Closing The Loop

This post was authored by Eric Pesale, a soon-to-be attorney who recently graduated from the New York Law School. Eric contributes regularly to the Logikcull blog, focusing on the legal impact of emerging technologies. He can be reached at epesale@gmail.com or on Twitter at @ericpesale.

If you’ve ever been to law school, chances are you’ve spent an inordinate and potentially unhealthy amount of time with Westlaw and LexisNexis. They’ve long been monopolistic staples of the legal research ecosystem — “long” as in since the 1970s, when both programs originated as dial-up services.

While both of these tools provide foundational starting points for legal research, recent innovation in legal research technology has spawned tools with functionality that goes well beyond what a typical Westlaw or LexisNexis product can offer — and surpasses the abilities of newer tools like Bloomberg Law.

Below is a sample of some of the inventive paid, low-cost and free tools worth checking out that may work well in tandem with—or even replace—your go-to research products.


Ravel // ravellaw.com

Created by two Stanford Law School graduates in 2012, Ravel is a paid tool that allows you to see your case from your assigned judge’s perspective, and makes influential cases easier to track and find.

Ravel is similar to Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance in the way it incorporates a Boolean search engine to find cases, but the similarities end there. Instead of presenting cases in list format, Ravel uses an algorithm that identifies the 75 most relevant case law search results, and provides a case map that allows users to quickly see how influential a particular case is in terms of citations and subsequent treatment.

Ravel also offers an innovative search option that allows litigators to search opinions by judge, which enables them not only to track their judges’ favorite citations and legal reasoning, but also to see how those judges treated particular cases in past opinions.  This can give litigators the upper hand in terms of figuring out how to best present their cases. Ravel also has a unique, user-friendly approach to displaying case opinions in that it presents the actual case text in the middle of the page with footnotes listed on either side of the text column. Each page of the opinion also features a bar graph indicating the strength and influence of that particular page in subsequent opinions.  While Ravel does not have an extensive database of secondary sources or statutes—at the moment it only features a searchable version of the United States Code—it does offer some promising search and display features that could complement some of your existing research tools. 

Picture It Settled // pictureitsettled.com

If you’re in the middle of settlement negotiations and need advice regarding how to best reach your target settlement amount, Picture It Settled may be a good program to try.  This predictive analytics program takes into account both your client and adversary’s finances, insurance status, and—if applicable—business organization type, and runs this data against the pool of successful settlement actions filed in the particular jurisdiction where your notice of settlement will be filed. Afterward it produces (a) an offer-planning chart that provides a minute-by-minute timeline suggesting optimal times to make offers and counteroffers, along with predictions about how your adversary will respond based on the software’s prior analysis of past party behavior in similar situations; and (b) an offer analysis chart that details what settlement amounts, if any, you should likely expect based on the current status of negotiations.

You can also update offer and counteroffer information in the program during the course of your settlement negotiations. The program will adapt its projections accordingly and help you determine whether you need to revise your strategy. While no software can predict human behavior with absolute certainty, this paid program can give you a useful ballpark forecast from which you can chart your negotiation strategies. 

INCYDER // https://ccdcoe.org/incyder.html

If you’re a cybersecurity lawyer who wants a more specialized, free research tool that will help keep you up to speed on recent security-related legal and policy developments by likes of the UN, ASEAN, ICANN, and the EU, then INCYDER is worth checking out.  This free tool offered by NATO offers regularly updated content feeds on resolutions, white papers, and other reports related to legal and policy developments in the security space made by the various groups on INCYDER’s list.

Unfortunately, INCYDER does not yet provide a searchable database of organization-specific arbitration proceedings or in-depth coverage for all of the organizations it features. But it is well worth using to keep tabs on the legal and policy maneuvering of larger groups such as the United Nations and the European Union. 

Docket Alarm // https://www.docketalarm.com/

New opinions are issued every day, but they often are not made immediately available to attorneys on most legal research tools — or are otherwise only available by conducting a search using PACER’s inefficient, time-consuming and expensive search functions. Docket Alarm, a paid research tool that works on both desktop and mobile devices, addresses this issue by sending automatic court docket updates to attorneys whenever a new decision, motion, or other filing is made in a particular state or federal court.

This tool also includes features that would be useful for intellectual property and Hatch-Waxman attorneys in that it covers not only ITC, TTAB, and PTAB proceedings, but also Orange Book patent and correspondence updates. The program also provides useful data regarding which companies and firms tend to settle the most during each stage of PTAB proceedings, and also gives users the ability to create special reports specific to certain clients, parties or industries. At the moment, though, Docket Alarm only covers federal dockets and select state courts.

Google Scholar  // scholar.google.com/  and Google Patents // patents.google.com/

Given that Google—ahem…Alphabet—has infiltrated and disrupted multiple industries beyond its core search engine business, it’s no surprise that it offers free legal research tools such as Google Scholar and Google Patents. While Google Scholar is not strictly for legal research, it offers a robust Boolean case law search engine that mirrors what Lexis and Westlaw offer through the “Case Law” search options on their home pages.  What distinguishes Google Scholar is that its jurisdiction selection options, unlike those offered by Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance, allow you to choose specific district, trial and appellate courts within each state or circuit. This functionality eliminates the need to comb through long lists of cases to determine whether their holdings are binding on the jurisdiction your case was filed in. In addition, Google also has a Boolean-based patent search tool called Google Patents that helps you avoid the USPTO’s cumbersome patent search process. This patent search tool includes search features that allow you to search for competing patents filed before the priority date of your client’s patent, and also gives users the ability to track how often a particular invention has been cited by other active patent applications. While Google’s legal search tools do not list unreported cases like Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance, both Google Scholar and Google Patents may be worth considering. 

For other tips on how to use low-cost tools to improve your practice, check out the Attorney's Guide to Going Mobile below.
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