July 8, 2013
When people think of lawyers and the law, they most likely think of paper and stacks of books. Most law is still practiced in the physical world, meaning that if a lawyer is not orally arguing in court, she is arguing and building a case of and in the written word.
The curse of this is that the legal profession creates an enormous amount of paper. Courthouses are literally filled to the roof with decades’ worth of briefs, memos, pleadings, and other legal records. Thousands more are added every week. Courthouses are repositories for all that the legal profession produces. The value that lies within has never been tapped, and it literally represents the best (and worst) legal arguments in all of the profession. Imagine applying a big data tool or data science to this vast wealth of information – turning it into something valuable and useable. Imagine turning the curse of paper into the wealth of data.
BriefMine, a San Francisco startup, is tapping into this dormant data with the goal of becoming the first place every legal professional visits to start their research. While this may sound bold, the company has already proven proof of concept and, since their recent public launch, is in fact generating revenue and increasing users.
While there are entrenched players and Goliath-like incumbents, none have taken on the tasks of digitizing mounds of text that lie within lawyers’ work and applying data science to identify data points, conduct trend analysis, and develop scoring frameworks based on relevance and natural language search. This is not merely providing access to filings; it is creating a vast and deep well of data that is extracted from the filings to provide a powerful tool for lawyers to conduct their research in a productive and intelligent manner.
As cofounder Gabe Lupin explains, “The briefs lawyers write are incredibly rich data resources. Not only do they provide data points via citations, topics, and arguments, but they can be examined thematically as groups and cross-referenced against rulings. Using technology, BriefMine can help lawyers expedite research, reach conclusions quicker, and uncover insights that might otherwise be obscure or hidden.”
By simply conducting a natural language search, BriefMine returns results that are not only relevant to the search but that have been culled from actual filings. By reviewing recent filings of other lawyers, the user is better able to learn and hone their research.
Currently, most lawyers use the combination of their own previous work (or their firm’s) and the large case law platforms of LexisNexis or Westlaw. This is a process akin to finding needles in a haystack – and is costly. BriefMine provides a shortcut: by giving the lawyer-user actual sources that other lawyers have used and written that are directly related to the specific focus of the research. The lawyer-user is able to review all these sources, learn the line of argument and relevant case law, and begin to craft their argument much quicker and with a more informed perspective. It is akin to open source code writing – building on top of what has previously worked to make better software.
As Lupin states, “I think the ‘open source’ analogy applies to legal documents that are in the public domain. To the extent that our platform enables users to build insights and arguments from these ‘open source’ documents is something we fully support and was one of the goals we intended to achieve. That said, I wouldn’t go so far as to call BriefMine an open source service, because it’s not completely free. Just as open source software can be used to build technologies and systems that ultimately become for-profit products, BriefMine has layered architecture on top of what might be considered ‘open-source’ documents to help users garner the most value from our content repository.”
The market for this tool is enormous. There are roughly 1.24 million lawyers in the US. But BriefMine is focused on the 900,000 that are at firms with 20 or fewer lawyers. This is the market that typically cannot afford to use the incumbents or only uses them sparingly.
Lupin explains, “These solo and small firm attorneys don’t have unlimited access to sophisticated tools or unique content types at a cost-effective price point. Unlike the [large law firms], these folks can’t afford to spend tens of thousands, much less millions of dollars on enterprise-level research products. BriefMine aims to leverage technology to provide a high-quality service that anyone can afford.”
BriefMine continues to expand its library of data. Their freemuim model allows anyone to search but requires a subscription to gain access to actual content.
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