How Precision and Accuracy Help Legal Research

Imagine yourself playing darts. You only have three darts to get maximum points. Hopefully hit the bullseye, but if not, at least the tip corners. You need to have accurate throws to hit the right part of the board. You also need to have precise movement to consistently hit the same high-value part of the board.

Precision and accuracy – different concepts that together help you deliver the best result to your client. How accurately can you throw to place your darts in the same part of the board? And how accurately can you throw to get the group of darts to a high part of the board? Since your resources are limited – only three darts – you need both precision and accuracy to win the game.

The same goes for your approach to legal research. The stakes are high: you have a limited time to find all the documents that will help you deliver impactful and winning work to your client. The partner is waiting, the clock is ticking and you need to make the most of your limited research time.

Accuracy in legal research

Precision is the space between two increments in your measurement. Do you measure in hours or seconds? What is the size of your flare? For the project scope scenario, the precision reflects how precisely you define the range for budgeting and pricing purposes.

For law researchers, accuracy reflects how closely the result set matches the parameters of your point of law. If precision means you have all relevant documents, precision means you have no more relevant documents than necessary to build your argument.

Your legal research tool should help you compile a set of documents that match your scenario as closely as possible. Research helps you identify the facts and points of law relevant to your case. Filtering your natural language searches can help you weed out irrelevant results while keeping relevant cases front and center. The best legal research tools — those backed by human insight and machine learning — can search not only for words in the case, but also for key topics. When you need quick access to relevant cases, filtering by fact pattern, legal issue, cause of action or type of request can help you find what you need with new levels of speed and accuracy.

To learn more about the incomparable speed and accuracy of today’s legal research toolsdownload the free white paper, “The Past, Present, and Future of Legal Research: Helping the Legal Researcher Feel Confident They’ve Done Enough”

Accuracy in legal research

When conduct legal research, accuracy means having a set of documents to review that are relevant to the issue or point of law you are working on. You also need to make sure that your search takes you to everything documents that may be relevant to the case.

The right legal research tool should help you easily see if the documents you are reviewing are relevant to your point of law and if they are still valid, in whole or in part.

The right tool will also help you understand if you are looking at a case that is commonly cited with other cases – even if the two do not cite each other. This is important because the two could inadvertently affect each other, either positively or negatively.

Of course, accuracy also has its place in other areas of your legal practice. If you’re scoping out a project for a potential client, you need to be able to define the range of hours the deal will take. You could land in a range between 20 and 80 hours. Customers who pay by the hour will want a tighter range for budgeting. If you are creating a fixed price proposal, you need a best estimate to ensure profitability. You want more accurate estimate.

Precision vs Accuracy

Relying on an accurate and narrow set of documents without knowing if they are accurate and relevant to your topic is like turning a blind eye while you throw a dart at the board. You’ll probably hit something, but you won’t know until it’s too late if you’re going to score at all, let alone get a target. What if you read all 10,000 or more documents delivered by an imprecise search? Or, what if you take hours to throw the dart? You might score, but you won’t be home in time for dinner.

When it comes to precision versus accuracy, there is actually no choice. Your legal research must be both precise and exact. Westlaw Precision surface point cases faster and more reliably than ever before. Ultimately, the right research tools will help you research better and faster, so you can spend your time on case strategy and effective drafts. Your client and your legal partners will thank you.

Learn more about Westlaw Precision’s capabilities.

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