software can never replace human-driven research, nor the need for lawyers to assess this research and make decisions based on it.”

James Careless is a frequent contributor to CBA PracticeLink.