Project Management Tips: Legal Research Tools Boost Productivity

In today’s digital world, new and groundbreaking law office technologies seem to hit the market every day — and were showcased recently at the American Bar Association's annual ABA Techshow. Legal professionals are tapping into these state-of-the-art tools more than ever to improve project planning and streamline workflow. In fact, in a recent survey, 49 percent of law firms said their technology budgets increased in 2014.

Not surprisingly, many legal organizations are investing in technologies that facilitate legal research. After all, lawyers spend nearly a fifth of their working hours (19 percent) conducting legal research, according to the ABA's 2014 Legal Technology Survey Report. The study found that lawyers with fewer than 10 years in practice spent even more time (a third of their working hours) conducting legal research in 2014.

Fortunately, there are numerous cutting-edge tools designed to help legal professionals conduct research more quickly and effectively. Here are three of the latest legal research technologies that can enable law offices to boost productivity, enhance collaboration and drive down costs.

1. Online research tools

These days, lawyers have access to an array of online research tools, some free and others fee-based. In the ABA survey, 38 percent of law firms polled said Google was the free research tool they used most frequently. However, while lawyers often turn to Google and other free tools first, the survey indicates that they’re generally far more satisfied with fee-based search resources.

A majority (33 percent) of respondents named WestlawNext as their preferred fee-based product, followed by Westlaw (19 percent), Lexis (19 percent) and Lexis Advance (9 percent). WestlawNext gives users access to a reservoir of legal material, including primary law, analytical materials, practice area insights, litigation resources, and public records. Unlike many other online research tools, this one allows legal professionals to organize their research results into folders that can be shared among team members, both inside and outside of the organization. Not only does this feature help legal professionals avoid duplication of research efforts, but it also facilitates collaboration.

2. Knowledge management systems

Knowledge management tools enable legal professionals to capture, store and organize legal research results so they don’t have to repeat the same research time and again. Eighty-eight percent of the firms (including 96 percent of the largest firms) in the ABA survey maintain some form of searchable knowledge management system for internal documents. The most effective knowledge management systems allow attorneys to track, store and organize researched information, easily search through the results and quickly extract the most useful data.

3. Voice recognition

Of course, legal research efforts extend far beyond online search tools and knowledge management systems. As they conduct research, many legal professionals rely on other law office technology solutions, such as voice recognition tools. For example, an increasing number of lawyers are turning to BigHand to streamline their research efforts. This voice productivity product combines workflow, digital dictation, smartphone apps, digital hardware, and speech recognition to help lawyers increase efficiencies and slash overhead costs. In 2014, an independent industry analyst report by Blue Hill Research showed that law firms using BigHand experienced improved staff efficiencies and productivity.

The International Legal Technology Association's (ILTA) 2014 Technology Survey revealed that 29 percent of the law firms that use digital dictation products use Olympus, while 23 percent use BigHand and 23 percent use Philips.

These are just a few of the legal research tools designed to increase productivity and encourage collaboration -- all while keeping costs down. With new law office technology solutions emerging every day, lawyers will likely be able to conduct legal research even more efficiently in the future.

What law office technologies do you find most effective to facilitate legal research? Share your comments below.