Information retrieval is a vital part of every lawyer’s work. It can take up to a third of a lawyer’s working time, as my colleague Carola Lindholm wrote in her blog post in June. This being the case, what skills do you need for good information retrieval, how can you find reliable information quickly and what does the future of information retrieval look like?

Accuracy and Speed

Knowledge management, or KM, teams found their way into Finnish law firms around the year 2010. I start working in knowledge management in 2007. KM specialists are a very small profession in Finland. We all know each other and regularly exchange views, for example, concerning new databases and trends in the field.

In my work, I have noticed that accuracy, speed and problem-solving ability are important skills in information retrieval. Every retrieval assignment requires that I weigh what the best and most comprehensive possible result is in the time available.

Reliable and Up-to-Date Sources Are Key

The spectrum of information requests I encounter in my work is very wide, from conservation areas for flying squirrels to requests for corporate information. An extra twist is that requests can involve domestic law, EU law or international law. It is often quicker and more cost-effective for clients that basic information retrieval is carried out by an experienced information retrieval professional.

Successful information retrieval requires that the information is up to date, reliable and easily accessible. For example, in Finland, the poor availability of Court of Appeal judgements can be a real challenge.

Our firm’s KM team has access to an extensive legal library, electronic literature and numerous legal and corporate databases such as Suomenlaki.com, Edilex, Lexisnexis and SwedishKarnov.

My team has a wide range of tasks. For example, we may draft a legislation and case law monitoring memo for our firm’s employment lawyers or proofread a legal memorandum to ensure all of the citations of proposed EU directives are up to date.

The subjects of information retrieval assignments themselves also vary a great deal. These are just some of the subjects we have gathered information on over the years:

  • Debentures in Finnish legal literature.
  • The contents of the Finnish Employment Contracts Act in 1995.
  • Attorney-client privilege.
  • The scope of application of the permit for continued hearing system in disputes: what kinds of interpretation or policy problems have come up?
  • Schedule for implementing a directive in Sweden.

Tips for EU Data Retrieval

Due to the sheer amount and scope of information in EU databases, retrieving EU data can be challenging. Selecting the right search words is absolutely the key to a successful result. For example, in the EUR-Lex database, slightly altering how the search word is written can increase the number of hits from 200 to 2,000.

In EUR-Lex, many problems can be solved just by going directly to the advanced search and choosing which collection to search. For example, if you are looking for information on the EU’s Data Protection Regulation, go to ‘Advanced search’ and pick ‘Legislation’ as the collection to search.

It is also worth limiting the search to just the title in order to keep excess hits out of the results. As a comparison, if you just search for ‘data protection regulation’ using the simple search field, you get 105 hits as opposed to just one using advanced search.

When searching for EU legislation, always look for the most recent consolidated version, i.e. the up-to-date text. Consolidated means that any changes and corrections made after enactment are combined into one text. The consolidated version is available in EUR-Lex about two to three weeks after the amending act has entered into force.

An extra challenge posed by EU data retrieval is that there are no legislative materials published for EU norms, such as the government proposals published for Finnish legislation. On the other hand, support for the interpretation of EU norms can often be found in the other language versions of the text. Ultimately of course, the interpretation of a norm is the job of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

However, it is possible to follow the EU legislative process through the preparatory documents in EUR-Lex. The Commission’s COM documents are particularly useful in this respect. The European Parliament’s OEIL database is also a potential source for information on the progress of legislative work.

EUR-Lex also has many useful summaries of EU legislation that give a quick overview of subject and also include relevant case law. A recent example of a EU legislative summary is the right to be forgotten on the Internet.

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Information Retrieval

It has been predicted that artificial intelligence will be part of daily life in law firms by 2020, and I think this will probably be the case. AI will be able to process of information, carry out searches, predict judgments, analyse contracts and manage documents.

Many international law firms, such as Linklaters, Berwin Leighton Paisner and Clifford Chance, already use AI for mass data searches. A famous example is IBM’s AI ‘attorney’ Ross, which provides data retrieval assistance in US law firm Baker & Hostetler.

Ross is able to rapidly search thousands of cases and laws and generate an answer in natural language. Ross also tirelessly monitors significant new cases and laws around the clock without human error. International law firm Clifford Chance also uses AI to review contracts and ensure cybersecurity.

It looks like the future will be nothing if not interesting in this field!