By Carolyn Bach | Sr. Manager, Faculty and Knowledge & Research Program
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This post was originally published in October 2019 and updated in September 2023.
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The early days of the ubiquitous internet search were a far cry from the study in simplicity and ease of use that Google, which has been dominant in the space for decades, built its entire business model upon. Developers at Google knew that people wanted one thing when they visited the website — information — and the company’s visually appealing, pared-down user interface looked nothing like its competitors or other internet homepages. With an entire universe’s worth of information behind a single search field, Google put the power of discovery in the hands of the user, who could access that treasure trove by stringing together some keywords or by tapping out an entire question.
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That theme — simplicity — is finally making its way into the legal technology space, which is tasked with serving a profession that is anything but. Contract review can be extremely convoluted. Legal research can be an enormous, time-consuming burden. And attorney work products often reflect the complexity of the problems they are trying to solve.
Everyone is familiar with the term “legalese,” which thumbs its nose to the dense paragraphs and overly complex language that people connect with briefs and other legal documents. The challenge for legal tech providers is to acknowledge that its role is to streamline an attorney’s workflow, not make it more complicated, yet deliver solutions that bring the full force of Big Data to bear. That is one of the primary driving forces behind Lexis+, the all-in-one ecosystem from LexisNexis, combining legal research, data-driven insights and practical guidance into a complete, end-to-end experience. Applying data-driven insights results in data-driven law, which is a transformation occurring within the legal space. The future of law is data-driven, and that transformation yields better customer outcomes, greater transparency, access to trends, insights into legal practice and more.
“We look at the job that our products are trying to accomplish and not the process of the tool,” says Jason Broughton, Vice President of User Experience at LexisNexis. “That’s what’s driving innovation in this space. As a concept, people and attorneys don’t buy software for the features and functionality. We are fulfilling the need and not just the use case.”
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The idea is to combine the company’s platforms into an ecosystem that meets all of a user’s needs. Broughton continues, “We’ve integrated our products in a meaningful way that serves the greater usage of our customer.”
The Lexis+ homepage is reminiscent of many consumer tools that people are already well versed in using in their everyday lives. Broughton says that was exactly the point; attorneys start their experience with the tool by entering simple search terms. The tool’s “Experience Dock” prompts users to select a workflow path. For Legal Research, users are prompted to type answers to the question, “What would you like to research today?”, encouraging the use of natural language and phrasing, entering entire questions, and so on. Users can also use Boolean search terms in a nod to the differences between casual users (associates needing quick information) versus law librarians who need to explore exacting pathways.
One of the biggest indicators of the tool’s simple interface is that an entire suite of LexisNexis solutions is available in one place, with no need to toggle or hop from one product to another. That means the data is all in one place as well.
“Attorneys have lives outside of the law,” says Broughton. “They are using Amazon, Google and Facebook more than they are using legal research tools. Our goal is to make our products as simple as the ones they are using outside their work lives.”
Next-generation legal research tools need to be intuitive, says Broughton, precisely because attorneys neither have the time nor the inclination to learn technology.
“Their focus is to win cases,” he says. “There’s so much pressure for cost optimization. The goal is to make software that doesn’t require training, full stop. They need to jump in and get going.”
A modern user experience means just that: an ability to quickly and easily answer legal questions in order to gain greater clarity. The result is that attorneys can spend more time on high-value tasks, develop tighter case strategies and provide greater value to clients.
At the same time, legal technology providers must acknowledge — and build into their platforms — the different use cases for their tools. For Broughton, it’s about understanding that legal librarians, for example, may have different needs than a non-native tech user.
“It’s the biggest design challenge that we have,” he says. “We have to think about the people whose job it is to use this software daily versus an attorney who may use the software once a week. They all need to get in there and easily access the solution, but the needs are on different spectrums.”
The idea behind Lexis+ was to think about the hierarchy of information and something called progressive disclosure. “We know that if someone like a librarian needs advanced functionality, they are able to get to know the product a little better,” Broughton explains. “It’s okay if the advanced features are behind a few clicks. For everyone else, it has to be streamlined upfront.”
Indeed, the challenge is to simplify the power behind the product. It becomes less about the features and functionality, and more about how and when those features and functionality are displayed.
“We thought a lot about what we chose to make visible on the homepage versus what we put somewhere else in the application,” says Broughton. Design considers how information unfolds across the platform. “What are we going to show first? What can wait? Products need to consider what is most important to the user.”
For legal research tools to fit their highest purpose in an attorney’s workflow, it boils down to understanding the user as a consumer of technology — and that simplicity and ease of use directly influence a user’s confidence and trust in the process.
“Ultimately, confidence and competency drive trust,” Broughton emphasizes. “If a product is difficult to use, you’re not going to use it, and you end up losing confidence in the company’s ability to understand your needs. For this reason, that’s why we are investing in user research and design. It is why it’s important to have the perspective of a lawyer as a person.”
Learn more about how a modern user experience drives speed and clarity at LexisNexis.com/LexisPlus