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What’s the future for legal research?

There are so many things to consider when crystal ball gazing future trends in legal research and law library matters, says former lawyer Paul Steele of consultancy Law Tune-Up Ltd.

One important thing for the future, however, is the importance of integrating legal information into practice management systems.

“Suppliers who can provide high quality, rapidly updated and highly practical resources interfaced with practice management systems will stand the best chance of success. The market will have a lot more say in what’s happening (in the area of legal information and legal research) than has been the case.”

And that will bring a plus for lawyers.

“The balance of power is shifting away from the legal publishers and more into the hands of the practitioner,” Mr Steele says.

The winners among the legal publishers will most certainly be those that meet the market’s expectations. “People are going to be looking for much more accountability.”

Free-to-view resources, and the internet generally, are increasingly providing many primary law services which used to be the preserve of the publishers, or otherwise needed to be paid for. Legislation is an example.

“Practices should be looking at storing legal research data in the practice management system on a client matter basis,” Mr Steele says.

“That way it can be used effectively for a variety of purposes – from word processing right through to future retrieval – and by a variety of people, such as legal secretaries and legal executives as well as lawyers. Finding data which formed the basis of the advice given is so much easier. This method also enhances risk management.

“The practice management systems will become the absolute hub of everything that happens in the firm, from all operational activities through to management and marketing.”

At the same time, provision of legal information to law firms will change, and the basis on which it is charged will change also, Mr Steele predicts.

“Most of the pricing plans the publishers have at the moment are based on user numbers, that is the number of practising certificates in the firm. They are currently not modeled on actual usage itself.

“As specialisation becomes more and more prevalent, the market is going to demand more highly specialised services rather than relying on general subscriptions as it has in the past.

“The annual subscription model is particularly poor when it comes to getting accountability for that spend in the library budget and ultimately through to clients.

“I predict a migration across from subscriptions to combinations of subscriptions and transactional fees over the medium term,” Mr Steele says.

Lawyers will continue to become smarter in the ways they use other resources like the NZLS online databases service and the pay-per-use New Zealand Law Society Library research service.

“For those firms lucky enough to have the expertise of law librarians on hand, they will continue to be so well served. As for books – I think they will always be with us, although e-books will be effective substitutes in many cases.”

This article was published in LawTalk 782, 7 October 2011, page 1

Last updated on the 9th November 2016