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Precision and accuracy: why you need both in your legal research

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

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

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

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

Precision in legal research 

Precision is the space between two increments in your measurement. Are you measuring in hours or seconds? How big is your rounding? For the project scoping scenario, precision reflects how narrowly you set the range for budgeting and pricing purposes. 

For legal researchers, precision reflects how tightly the results set matches the parameters of your point of law. If accuracy means you’ve got all the relevant documents, precision means you’ve got no more relevant documents than you need to build your argument.  

Your legal research tool should help you compile a set of documents that fit your scenario as precisely as possible. The search helps you narrow in on the fact pattern and point of law that match your matter. Filtering your natural language searches can help you weed out irrelevant results while keeping the relevant cases front and center. The best legal research tools – those supported by human insight and machine learning – can search not only words in the case but also the key themes. When you need to get to relevant cases quickly, filtering by fact pattern, legal issue, cause of action, or motion type can help you find what you need with new levels of speed and precision. 

To learn more about the unparalleled speed and precision of today’s legal research tools, download 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 conducting legal research, accuracy means having a set of documents to review that are relevant to the matter or point of law you’re working on. You also need to be sure your search gets you to all the documents that might be relevant to the matter.  

The right legal research tool should help you easily see if the documents you’re reviewing are relevant to your point of law and whether they’re still good law – 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 don’t cite each other. This is important because the two could inadvertently affect each other, positively or negatively.  

Of course, accuracy has a place in other areas of your legal practice, as well. If you are scoping a project for a prospective client, you need to be able to set the range of hours the matter will take. You might land on a range between 20 and 80 hours. Clients paying by the hour will want a tighter range for budgeting. If you’re creating a fixed-fee proposal, you need a better estimate to ensure profitability. You want a more precise estimate.  

Precision vs accuracy 

Relying on a precise, narrow set of documents without knowing if they are accurate and on point to your matter is the equivalent of closing your eyes 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’ll score at all, much less get a bullseye. And 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 make it home in time for dinner.   

When it comes to precision versus accuracy, there’s actually no choice. Your legal research must be both precise and accurate. Westlaw Precision surfaces on-point cases faster and more reliably than has ever been possible before. Ultimately, the right research tools will help you get the research done better and faster, so you can put your time toward case strategy and effective drafts. Your client and your legal partners will thank you.  

Learn more about the capabilities of Westlaw Precision. 

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