Unlocking Legal Innovation: The Power of APIs in the Legal Industry

By Jennifer Mendez (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, have become all the rage in recent years (setting aside the Generative AI craze for the moment). It seems every legal research vendor is either selling or creating an API. At its core, an API is simply about giving the user access to the underlying data without an interface. Law librarians have become instrumental in evaluating and procuring APIs. 

Law librarians are content specialists. Therefore, they have a thorough understanding of all the data available via research platforms. They understand the coverage, reliability, and currency of the data offered by the myriad of research platforms and can make recommendations based on the question or use case. Whether you are looking to enhance litigation matter profiles automatically or normalize a list of judges or companies from within your firm systems, a law librarian will be able to make a recommendation based on their knowledge of the data and the tool.

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As Jean O’Grady put it in her March 2022 blog post, “For years law librarians and knowledge mangers have been begging legal publishers to free their data from their proprietary interfaces.” Now that vendors have freed the data, there is no one better suited to work with attorneys and technologists to leverage that data than law librarians.

Since data remains the new oil, especially for law firms and law departments looking to get an edge in strategic decision-making, what better way to enhance or supplement your data than with external data from reliable sources via APIs?

These APIs allow firms to develop and launch real-time analytics reports and trackers on numerous legal topics, which automatically update themselves whenever the source data is updated. Need to know the judges your attorneys have been before? There’s an API for that. Need to pull docket information for all of your firm’s matters? There’s an API for that. Need to pull SEC filings for your clients? There’s an API for that. There are countless APIs available with varying levels of investment – from no cost to six figure investments. Each firm will need to evaluate the usefulness and the value of the data before proceeding, but there’s never been a better time to evaluate the options available.

If you’re inspired to begin evaluating or working with APIs, below are some tips and tricks as well as lessons learned my co-panelists and I covered during an ILTACON 2023 session on APIs:

Tips for Getting Started

  • Identify use cases – What problems can the API solve? Or what answers can it provide that are difficult or too time-consuming to gather on your own?
  • Engage internal and external stakeholders – Diversity amongst the team can help you identify potential use cases you hadn’t previously considered; talk to your internal stakeholders, clients, vendors, etc. to understand their wants and needs.
  • Understand the data – What are the limitations of the data? How often is it refreshed? How can you supplement the data with your own or with content from other APIs? 
  • Leverage SMEs – Using APIs requires subject matter experts in various fields, including technologists with API experience, content experts to review the data and its accuracy, vendor-side experts that understand the API, its limitations, and can work on future enhancements.

Lessons Learned

  • Start small – Don’t try to boil the ocean; identify your use case and make sure it works for that particular use case before iterating
  • GIGO – the content is only as good as the sources/data you have (e.g., federal v state court data – varies widely), which requires a focus on:
  • Data, data, data – Data validation, data prep, data mapping, data hygiene are all important factors in the process that are time-consuming but worth the effort
  • ROI – Remember to have a clear objective and determine the value of your investment, which can be calculated in various ways (i.e. time saved, enhanced reporting, actionable insights, client stickiness, etc.)


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.