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Legal enterprise search grows sophisticated

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"One group of associates told us that when they wanted to find that type of information, they went to one partner who kept a closet full of notebooks, and they would find the right notebook, copy pages and bring it back," Stephens says. "Of course, that doesn't help when you are traveling. And attorneys in our Atlanta office knew nothing about it."

So the firm decided that enterprise search was the highest priority to make information available across practices. The document management system did have some search tools but they weren't user friendly. They entered a string of words and crossed their fingers, according to some attorneys. "You had to know where to look," Stephens says, "but if you knew where to look, you wouldn't need the tool! Some attorneys said they couldn't find their own work, much less that of other attorneys."

During the March 2010 pilot project implementing Recommind, one partner became upset, Stephens says, that all the tax practice's documents were available for every attorney in the firm to see. He was convinced that a young associate could e-mail sensitive documents to Above the Law, a legal gossip website that is the "Gawker" of the legal world. He wanted tax law to be separated from the rest of the content.

That led to the whole system being shut down for a week while the topic of security and confidentiality was discussed. "It was decided that cross-practice work is really important, and we can't segregate it," Stephens says. "Upper management levels have pride in the firm's collegial and academic nature."

Another challenge is that many documents are profiled incorrectly. And cleaning up the data is time-consuming.

DLA Piper

International law firm DLA Piper has been working on enterprise search for several years because it needed a way for attorneys to leverage fellow attorneys' expertise. "With the firm growing, we couldn't rely on casual interactions to help find the expertise," says Dave Jensen, director of IT and KM. The firm used Recommind for several years and appreciated its expertise locator feature.

But DLA Piper has grown even larger through mergers and become a global law firm with 4,200 lawyers across 77 offices and 31 countries. With that growth, it has shifted its thinking about enterprise search. "We are basically a Microsoft shop. Our intranet is built on SharePoint," Jensen explains. The firm wanted to standardize on one enterprise search solution that could leverage its investments in Microsoft's SharePoint and FAST platforms, and connect to other legal systems in use at the firm.

"We understand that FAST is at the heart of Microsoft's search strategy," Jensen says. "We saw BA Insight could help us extend the search system and build matter portals. We went live with it in April 2012, and we are pulling information from a variety of sources including customer resource management, accounting and document management."

Jensen is most excited about the capability to build new search-based applications internally. "We can pull information that has been siloed into new business applications that give our attorneys useful views of information," he says. "I imagine that once they see the value of those, we will get even more requests for databases to be pulled together to be searched in other useful ways."

Electronic matter files

Consultant Shy Alter said John Gillies' description of a user interface that more closely resembles how attorneys work is the right way to go. In the old days, the matter file was where attorneys knew their information was stored in physical folders, but now the information they need is fragmented across many different systems. "The electronic matter file recreates the convenience they used to have,"  Alter said. "It will take search to the next level."

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