Legal knowledge can be a complex thing. Attorneys need creativity in their work to respond effectively to the needs of each case and client.
For years, attorneys have turned to their more senior colleagues for guidance and advice. More recently, they have also turned to search engines for answers.
This new technology provides curated wisdom from many hundreds of seasoned attorneys to make it easier for lawyers and paralegals to find information they need.
Knowledge of the Law
Whether they are retaining clients or seeking new ones, lawyers must continually update their legal knowledge to stay current and serve their clients. This includes knowing about changes to local, state and federal laws as well as industry trends and developments that affect the business of law.
As a result, the legal industry is undergoing a tectonic shift. It is transforming from a lawyer dominated, practice-centric guild to a tech-enabled, process and data-driven global industry. This shift has profound implications for attorneys: their career paths; how, when and on what financial terms they are engaged; with whom and from what delivery models they work; their performance metrics and the resources-human and machine-that they collaborate with.
Legal professional development is an essential part of maintaining competence, but many busy legal professionals struggle to find time for it. There are a variety of tools available that can help, from online courses and YouTube videos to traditional seminars and conferences.
The modern legal platform vLex offers access to the world’s most comprehensive collection of legal and regulatory information in one easy-to-use searchable interface. Its AI search engine allows users to quickly identify and retrieve relevant content with a single click, saving them hours of research time. More than 10,000 legal professionals use vLex, from solo practitioners to Am Law 200 firms, to streamline critical elements of their practice, such as client research, case analysis and drafting, and discovery.
Knowledge of the Courts
When practicing law, attorneys must have an intimate knowledge of the legal system and its procedures. This is critical for ensuring that clients get the best possible representation and can trust their attorneys to provide sound advice.
This is why many lawyers spend their entire careers honing their research skills. They must be able to navigate the complexities of the court system and find the right information quickly and efficiently. Thankfully, new technology is making it easier for attorneys to develop all of these skills.
For example, new legal research platforms like Casetext combine AI with premier content to help lawyers streamline critical elements of their practice. They allow users to find cases, statutes, regulations, and more with just a few clicks, saving them time and money. These technologies also enable attorneys to analyze their own work and performance, providing a clear picture of how they can improve.
In addition to these technical tools, it’s also important for lawyers to understand how their clients see the world. This helps them communicate effectively with their clients and ensure that they are on the same page. One way to do this is by using data visualization tools that allow attorneys to illustrate complex facts and figures in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. This can help lawyers convey their expertise more effectively to their clients, and ultimately improve client satisfaction. In fact, this is one of the main ways that legal technology is transforming law firms.
Knowledge of the Cases
All legal professionals, whether they’re a senior lawyer or paralegal, need to maintain a solid foundation of substantive law and caselaw. This applies to both new and experienced practitioners, as well as secretaries and other support staff. They also need to keep up with changes in local, state and federal court rules and procedures, as well as relevant filing deadlines.
Keeping up with this knowledge isn’t easy. Many lawyers, especially juniors and junior support staff, don’t see continuing professional development as a career benefit, instead seeing it as an obligation that takes up valuable time they can’t spare while meeting their caseload quotas. Moreover, legal professionals are often pressured to bill as much as possible to meet their firm’s profit targets, which may not leave them enough time to pursue ongoing training and learning opportunities.
David practiced commercial litigation in a large and small firms before leaving law to work in legal knowledge management. He now leads the Boston office of a national law firm’s knowledge management team and blogs about the practice of law for the International Legal Technology Association.
David says that a major part of his job is to make sure that law firm information is available to everyone in the firm. In this way, he helps the firm be more effective and efficient. Legal knowledge management tools are transforming law from a practice-driven guild to a process and data-driven global industry.
Knowledge of the Evidence
The evidence that lawyers seek is not just documents and testimony. It is also information that comes from people – witnesses and clients. Often, these sources are able to provide information about the case that no written document can. Moreover, such information is useful because it can shed light on how the law is applied in practice. For example, it can help explain why certain rules are not applied the way they are supposed to be.
Legal theory is as much about what happens outside the courts as it is about what happens inside them. This is why the work of legal scholars has come to include research from fields like economics, sociology, political science, anthropology, and psychology.
While it is not a substitute for doctrinal knowledge, a legal professional’s ability to evaluate and interpret data from other disciplines can be invaluable. This is why legal education and training includes a strong emphasis on critical thinking.
Every successful attorney must maintain a healthy skepticism. It is a necessary component of being an effective attorney, as it helps prevent mistakes such as believing a witness without verifying their story. A healthy skepticism will also make attorneys less susceptible to being taken advantage of by clients or opposing counsel who are less scrupulous about providing accurate and complete information. It will also ensure that lawyers do not waste time seeking out weak evidence that does not support a hypothesis.
Knowledge of the Parties
Lawyers must be knowledgeable about their clients, the people involved, and the circumstances surrounding the matter. This requires compassion, which may only be fostered by taking the time to meet with each client and hear their story. Although many firms delegates this work to paralegals or other legal professionals, attorneys should strive to develop these skills as well, especially when the case involves personal injury or medical malpractice.
Professional training, conferences and participation in legal associations can hone attorney communication skills, creative problem-solving abilities and organizational skills. However, these types of skills are often not as important as building relationships with each client and getting up to speed on the clients’ circumstances.
In a profession based on the billable hour, attorneys must optimize the value of their time. Yet it can be hard to find the right balance between time spent learning new skills and time spent generating business for the firm.
Some legal tech providers have addressed this issue by developing tools that allow legal professionals to create individual alerts on topics of their choice. These alerts will send them daily, weekly or monthly updates about the relevant information. Unlike asking a colleague or searching a search engine, the results are personalized and provide context to each topic. This can save legal professionals valuable hours and days that can be better spent on business development or other important tasks.
Knowledge of the Issues
All legal professionals should have a basic level of knowledge of the law in their practice areas. Even support staff should understand court rules and filing deadlines, a firm’s litigation strategy and the basics of case research. Professional training, conferences and participation in bar associations can hone your communication, creative problem-solving and organizational skills.
When researching new legal topics, start with secondary sources, like practice guides, legal encyclopedias and treatises. They provide a thorough overview of the topic, and they often identify and cite important statutes and seminal cases. Once you have a grasp on your issue, move to primary sources.
Legal research is a process that requires a lot of time and effort. To reduce the number of clicks needed, use an annotated version of the law when searching for statutes and regulations. These sources will save you valuable time because they list cited cases at the end of the page.
As legal practice changes, so too must law firm business models and technological competencies. The legal profession is transforming from a lawyer-dominated guild into a tech-enabled, process and data-driven global industry. It is a tectonic shift that many attorneys are unprepared for. This is why it’s critical for them to refocus their education on developing a strong foundation in business, technology and process skills. This will make them more adaptable and valuable to their clients. They’ll be able to work with a variety of people in the industry, including non-lawyers.