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A Practical Review of Practical Law

Jeffrey M Allen


  • Thomson Reuters Practical Law (PL) is a helpful tool for practicing law, learning the law, and drafting legal documents.
  • PL gathers information from a wide variety of sources, digests the information, and presents it to you in a discussion-oriented format.
  • PL provides practice benefits for more senior lawyers as well as fledgling attorneys.
  • PL offers a bank of model documents that you can revise to fit particular needs.
A Practical Review of Practical Law
Dean Mitchell via Getty Images

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Note: This review was originally prepared for and published in GPSolo eReport. Due to space limitations, the original covered a smaller scope. This iteration expands the scope and focus of the review to incorporate additional information, primarily respecting the drafting functions and facilities. In case you missed the review in GPSolo eReport, the entirety of that content appears in this publication.

Practical Law (PL), a program recently released by Thomson Reuters (TR), has carved out a new niche for the online library. I will give away the conclusion by telling you that, while the program lacks perfection, I like it a lot and do not hesitate to recommend it for certain uses. Before giving you the underlying analysis to support that conclusion, I do want to disclose that TR is a continuing sponsor of the ABA GPSolo Division, the publisher of this review. That said, while the agreement with TR creates the opportunity for us to review its products in this magazine, it has no control over the opinions contained in the review. TR gave me access to the product for a period of time to allow me to explore it, and I did, formulating my own conclusions as to its utility and functionality.

First off, let’s look at what TR created PL to do. While you might want to call PL a research tool, and it certainly qualifies as one, it does not look like the type of research tool you would expect to find in an online law library. It does, however, look like one you would want to find there. Think of it as an evolution of the online law library.

Unlike the traditional research tools, PL does not limit itself to case law, statutory law, administrative law, and the occasional law review article. Rather, it gathers information from a much wider variety of sources, digests the information, and presents it to you in a more discussion-oriented format than one would typically expect from a legal resource tool (such as Westlaw, for example). The subject matters track areas beyond just technical legal issues and substantive law. The articles include general information, some legal references, and practice tips. The materials include substantive information in addition to writing tips and templates for documents. I do not think PL would work well as the place you want to find authority to support arguments in a brief or set of points and authorities. Rather, think of it as a place you go to get general background information about a subject area, some potential resources to cite, and a much better feeling for where to go and what to ask than a more traditional online resource such as Westlaw.

Consistent with that analysis, when I talked to TR personnel about PL, they told me that TR created PL with the concept of a time-saving replacement for the experienced lawyer who might otherwise devote significant time to the mentoring of one or more fledgling attorneys. They also anticipated that PL would help a lawyer with some seasoning about to embark on a matter that embraced an area of law unfamiliar to that attorney.

As one of those more experienced attorneys who had excellent mentors in the beginning of his practice and would like to think successfully mentored a number of young attorneys over the years, I found myself a bit taken aback by the concept of replacing that interaction with artificial intelligence. I will admit that, despite the fact that I have readily adopted new technology throughout my career, I am old-fashioned enough to think that this type of interaction between younger and more senior lawyers had and continues to have a real value in the training of new lawyers. I also think that many experienced attorneys enjoy the opportunity to teach young lawyers the art of practicing law. I would not want to see that disappear. While I don’t think PL will cause the end of such interactions, I do think that when you adopt it, you should keep the concern in mind. Young lawyers will certainly benefit from PL, and it will unquestionably cause them to need less interaction with and explanation from senior attorneys, thereby saving senior attorney time. But don’t get it with the idea of totally replacing that interaction. I think the training of young lawyers will suffer if you do, and I think senior lawyers will miss the opportunities to regale young attorneys with their war stories and, in the process, help the young lawyers learn more about the art of lawyering.

Areas of Coverage

A little bit of additional background may prove helpful at this point. TR describes PL as predicated on the expertise of more than 300 experienced attorneys who function as editors and “whose sole job is to create and maintain timely, reliable, and accurate resources across all major practice areas.” In truth, they manage to include a number of practice areas that I would not consider major as well as those that I would, so that extra scope creates an additional benefit in my mind. To try to list all the areas that PL includes or all the resources referenced presents a task of Herculean proportions, exceeding the scope of this review and requiring far more space than I have available. Instead, I will refer you to the TR website, where you can get a free trial of PL and spend some time wandering in the fields of knowledge, reaping the benefits of the plowing done by the TR PL editors. Pick an area or two that you want to know more about and go exploring. I expect that you will find yourself impressed by what you find. I did.

In fairness, I did find some of the areas more challenged than others due to a dearth of material for the editors to include. For example, due to my interest in technology, I took a look in the section on technology and focused on the question of data breach. A cursory review of that material provided a great deal to explore, including a state-by-state analysis of data breach notification protocols as well as a fairly detailed discussion of triggering events—just the kind of thing you would need to know to advise a client on what to do in the event that it suffered a data breach. Despite my preexisting familiarity with the subject (at least in California), I learned a few things looking through the fairly extensive and detailed treatment of the topic.

