Casetext is thrilled to welcome our newest reference attorney, the brilliant Valerie McConnell. With nearly a decade of litigation experience under her belt at Jones Day and The McArthur Law Firm, a 4-lawyer IP practice, Valerie is very well-equipped to help Casetext researchers with their thorniest legal research questions.
To get to know Valerie, we thought we’d publish a quick interview with her.
Why did you decide to join Casetext?
I was actually a Casetext customer before joining Casetext. I started using Casetext while working at the McArthur Law Firm, where we were looking for a more affordable option to Westlaw and Lexis. We initially decided to try Casetext based on price. I first tried Casetext’s CARA when I was preparing for oral argument on a judge’s tentative ruling. An hour before the hearing, we received the judge’s tentative ruling, denying our motion, and I spent that hour frantically conducting research to try to change the judge’s mind. By uploading the tentative ruling to CARA, I was able to find cases that we used in oral argument to convince the judge to change part of his tentative ruling. I have no idea how I would be able to find those cases so quickly without CARA.
Since then, I have been very impressed with CARA, which is a key reason why I decided to work for Casetext. But I was also drawn to Casetext because of its mission. Casetext seeks to make legal research easier, more efficient, and more affordable, which serves as a great equalizer in the legal world. I know from experience that it can be tough for small firms to litigate against much larger firms that have much larger budgets. Casetext provides a way for small firms and litigants who do not have unlimited legal budgets to litigate at the highest level.
Why become a reference attorney?
I became a litigator because I enjoy legal research. My favorite days as a litigator were the days that I spent reading cases and drafting briefs. (My not-so-favorite days were spent at depositions and arguing with opposing counsel over discovery requests). Being a reference attorney gives me the opportunity to do what I love everyday and help others find the cases they need for their briefs. I also love the variety: I can spend the morning helping a customer research an issue on maritime law, the afternoon helping a customer research an issue pertaining to the Fourth Amendment, and close out my day talking to a customer about a medical malpractice case.
What was the biggest difference between practicing at a large, national law firm and a small firm?
The work I did at a small firm was similar to the work I did while at Jones Day: at both firms, I conducted legal research and drafted briefs for cases in state and federal court. The biggest differences were the amount of time and money I could spend on a client’s case. When you are working on a bet-the-company lawsuit at a big firm, you have what feels like an unlimited budget and an endless array of resources to help you advocate for your client. At a small firm, every dollar and every minute counts. I had to learn to be much more efficient while working at a small firm, especially with legal research. No small firm client was willing to pay for legal research, so I had to learn to do that quickly without sacrificing accuracy.
What do you like most about legal research?
Legal research is a great way to learn about new areas of law. Even the act of crafting a search query and skimming a few cases can tell you a lot about the legal issue you are researching. Oftentimes, when you are researching an issue, you can discern trends in how courts have approached that issue. I especially enjoy finding these trends in the case law (as well as the cases that make exceptions to those trends), as they reveal how different areas of law have evolved and are likely to change in the future.
What’s the most common pitfall you see lawyers fall into when doing legal research?
Many lawyers are frustrated when they run a search and get hundreds or even thousands of results. While I understand that no one is going to read that many cases, a broad search can be a great way to start. I see legal research as a funnel: first, start with a broad search to get a sense of the universe of cases that may pertain to your research topic and then use techniques to narrow your results to the precise issue you are researching. Casetext offers a number of filters that allow you to finely narrow your search results to specific legal and factual issues. I recommend that attorneys first try a broad search and then use our filters to focus on a particular motion type, party type, and cause of action. The worst thing an attorney can do is artificially limit their universe of relevant cases to the two or three cases that happen to contain the exact phrasing of the words that they entered into the search bar.
What do you like to do in your free time (like when you’re not solving complex legal research questions)?
I like to talk to my daughter. She’s four years old and loves to ask questions that I would never think of asking. As a recent example, she asked, “Why do grown-ups love to work so much? Have they forgotten how to play?” She grounds me and gives me a refreshing perspective on life.