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Law has perhaps always been a data-driven business. A good attorney, librarian, or even judge can be measured by his or her ability to draw from up to thousands of potentially relevant cases and synthesize knowledge and insight from hundreds of years of legal history.
Today, in the digital age, the demands on legal professionals are considerably higher. Law firms are expected to navigate more digital information than even existed a generation ago. As economic realities drive tougher competition, the firms that can recognize and master this new data-rich environment will have a sharper competitive edge. So what are the driving factors?
Every year, about 100 million cases are brought to U.S. courts, and most, if not all, of of them are available digitally. That means that the total amount of data that legal experts need to access is increasing even faster. Providers of legal information have to ante up. A subject-related search 20 years ago might have returned a few dozen cases. Today, it might deliver thousands. This puts entirely new pressures on lawyers and librarians, who must be as thorough and diligent as possible.
Even if you have gigabytes and terabytes of legal information, searching them takes time. Refining a search often requires a bit of trial and error. How specific can you be? What will get you the results you need?
When you are working quickly, even seconds can seem like hours. In response, legal information vendors are working hard not just to add available information, but also to deliver it quickly. It’s here that advances in computing, processing, and memory are paying dividends for legal search. The computer that navigated Apollo 11 to the moon had 74 kilobytes of memory and could perform 50 calculations per second. Today, a single legal brief contains a lot more data, and advanced legal search supercomputers can perform up to 5,000 transactions per second.
With so much data available, and new updates coming in at lightning speed, analysis becomes even more important. New tools to validate, organize, and even visualize legal information are helping legal professionals master massive amounts of court information and find new insights.
As storage gets cheaper and processors get ever faster, it will likely be the intelligence built into these tools that will be the key differentiator for digital legal search in the future.
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