Risks of free legal research tools

Risks of free legal research tools

Nearly three quarters of the 345 small law and solo legal professionals we surveyed for the LexisNexis Bellwether 2022 report say they rely on Google for research and guidance information.

Download the 2022 Bellwether report for small law firm insights 

Considering the warnings always given to patients by the medical profession regarding the dangers of turning to “Doctor Google”, it’s interesting that legal professionals - who presumably would issue the same warnings to their clients - are themselves routinely relying on Silicon Valley technology.

But what are the real risks of using free legal research tools, is it justifiable and what are the alternatives.


How cautious should lawyers be about free legal research?

Today Google is often considered to be an extension of the human brain, with mobile devices acting as an interface. Most people, including lawyers, will naturally turn to the search engine behemoth as a first point of call when seeking answers to any questions.

But anyone with the least bit of internet savvy knows that search results need to be treated with caution, and the importance of checking the reputation of the individual websites which show up in the list of results.

When conducting legal research on Google, many results will link to the official government legislation website for UK legislation (legislation.gov.uk). This website, which is regularly used by 58% of our respondents, is an example of a free legal research tool which is genuine and can be trusted. However, as we will explore below, raw legislation can be difficult to digest even for lawyers, and this is where paid tools can come in handy.

Other search engine results can be far more ambiguous or even dangerously misleading. For example, although many legal professionals write excellent blogs, posts can be woefully out of date. Also there are many amateur bloggers who write about legal developments but make incorrect observations and draw misleading conclusions.


Link between insurance costs and free legal research

43% of respondents said that the cost of Professional Indemnity Insurance has been one of the most significant overheads for their practice. Whilst rising costs of insurance are partly due to wider market pressures, firms which make claims and are deemed riskier will invariably need to pay higher premiums.

Reliance upon free legal research tools can increase the risk of providing bad advice to clients. This will open up the firm to professional malpractice claims and consequently facing a hike in their insurance costs.


Benefits of paid research tools

More than half of the respondents use LexisNexis and over a third use Thomson Reuters. Overall, two thirds agreed that using paid research tools instead of free sources (i) reduces risk and (ii) speeds up overall legal research. In the words of one respondent:

“We use the paid-for services. That’s because of risk. There’s a lot of effort put into these platforms to make sure the information is correct and up-to-date. Some areas change constantly and the lawyers need to have that information at their fingertips.”

Younger generations of lawyers who have grown up in the digital age will naturally use Google as part of their research - and this is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s handled with care. But having access to a paid research tool both reduces risk for lawyers and increases their efficiency - so it’s invariably a valuable investment for the firm.

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About the author:
Jatin works with law firms to explore legal resources and help them meet key business drivers such as reducing costs, decreasing time spent on legal research and document drafting, increasing efficiency in practice, and advising in confidence.