On the other hand, as most of my career has focused on business and real estate matters, my interests tended to gravitate to those areas. My next inquiry related to the commercial lease issues arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and tenant defenses against claims for breach of lease for failure to pay rent predicated on impossibility, frustration of commercial purpose, or force majeure relating to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many cases have raised this issue, and, for the most part, they remain in the courts at the present time. As a result, I understand that the editors could not locate a significant volume of material definitively addressing the applicable law as applied to this particular set of issues. They did provide substantial information as to the traditional use of those doctrines and provisions and some insight through a discussion of more traditional applications, but the extrapolation to the COVID-19 issues remains for future addition, likely after some of the cases get resolved. In truth, I was impressed that they already have expanded the infrastructure to include the beginnings of such considerations.

Using the Practical Law Library

You will likely find the start-up guide to PL very helpful in understanding the program.

Benefits of Practical Law

The more I looked into what PL contains, the more I realized that it provides practice benefits for more senior lawyers as well as fledgling attorneys. An experienced attorney with a case that has some interesting twists in areas unfamiliar to the attorney can benefit greatly from using the PL tools to learn more about those areas and familiarize herself with the area and its related issues.

An experienced attorney, when called on to prepare a document that may need to address issues with which the attorney lacks familiarity, may benefit from the drafting tools and templates included in PL.

PL can benefit large firms and corporate law departments by helping with the training of new attorneys, making it easier for less experienced attorneys to acquire general background and information about areas in which they are working without taking as much time as otherwise they might from other attorneys. Caveat: The interaction between experienced and novice attorneys remains an important part of the training process. I strongly encourage you to ensure that your firm cultivates it and does not rely exclusively on something like PL. PL should and will supplement that interaction and make the process work better and more efficiently. It should not replace it.

PL potentially offers significant benefits to attorneys in solo and small firm practices. Attorneys in larger firms often tend to specialize and narrow the scope of their individual practices. Moreover, they have many other attorneys in their firm focusing on other areas, so they have potential help readily available should they find themselves in uncharted waters (or areas in which they lack expertise). Attorneys in solo and small firm practice generally tend to take on a broader base of work than attorneys in large firm settings, and they usually do not have a readily available resource attorney to help as they venture into new areas or areas in which they lack substantive experience. PL can help them gain a background familiarity with the area and give them the benefit of experienced attorneys, making it easier for them to succeed in such adventures and also making it more reasonable for them to accept work in areas where they may have somewhat less experience than others. As important an asset as PL might be to any solo or small firm practice, it offers even greater value to a young attorney who simply hangs out a shingle and starts looking for clients. Attorneys in that situation generally have little or no help from experienced lawyers, and, for them, PL morphs from a valuable helper to an essential tool.

Model Documents

I do want to take a bit of space to talk about PL’s drafting facility. The concept here is to provide you with models that you can revise to fit particular needs—a practice most attorneys use to create agreements. For those who do not have their own forms, this offers you a form bank from which you can draw. In my opinion, the quality of the forms I saw looked pretty decent. In fairness, I would not have used any of them without changing them, but that represents a bias toward my own forms developed over 47 years of practice. If I did not have a form for a particular purpose, I would like to have the PL model to use as a starter. I think that it would make my job easier.

Overall, my impression is that the program does a pretty decent job of helping you write an agreement that lies within the scope of agreements it covers. Therein lies the rub. PL has a relatively limited scope of agreements at the present time. I am hopeful that as time goes on, TR will expand this part of PL to include many more agreements that can serve as models for attorneys, particularly attorneys in smaller firm environments and general practice. Note also that TR correctly recognizes that some agreements need to key in on local law and has identified certain documents to certain states.

While many of the provisions in a document designed for one state will work for documents drafted in other states, one needs to exercise caution in ensuring the document complies with the laws of the state in which it will operate. The program does not yet offer examples from all states. Whether it will in the future remains an unknown; but take the help where you can find it, and, if you do not have a form of your own and they do not have one from your state, you may want to check some of the examples from other states and use them as a starting point. The number and type of forms will continue to grow. There are still areas that have few or no forms. Before subscribing to this part of the service, you might want to take a look at the available forms and make sure that the program has forms that you might find useful.

Here’s a practical pointer: The listing of forms that you see at first does not include all the available forms or pointers to help you find them. Do not make the assumption that the listing provided is exhaustive. It is not. I initially made that mistake and did not find a number of forms for which I was looking. The program’s search feature did a much better job. If you use the search feature (the magnifying glass) and type in the name of a form you want, the chances are pretty fair that you will find a form for the type of agreement you need to draft, although it may reflect the law in a different state and, therefore, serve a more heuristic purpose. If you still do not find the form you seek, prior to giving up, contact TR support staff and ask them to help. Recognize that the system still has some areas without forms. For example, while I ultimately located several examples from different states for limited partnership agreements, I did not locate any examples of general partnership agreements.

