April 22, 2024

Modern Legal Researcher: New Challenges Meet New Research Tools

The role of a legal researcher has expanded far beyond traditional case law research and statutory interpretation. Today, legal researchers are crucial players not just in law firms, but also within higher education law schools, government bodies, corporate legal departments, and associations. This broadened scope is largely due to a growing number of regulatory activities, particularly in the corporate world, where issues such as data privacy, consumer protection, and environmental impact expand the depth and breadth of topics. As regulations grow more complex across various sectors, the expertise of legal researchers has become indispensable, making them key contributors to strategic decision-making in diverse organizational settings.

Facing New Challenges in Legal Research 

Historically, the task of legal research was divided between paralegals, known as legal assistants, who focused on supporting legal proceedings, and law librarians, who managed and facilitated access to extensive collections of legal texts. However, over the last decade, the landscape has changed significantly with the advent of advanced educational programs in librarianship that emphasize information systems expertise. 

This educational evolution has equipped law librarians with sophisticated database search techniques, bringing a transition from traditional book-based research to leveraging digital platforms and databases. As a result, the role of law librarians has increasingly shifted towards more direct involvement in legal research, utilizing their deep knowledge of digital information retrieval to navigate complex legal research platforms effectively. Online databases, digital archives, and legal research platforms, today, offer instant access to a wealth of legal information, spanning all jurisdictions and decades of legal thought.

As great as the digital proliferation of legal information is, it also presents a new challenge. While researchers have unprecedented access to legal documents, laws and regulations are continuously promulgated or amended so rapidly that it becomes next to impossible to track the changes using a manual (spreadsheet-logging) process. The sheer volume of regulatory and legal information is so overwhelming that ensuring thorough research and discovery of all relevant material in a sea of digital information demands more and more human resources. The fear of missing a crucial piece of case law, a recent statutory amendment, or regulatory change is a constant concern.

Luckily, the same technological advancements that complicate the research process also offer solutions. The use of the latest artificial intelligence technology, search algorithms, and analytics tools enables researchers to sift through data more efficiently to identify relevant information quicker than ever. For instance, legal analytics can reveal trends in how certain statutes have been interpreted by courts over time, offering valuable insights that might not be immediately apparent from traditional research methods. Generative AI (GenAI) has also been transforming the legal field since its big splash in 2023, making its way into the suites of various solution providers.

Routing rules for regulatory alerts by Regology.

GenAI for Legal Research

Generative AI has created a lot of excitement, offering unprecedented capabilities (or skills) in generating human-like content, summarizing complex legal texts, and even drafting legal documents or policies. Its application in legal research opens up possibilities for automating labor-intensive tasks, such as preliminary research, legal drafting, and summarizing lengthy judgments, thereby allowing legal researchers to focus on more strategic aspects of their work. Tools like Reggi, for example, can be queried on a range of regulatory and legal topics—across proposed rules and gazettes, legislative developments, the latest laws, and agency updates— and then prompted to draw out requirements for a specific jurisdiction, industry, or product, among other skills. 

What takes legal researchers weeks or months to log manually, GenAI can help them accomplish in days, if not hours. It is important to note, however, that the integration of GenAI into legal research still requires careful evaluation and cross-referencing by professionals. While AI can process and summarize vast amounts of regulatory information, it cannot always grasp the nuanced interpretations of regulations that seasoned professionals can analyze and evaluate for relevance. Laws and regulations often require contextual understanding and interpretation based on unique scenarios—something humans are inherently better at than machines. However, GenAI can significantly speed up the processes involved in legal research.

Achieving thoroughness in the digital era means that the traditional due diligence of humans is blended with technological proficiency. As legal technologies evolve, so too must the skills of legal researchers. To harness the full potential of GenAI, legal researchers can adopt several strategies:

  • Combining GenAI with traditional research methods: Use GenAI tools for initial data gathering and summarization, then cross-reference findings with traditional legal databases and resources to verify accuracy and completeness.
  • Staying up-to-date with GenAI developments: Regularly update knowledge on the latest GenAI technologies and their applications in legal research, including any known limitations or biases.
  • Focusing on ethical and responsible use: Adhere to ethical guidelines for using AI in legal practices, respecting data privacy laws, intellectual property rights, and being vigilant about potential biases in AI-generated content.

The Importance of Broadening Your Arsenal

The evolution of legal research from a primarily manual, text-based process to a sophisticated digital discipline reflects broader changes in the legal profession and society at large. While the digital age presents new challenges, it also offers powerful tools for legal researchers to conduct work more effectively and with greater confidence. By embracing these tools and continuously refining their research strategies, legal researchers can better manage the complexities of the modern legal space, ensuring that their research is thorough, efficient, and up to the rigorous demands of contemporary regulators.

You might also be interested in:

Understanding the Limitations of Generative AI as a Compliance Tool

Optimizing Risk Management: The Strategic Edge of Generative AI

Unlocking the Power of AI: Large Language Models for Regulatory Compliance

Integrating Technology and Compliance in 2024