Data is at the core of modern legal practice. While outside research has always been critical, the reality is that most lawyers are spending the bulk of their time within their firm’s firewall and within their specific practice area pages.
Lexis has set out to ensure that users have access to the data they need at the exact moment they need it. Rather than requiring users to go out and affirmatively search Lexis for information, Lexis can now tie that data into the right moment of your workflow by way of new APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). We recently sat down with Dave DiCicco, Senior Director of Product Management at LexisNexis, to discuss the new API offerings from Lexis and how they’re changing the way law firms practice law.
Before we dive in, can you explain APIs in a nutshell?
At its core, an API is a way for two pieces of software to talk to each other. You can think of APIs like Legos. Often, even though there are instructions or a picture on the box, people end up building something that looks very different from the kit. For example, the Lego kit might be meant to build the Eiffel Tower, but some users might not need an Eiffel Tower and instead build a space cruiser by assembling all the pieces together in a different way.
With APIs, the Lego pieces are data, and the Lexis API allows users to decouple the data from its original interface and assemble the data the way they need it. If customers go into their browser and go to Lexis or Lexis+, they can access whatever data they need to customize their workflows. So, if you want to build the Eiffel Tower you can, but you can also build the space cruiser if that’s what you need.
At the heart of all of this is data, which has almost risen to the level of a buzzword in legal tech. Why is data so important to law firms and why did Lexis decide to get into the realm of APIs in the first place?
There are many different types of data within law firms – data within matter management systems, data within billing systems, and data in many other places. The reality is that none of that data is uniform. For example, if I’m filling out an intake form, the way I input the client information might be different than the way you input it if we’re manually filling it out, which means we could end up with different information on the same client. This makes it challenging when you’re trying to find client information later, especially if common names are involved.
Lexis wants to help clients normalize data that’s long been unclean and disorganized. Our APIs incorporate global identifiers, allowing you to find the right entities, search for information, and pipe that normalized data into your environment.
Why is it important for firms to add outside data to internal firm data?
Often, firms don’t have all the information they need for their workflows. Take your matter management system, for example. You might know the docket number for a case, but you need to search Lexis to find information that’s within the docket in order to populate your matter management system, whether it’s with dates, the type of case, the participants, or other supplemental data. The Lexis API pulls the data for you to help populate and again to normalize it to make sure everything is in the correct format.
Many firms also need alerting capabilities for things like compliance or understanding the impacts of changes in the law. Lexis APIs fill that monitoring and alerting role, allowing firms to enrich their data and make sure the information they’re populating into their workflows is accurate.
What are the different APIs that Lexis offers?
Our three main APIs range from simple to complex. As a generalization, our APIs are focused on content sets and letting users select the right content set to either build the Eiffel Tower or the space cruiser.
Our most basic API is the URL API. And you can think of that as a one-way link into Lexis. Any firm can build a link to search for a certain concept, such as burden of proof, by inserting it into a URL and having Lexis do the coding necessary to build the workflows they need. The second API, and the one where most customers benefit, is our REST/Web Services API, which really allows users to create custom workflows because we are platform agnostic. This is where you build the space cruiser, by doing the coding yourself rather than having Lexis do the coding for you. The third API is the Bulk API, which transfers a large set of data from our servers over to the customer. This is used in rare instances when firms want to do something like data-mine a specific concept through all the available legal and news content to train machine learning models.
What are some of the most popular use cases for Lexis APIs?
We summarize our use cases as WIRE: workflow, integration, recency, and enrichment. Workflow refers to building customized workflows, for example, within practice areas. This can take the form of adding a search box to a practice area page or building out a practice area page by pushing out developments in a given area to populate that page. So, rather than going out to Lexis or Lexis+ to find relevant informationation, you can get that information from behind your firewall via the Lexis API. Integration allows users to add information from third-party applications to their workflows to get the best results.
Recency relates to alerting. Users can set up initial searches and be notified of changes in things like dockets, legislation, or regulations. The information on those changes can be populated into email alerts, practice area pages, company or client pages, and more. Finally, enrichment speaks to cleaning up and normalizing the data that’s in a firm’s system. For example, the Lexis API can search for and build out information on every judge that’s in a firm’s matter management system, ensuring that the data always refers to the right judge and is structured in the same way. This normalization allows you to ensure that you search for the correct judge across Lexis products such as Context.
How do Lexis APIs fit into the larger ecosystem of LexisNexis products?
The URL API taps into both Lexis and Lexis+. However, we think of all our APIs as part of our overall technology strategy, aimed at helping people get the data they need from our different products. We’re aiming to build global products to serve customers in countries all over the world. APIs and workflow tools are just one leg of our overall strategy.
What can we expect to see from Lexis API solutions in the future?
Over time we’re planning to add more APIs across our product line. Right now, our APIs tap into Lexis and Lexis+, but that will expand to other Lexis products. We’re always looking for more opportunities, particularly based on customer feedback and the use cases they want help with. Our new APIs are just the beginning. We want to help people build the next version of the space cruiser that maybe we haven’t even envisioned yet.
It’s also our vision that there will be one API developer’s portal regardless of what country you’re in or what Lexis products you’re looking for. It will truly be global in nature.
If a firm reading this is interested in Lexis APIs, how can they get started?
It’s a highly consultative process. We like to have conversations with firms to understand exactly what their desired use cases are before we suggest the right API for them. For more information, click here.