Top 4 Trends Affecting Legal Research Today


Research capabilities are among the most valuable skills an attorney or legal support specialist can have. So it’s important to know how technology and client demands for cost-effective services continue to reshape the legal research process.

Here are four recent trends affecting how attorneys and support staff conduct their searches for applicable law.

1. Fee-based services

According to the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Survey Report, a firm’s size influences its approach to legal research. Smaller firms often turn to fee-based services before their larger counterparts, according to the report. The most popular online databases mentioned were Westlaw, WestlawNext and Lexis, which offer an expansive collection of research material, including articles, law journals, case law and statutes.

2. Free services

The same survey showed larger firms were more likely to use to free search engines for gathering information. Google was listed as the most popular starting point, and its advanced search features offer valuable time-saving methods. But keep in mind that the old saying “You get what you pay for” appears to apply here. The ABA survey reported that, by and large, legal professionals were far more satisfied with fee-based services.

3. Knowledge management

Research from Robert Half’s Future Law Office project shows that firms are relying more and more on cloud-based knowledge management systems. These products, such as Clio, offer document storage and have powerful search capabilities. As a result, they can help improve efficiency, as legal professionals aren’t repeatedly conducting the same searches. 

4. Connecting with colleagues

Networking is another valuable legal research method. Discussion threads on LinkedIn examine recently amended or implemented laws and mandates that may affect your practice area, state or region. And reaching out to your colleagues by email or phone is still a good way to stay up to date on the strategies they’ve used with specific types of cases — and their successes in legal proceedings. 

Of course, legal research will continue to evolve along with new technologies and the shifting business models of law firms. To stay abreast of the latest trends, watch for relevant continuing legal education offerings and follow professional blogs.

Stay up to date on developments driving change in the legal profession by downloading Future Law Office 2020: Redefining the Practice of Law now.