Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


ABA Report: 2020 Legal Research Trends

It used to be that legal research was expensive. There weren’t a lot of choices so most law firms simply paid exorbitant prices for access to case law, statutes, and treatises. But then along came the Internet, and it changed everything.

These days, with the rise of increasingly affordable legal research platforms and mobile apps, lawyers now have a  vast array of options when it comes to affordable legal research tools. Oftentimes, they’re even free. 

With so many choices available, it’s not surprising that the results of the American Bar Association’s latest Legal Technology Survey Report show that lawyers conduct legal research in a multitude different ways. Here are just a few of the interesting statistics from the survey on how lawyers perform legal research.

For starters, it’s clear that lawyers spend a good amount of time on legal research. According to the results of the Report, 17% of their workdays are devoted to legal research.

The legal research tools they used ran the gamut, with free legal research tools being the most popular. 65% of lawyers surveyed reported that they frequently used free tools, and 25% shared that they occasionally used them.

According to the Report, the top websites/tools used by lawyers for free legal research (in some cases the platforms were accessed for free via bar association memberships) were: 1) Findlaw (20%), 2) Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (18%), 3) Fastcase  (18%), 4) government websites 15%, 5) Google Scholar (13%), and 6) Casemaker (8%).

Lawyers reported using free online tools for obtaining information about: 1) general news (81%), 2) other lawyers (76%), 3) legal news (74%), 4) researching public records (70%), 5) companies and corporations (70%), 6) their state’s administrative, regulatory, and executive information (51%), 7) state legislation and statutes (50%), 8) case dockets (48%), 9) judges (47%), 10) legal forms (46%), 11) federal administrative, regulatory, and executive information (45%), 12) experts (42%), and 13) other state legislation and statutes (42%).

Of course fee-based services were also used often, with 57% of lawyers reporting that they regularly using them, and 17% occasionally using them.

When it came to fee-based legal research, Westlaw and Westlaw  Edge were by far the most popular, with 49% of lawyers reporting that they preferred them. Coming in way ahead of the rest in second place was Lexis Advance at 28%. Other tools used included Lexis Practice Advisor (4%), RIA Checkpoint (3%), Bloomberg Law (3%), Fastcase (3%), Practical Law (PLC) (2%), Casemaker (2%), CCH (1%), Casetext (1%), and HeinOnline (.3%).

Online fee-based tools were use most often to research: 1) federal case law (54%), 2) state case law from the state in which they practiced (53%), 3) other state case law (51%), 4) legal treatises and secondary materials (49%), 5) federal legislation and statutes (42%), and 6) legal citators (36%).

Some lawyers (44%) reported that they continued to regularly use print legal research tools. The information most often obtained using print materials were: 1) legal treatises and secondary materials (16%), 2) practical guidance (16%), 3) law reviews and legal periodicals (14%), 4) legal forms (13%), and 5) state legislation and statutes (9%).

Finally, when it came to the cost of legal research tools, the majority of lawyers (60%) reported that their firms either don’t bill clients for legal research or that the cost of legal research is incorporated into their hourly rate.  Surprisingly, 25% of firms still bill clients for the cost of legal research, with larger firms being the most likely to do  so. 37% of firms with 100 or more attorneys reported doing so, followed by 25% of firms of 2-9 attorneys, 21% of firms of 10-49 attorneys, and 16% of solo lawyers.

So that’s how your colleagues are using legal research tools. Do any of the statistics surprise you? How does your firm’s use compare?

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at