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Concept over keywords – why search still matters for law firms

by Simon Price, UK managing director, Recommind

The ability to efficiently find and retrieve knowledge has always been important, whether it is a physical process of manually sifting through filing cabinets or, more commonly now, a machine based process.

According to IDC, companies will on average double the amount of data they create every two years. For law firms – and other knowledge-based businesses – this figure could be even higher. While more than two thirds of the top 200 law firms have implemented document management systems (DMS) to store information, these systems do very little to make the knowledge within them easily retrievable or actionable. Put another way, a DMS makes it very easy for lawyers to ’file’ items, but are not so good at enabling them to efficiently retrieve relevant knowledge when they need it. This is understandable, because DMS systems don’t come with sophisticated search and categorisation capabilities.

I believe more law firms need to appreciate and value the importance of having a good search solution and strategy. Less than one third of law firms have invested in an enterprise search solution capable of searching, finding and retrieving information across the firm’s various knowledge repositories. Too many firms are reliant on basic keyword search technologies provided as part of the their DMS, which is fine if you know exactly what item you are looking for and roughly where it resides, but very ineffective when carrying out broader research. Relying on a keyword search of a large document repository will often result in many highly relevant items being overlooked; because they don’t contain any of the keywords used in the query or because they live outside of the DMS.

In today’s increasingly competitive legal environment, the shortcomings of such an approach are obvious and therefore law firms should look to concept search technologies, which understand the context of a query to provide the most relevant knowledge from any given source. It’s this contextual understanding of information that enables concept search to support other business strategies such as knowledge sharing, expertise location and risk management.

In addition, by visually connecting the people who’ve created the relevant knowledge alongside the content being retrieved, lawyers can quickly create connections and drive engagements within a firm. By making expertise easily accessible and by providing the ability to connect people to the knowledge others have, lawyers can ensure they have access to all the legal knowledge they need in a timely manner. Furthermore being able to quickly locate relevant colleagues to recommend to a client puts the firm in a strong position to win and deliver new work. The ability to easily cross-refer legal work within the firm provides an impressive client service, and being able to demonstrate relevant experience and case studies is also vital when preparing client pitches.

Concept search should be at the core of this process to enable users to quickly and easily understand each of these elements in context with one another. It is particularly useful when searching across multiple repositories because this avoids the lawyer having to know which sort of query is best suited to which repository of information. If all the repositories are indexed with technology that can identify and extract concepts, then the users will always find the information they need when they need it.

* Recommind’s concept search platform, Decisiv Search, is used by leading law firms throughout the world, including; Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Eversheds and Simmons & Simmons.

COMMENT: Recommind has been a bit quiet on the enterprise search front over the past couple of years, apparently focussing instead on ediscovery however this has not been through any loss of interest but rather just plain economics. In a recession, search becomes a nice-to-have system that gets put on the back-burner whereas ediscovery is usually a must-have purchase because there is litigation looming. However Recommind has been chalking up a few more large law firm wins – see Insider 200 chart  – and expects to announce more search go-lives in the autumn.