Note that the program includes drafting tips in its document examples. You have the option of downloading a Microsoft Word version of the document with the tips or without the tips. You should either download both or keep the browser open to the document so that you can read the tips as you work. Download the clean (tip-free) version of the file to use as the base for your document.

If you find a form that looks close to what you want, TR makes it easy to create your document. You don’t have to start with a download and hunt for what to fill in before you tune it up and make the substantive changes you want. You can use the drafting facility built into the program, answer some questions about your situation, and the computer will generate a first draft with the information for your case. This will save you some time and let you focus on locating and making the changes, if any, required to adapt the document more perfectly to your facts and to comply with applicable law. Here’s another practice tip: Use the other side of PL to help you find information about your state’s law on the subject matter of the agreement. Chances are, you can get an overview that way to help you finalize your agreement.

Plans and Pricing

TR has created a number of plans for access to PL. Following the rule of three going back to ancient Gaul as proclaimed by Gaius Julius Caesar (with due apologies to Mr. Caesar for the literary license I have taken), all PL is divided into three parts: law firms (all sizes); general counsel (for nonprofits and small to medium-sized businesses); and government (for, well, you know, governmental agencies and academic institutions). TR made the programs scalable so that you can select a package that works for your firm, whether you are one lawyer or many. They also created a division in the law firm section for a focus on litigation and a focus on document preparation.

Pricing varies with the number of attorneys, feature set, and length of commitment. While I do not have time or space to further explore pricing here, you can find detailed pricing and plan information on the TR website.

Dynamic Tool Set

To sweeten the deal, several months ago TR introduced a major update to PL. They named their newest addition the Dynamic Tool Set (DLS). DLS consists of five tools designed to facilitate the acquisition and organization of information extracted from the PL database. Four of the five tools reside in a toolbox. Those tools go by the names Knowledge Map, Quick Compare, Interactive Matter Maps, and What’s Market Analytics. The fifth, Dynamic Search, lives at the search bar. Briefly described, the five tools provide the following functions:

Dynamic Search. This tool gives you a natural language search powered by algorithms designed to utilize and trained on Practical Law content. You get three different types of responses from this tool. Machine learning answers provide a direct answer and links to the applicable passage of text. You also get the results of a keyword search accessible under the answer card. In many (but not all) responses, the result will include an editorially created answer linked to relevant underlying PL content.

Knowledge Map. This tool provides you with the ability to visually navigate through the data stored in the PL database. This expedites the location of useful information and facilitates the identification of issues you may have missed. Clicking on portions of the map will cause it to expand to give you additional information/resources/issues relating to that portion of the bigger picture. Think of it as additional subheadings in an outline presented in a non-hierarchical format that readily allows you to delve more deeply into various areas (topics) on the map.

Quick Compare. This tool provides you with a customizable chart-building tool. It can help you more quickly identify and compare laws by jurisdiction or concepts across multiple practice areas. The editors have created chart forms that reside in the system. You can use one of theirs, take theirs and modify it, or create your own. The tool lets you add, delete, and reorganize cells and columns for convenience or the needs of your particular matter. A very useful feature, blue buttons in cells link you immediately to the underlying data supporting the conclusion presented by the cell. You can download both the chart and the supporting data. The charts remain dynamic in the program. If the editors have updated data drawn on for the creation of the chart, reopening the chart in PL will incorporate the updated data.

Interactive Matter Maps. The editors designed this piece of the tool set to help you organize, prioritize, and execute your plan for your matter, whether it is transactional or litigation. They provide an overview of the key phases of your matter and link you to important resources for each phase. Properly utilized, the Matter Maps can function as the game plan for your matter. To facilitate that, you can customize the Maps and even color code items they contain to allow for prioritization or make it easy to identify to whom you have delegated which tasks.

What’s Market Analytics. This tool searches public databases to provide you with summaries of information you might want for your particular transaction or matter.

The addition of the Dynamic Tool Set puts the utility of PL on steroids. Unlike in baseball, however, you can use these performance enhancers at will and without fear of retribution.


As I have run out of space for this review, I will disclose by way of conclusion that I have saved what I like best about PL for last. I have spent my entire adult life thinking of myself as a Renaissance man. I have thought of myself that way as I maintain active interests in a great many things and always look to acquire more information about them. To me, PL serves as a playground for my mind and my desire to acquire more knowledge and information. The breadth of its scope and depth of its coverage are generally quite good. That means that I can gather information about myriad topics, some of which relate to my practice and others of which relate to my personal interests or simply my desire to learn about something new. I see PL, especially with its new performance enhancers, as a viable and potentially very helpful tool for practicing law, learning the law, learning about various aspects of the law, and helping with the drafting of documents. I also see it as a far more broadly based addition to the general body of knowledge available to explore new areas of interest in and outside of the law.

Thomson Reuters is a sponsor of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, and this article appears pursuant to the Division’s agreement with them. Neither the ABA nor ABA entities endorse non-ABA products or services. This article is not an endorsement by the ABA or the Division of any Thomson Reuters product or service. The author of this review received complimentary access to the product being reviewed for the purpose of enabling him to complete the review.