New Site Mines Legal Briefs for Relevant Research

A new website, BriefMine, aims to help lawyers mine a collection of legal briefs for nuggets they can use in their own research and arguments. The site — which is still in a private beta version — uses intuitive, natural-language search to explore a database of legal briefs collected from courts around the country. Eventually, the plan for the site is to become the most comprehensive database of legal briefs available and to correlate those briefs to the opinions that followed from them, so that lawyers can evaluate which arguments worked and which did not.

Here is how the site describes itself:

BriefMine is a database of legal briefs and opinions powered by natural-language search that offers a technologically advanced platform for conducting in-depth legal research. BriefMine’s core platform focuses on legal briefs – the succinct legal documents submitted to the court; these legal documents elucidate the main argument a lawyer will make throughout a given case. At its core, BriefMine aims to provide a cost-effective and efficient way for attorneys to access legal documents online. Because of the proliferation of online legal information, there is an opportunity to cut through the complexities of research by creating an intersection between data, natural-language search and technology. By creatively connecting legal briefs with their associated opinions, BriefMine will allow lawyers to identify successful pieces of prior litigation, and unearth insight into how these cases were won. This information will help attorneys formulate arguments deeply relevant to their current projects at an affordable price.

So far, it is difficult to tell the scope of the site’s brief collection and only a limited number of the briefs — all from Florida — are linked to opinions. The site’s founder, Harry Zeitlin, tells me that they have already collected a large number of state supreme and appellate court briefs and matching opinions, which they are actively adding to the database. The immediate goal is to acquire briefs from every state supreme court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They are also hoping to add California trial-level briefs.

“We have a few other components to our site which we are also building out,” Zeitlin said in an email. “In the long-term we want to leverage the power of the legal brief to create collaborative tools and predictive analytics to help lawyers (especially solo practitioners) more effectively conduct legal research.”

Because the site remains in private beta, you must request an invitation in order to use it. Do that by visiting the site’s homepage and entering your email address. When I did it, I received a response in less than 24 hours.

Once you have logged in, you are taken to the “MyMine” page, where you are encouraged to fill out your profile, describing your law practice and areas of focus. This page keeps a history of your searches. Eventually, the site’s founders plan to make this profile page a hub for advanced collaborative and research tools they plan to add to the site.

Natural Language Search

For now, the primary functionality of the site is search. The search bar is at the top of every page. Enter a natural-language search or use limiters such as quotation marks or the word “AND.” Results show the court and a snippet of text in which your search terms appear. You can favorite a result (which adds it to your MyMine page) or download it in PDF. If there is a matching opinion, you can download that also.

Although there are no advanced search features, the natural-language search seemed to work well in the queries I tried. If you are looking for something specific, such as a party name, you can simply enclose the name in quotes. As I said, the caption of each item in the search results shows only the name of the court, such as Minnesota Court of Appeals. I would like to see it display the name of the case also.

There is no charge to use this private beta version. As for future pricing, Zeitlin said this: “Eventually, we will distribute this product to lawyers at a hugely reduced price-point relative to what is out there right now.”

There are other brief banks available online, but they tend to have one of three problems. Either they are limited in their coverage, they are limited in their access (such as to members of an organization) or they are extremely expensive. As an example of this last point, WestlawNext offers a collection of federal and state appellate briefs, but the subscription cost for a solo attorney is $622 a month.

As Zeitlin indicated in the quote above, solos are a key target of this site. If BriefMine can provide a comprehensive collection at a reasonable price, it could prove to be a valuable resource. For now, as it builds out of beta, this is certainly a site worth watching.