(istock)

Whether it’s through an expansion of Lex Machina’s practice areas or the acquisition of research company Ravel Law, LexisNexis has made an aggressive push in the middle of 2017 to expand its technology stack through new products and expansion.

And the company isn’t done yet. On June 26, LexisNexis announced that it was launching Lexis Answers, an artificial intelligence-infused expansion to the company’s pre-existing research capabilities. Lexis Answers aims to use natural language during searches rather than keywords or Boolean syntax, even anticipating potential questions once a few words are entered into the search field. Then, via what’s termed as a Lexis Answer Card, Lexis Answers directly links to relevant text within a document to answer the question.

Lexis Answers is available for free to pre-existing users of Lexis Advance, the company said. The service is being rolled out to all customers this week.

The AI portion comes from how Lexis Answers uses textual analytics to determine relevant text. Jeff Pfeifer, vice president of product management at LexisNexis, explained to Legaltech News that the AI engine analyzes millions of annotated legal documents and other content using a knowledge graph of legal relationships, language parsing technologies and an answer engine.

“Where traditional keyword or basic natural language search would look largely for ke word and synonym matches, Lexis Answers is powered by machine-learning tools that understand the expression of the language,” he said. “Today, that yields a stronger answer to an English language question. In the future, it logically leads to a dialog-like conversation between a user and Lexis Advance.”

The intent of a question is the key to understanding how Lexis Answers works. Pfeifer said that the company’s “data-driven lawyer” mantra includes efficiency, where attorneys can understand on their own terms the increased data analytics capabilities in which LexisNexis has heavily invested.

“Users have expressed a demand for ‘more powerful search’ technology. Their experiences with commercial search engines now set their expectations for professional services like Lexis Advance. … When we introduce a new solution like Lexis Answers, our promise to our customers is that it has immediate utility.” Pfeifer explained.

The Lexis Answers project arose out of LexisNexis’ Technology Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is primarily focused on solving workflow issues in LexisNexis products and experimenting with new technologies such as cognitive computing. The office also recently established a User Experience Lab with NC State University to further explore user interface design for lawyers.

Ultimately, this research and development leads to a heavy price tag for LexisNexis, especially for a product that will be integrated into Lexis Answers for free. But the company ultimately believes that the investment is worthwhile if the nature of legal research is changing—a revolution in which it intends to be leading the charge.

“We felt that lawyers could best begin a journey to embrace use of machine learning and cognitive computing tools within known, familiar experiences like Lexis Advance,” Pfeifer said. “I look forward to the day when I talk to a customer and they ask, ‘When can I expect to use machine learning tools for research?’ My answer will be that they already are—through use of tools like Lexis Answers.”