Special Guest: Daniel Lewis
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Research is one of those time-honored traditions in the legal profession. Time honored in that it takes a lot of time. Honored in that the most junior associate should feel “honored” to have been assigned the research.
Yep, it’s the double-edged sword of the profession – necessary and widely despised.
But if research is so crucial to the proper working of our profession, why does it suck so much? Daniel Lewis, co-founder and CEO of Ravel Law, has a theory: it’s not the research, but the process, that people hate.
Legal Research – In Need of a Revolution
Despite the fact that the practice of law has changed considerably in the past 20 years, the major tools for legal research have remained largely the same. Although Westlaw and Lexis Nexis, the two major players in legal research, have responded with some new innovations in the past couple of years, their preference has been to add content, primarily secondary source content, to their offerings.
Well, since 80% of legal research is case law and primary source material, Dan believed there was a better way – revolutionize research through data visualization. By re-inventing the way we perform legal research, Daniel believes that he can make lawyers happier in their work, while giving them a serious competitive advantage.
Data Analytics Isn’t New
One truly begins to understand the “competitive advantage” that Daniel talks about through the lens of history. As Daniel explains, in the 1948 Texas senatorial election, Representative Lyndon Johnson was embroiled in a difficult race. Allegations of voter fraud resulted in a federal district court judge removing Johnson’s name from the ballot until the allegations could be investigated.
However, without his name on the ballot, Johnson would lose.
A powerhouse DC attorney was brought in, who determined that the best course of action was to appeal to the 5th circuit court of appeals immediately… and lose. Badly. Why? Because the Supreme Court Justice who would review the appeal from the 5th Circuit was Hugo Black, who detested federal court interference in state elections.
Attorneys working for Johnson’s campaign descended on New Orleans and pored over every decision they could find to identify which 5th circuit judge was going to hate their case the most. The researchers found a case nearly identical to Johnson’s situation, whose judge was certain to rule against Johnson. Just to be sure, Johnson’s lawyers deliberately crafted the worst legal arguments they could think of.
Johnson lost. Badly. He appealed, and wouldn’t you know… Hugo Black overturned the injunction, allowing Johnson’s name to appear on the ballot. And possibly because he was a massive pimp, he won.
Oh, and that DC attorney…
… that was Abe Fortas. Also a pimp.
From Data Analytics to Data Visualization
The ability to assemble and analyze large volumes of information isn’t a new skill. It’s exactly what Lyndon Johnson’s lawyers did to find the right judge to lose to. Today, we have a lot of tools available to help do that job. Ravel Law seeks to use those tools to make legal research easier and more effective.
The primary notion behind data analytics involves being able to sift through large volumes of data and develop an understanding about that data to better inform decisions. Yeah, Brian, that’s called “decision making… get to the point!”
How do you create a true advantage through legal research? By turning the data analysis tools we have at our disposal to the task that Johnson’s lawyers set out to accomplish:
- Find high-value information;
- Understand why the information is important;
- Use the high-value information effectively when advising clients or making arguments.
In other words, Ravel Law creates a true competitive advantage using technology, machine learning, and natural language processing to spot trends, patterns, tendencies, and important passages. While you’ll still need an Abe Fortas to strategize – determine what to research and, ultimately, what to do with the results of the research – you no longer need to “descend” on New Orleans to do the leg work.
Data Visualization is the Perfect Medium
So one truly fascinating (and often frustrating) aspect of legal practice is that we tend to operate in the gray areas. Most of the research we do is on issues without a clear answer. (A little bit of a tautology – we stop researching once we find a clear answer, thus limiting the research… yeah… I’m a little tired.)
Resolving those “gray areas” usually requires fitting a lot of information together – synthesizing the law by combining parts of numerous cases to predict or persuade the court. However, the traditional way of researching case law – reviewing a list of cases returned based on your query – does little to help you sort through the mess.
It turns out that there’s a better way. Neuroscience has demonstrated that we are able to process considerably more information when it’s presented visually than we can through listening or plain text. Yep, that “picture is worth 1000 words” guy was actually onto something. Think of visual content as a broadband internet connection, whereas text-based lists are the dial-up version.
With data visualization, you not only see the cases, but you see the relationship between cases, and how the cases work together.
Among the most significant benefits, the data visualization elements of Ravel Law will help you narrow your research to the most relevant cases more quickly, while also helping you find those cases and arguments that, for whatever reason, didn’t rank in the top of your search.
Beyond Data Visualization…
Ravel Law is much more than just a visual matrix of your search. As I discussed in my review, the case text is all there, but with powerful and targeted assistance to help you get the most out of them.
Since I’ve already written about Ravel Law, and was aware of most of the features, Daniel and I spoke at length about Ravel Law’s newest feature – Judicial Analytics. That’s right, they’re measuring judges now.
So remember that task that Lyndon Johnson’s lawyers toiled over? They needed to find out about the tendencies and prior opinions of appellate court judges. Now, through Ravel Law’s Judicial Analytics, you can get that same information on any federal judge.
Each judge has a dashboard of information, allowing you to look up their opinions, cases they’ve cited to, and a detailed analysis of the judges and courts they find most persuasive! From the dashboard you can then filter by issue or topic, substantive or procedural, until you’ve got a clear picture of how your judge has dealt with your specific issue in the past.
Ravel Law’s Coming Attractions
There are impressive additions coming to Ravel Law in the near future, as well. In the podcast, Daniel discusses the plans for expanding the Judicial Analytics to state court judges, which would be a game-changer for a lot of litigators, in my opinion.
Additionally, Ravel Law has plans to expand analytics to lawyers, law firms and companies as well. Soon, you’ll be able to look up opposing counsel, how many times they’ve argued before a particular judge, what clients they’ve represented, what issues they’ve argued, and how successful they’ve been.
As Daniel discusses in the podcast, there’s considerable similarity between the concept of data analytics in law as in baseball.
In baseball, the scouts resisted analytics because they felt it would replace the reliance on human experience. They were wrong. Although Moneyball certainly reduced the absolute emphasis on the “feel” of a scout, baseball still needs people who know the game to evaluate the analytics.
Data analytics and data visualization in the practice of law will reduce the need for many legal services we currently provide. However, if Ravel Law makes your job a little easier, and helps you do it a lot better, maybe we weren’t doing it the right way before.
Regardless, at the moment, Ravel Law can give you one hell of a competitive advantage.