The traditional view defines enterprise as a tool that allows attorneys to research and leverage work product in ways that generally are not possible with standard document management system (DMS) search. Documents are returned with contextual information, including matter and people-specific information, and results come back based on relevancy, a key advance over native DMS search. Matter profile pages are generated automatically, as are lawyer profiles based on specific expertise search criteria.
This is how enterprise search has been sold and implemented across the legal industry. The model allows firms to leverage documents, matter information and attorney expertise without the need for large non-billable time allocations and attorney content contributions, while making a firm’s entire corpus of work product available at their fingertips in a way that manual KM contribution models simply cannot scale to. Firms that have adopted enterprise search tools have, indeed, experienced measurable efficiency gains, reduced write-downs, improved internal cross-selling opportunities and produced higher-quality work product.
Counterintuitively, the success of the “documents, matters and expertise” model has led to a general innovation stasis in law firms that own search tools (with a handful of exceptions). The simple and depressing explanation is that it has been relatively easy to benefit from enterprise search – which led, also depressingly, to a lack of market desire to leverage the extraordinary brains (the search engines and indexes) behind these tools. It is similar to buying a sports car and using it for suburban grocery trips.
I see enterprise search as a powerful integration layer that can provide access to integrated and contextualized information within both standalone applications and integrated Intranets. Viewed this way, search provides much more business value than just delivering“Google-like” search results. Rather, it can be used to:
- Push information to users, using pre-determined search criteria (“canned” searches), where users see content views, rather than search results and can subscribe to topics and request notifications.
- Target users based on who they are (personas), what they are working on (via phase and task codes) and where they are working (by application or via contextual location in SharePoint).
- Power search applications responding to a variety of use cases from administrative departments (business development, conflicts and others) and practice areas.
An enterprise search selection must account for strategic considerations that go well beyond the legal industry’s widely accepted definition of enterprise search.
Users expect elegant, simple design in their Intranets, to drive and optimize adoption. This extends to searching multiple systems & repositories; these types of search must be transparent and intuitive to the user. Award winning law firm intranets now feature an integrated user-facing search box that combines search options from multiple systems into a single, guided user experience (see the illustration below):
Unified search, however, is just the beginning of the value that search can deliver via an Intranet because search can be used as a content management tool within an Intranet. Any content indexed by the search tool can be published in an Intranet by combining pre-populated search criteria with web parts that display result content in an easily consumable form. In other words, the search tool should be capable of displaying search results in multiple display formats (like, for instance, grids and tiles) as a component of an Intranet page.
This opens up the possibility of using search in place of application-specific web parts. Simple examples include displaying recent matters and documents via search. A moderately more complex example would be the display of user-generated DMS content in ways that surpass the capabilities of native DMS functionality (for example, by displaying a working file view). Even more interesting possibilities emerge when search is paired with user targeting (as we discuss below).
Innovative search uses emerge when we take advantage of “audiencing” where content is tailored based on Intranet user persona and page context. For example, an associate working on a matter can have relevant KM material suggested on the basis of matter profiling and time entry information. Similarly, experience location can be targeted to suggest peers (such as lawyers within two years of the user’s bar call) with experience on similar, relevant matters.
The combination of search and audiencing presents an opportunity to facilitate user movement through the Intranet by programmatically anticipating knowledge management and other needs. From the perspective of the attorney, the Intranet becomes a highly personalized work environment enhanced by the serendipitous discovery of relevant knowledge.
One of the most high-value uses of user targeting is the application of audiencing on matter pages to generate electronic matter files. An electronic matter file can meet several objectives, including:
leveraging time entry (particularly where phase and task codes are used) to “push” information based on matter type, role and matter phase (checklists, similar relevant matters, peer experience, etc.)
From a strategic IT perspective, the development of an electronic matter file provides an opportunity to plan its long-term document management application strategy. As the legal industry considers the evolution of DM into back-end infrastructure, a web-based electronic matter file provides the opportunity to transition to a new DM model without substantial “big bang” change management concerns – the back-end can change without materially affecting the web-based front-end seen by the firm’s users.
An enterprise search tool can also be the engine behind targeted applications for different audiences within a firm. The following are examples of search applications:
- Matter Auto-Prediction/Classification & Budgeting: Predictive coding has been in place for almost a decade in the litigation document review space; some search tools could be used to predictively code matter types, and obviate the need for lawyers to code them when opening a matter. With better and more comprehensive matter types associated with more of your matters, you could locate matters of the same type to help create budgets from the data.
- Matter Location: Locate relevant matters to leverage past experience for RFP responses and AFAs; support LPM.
- Conflict Checking: Leverage dynamically joined data across repositories; reduce risk with concept searching (e.g. Pepsi = Frito Lay); issue alerts when conflicts arise mid-matter.
- Staffing: Make more effective use of legal resources and matching the right people; leverage dynamically joined data across matter intake, HR, Time and Billing, finance repositories; locate people based on multiple factors (experience, billing rate, geography, realization).
The development of search applications is dependent on (1) access to the search index’s data layer, (2) the ability to present content in multiple view types (grids, multi-select tables, tiles, etc.) and (3) a categorization engine able to scale sufficiently to crawl all relevant repositories and be trained on your content. The right tool, integrated with the firm’s existing data and workflow infrastructure can lead to the development of extremely valuable, purpose-driven applications.
The enterprise search market is about to leap forward, as search vendors work with clients to realize the true potential of their tools. For years, clients asked for “Google for the law firm”. Today, we realize that this was the wrong question. Instead of trying to mimic other products, we needed to look at our interactions and relationships with information in the context of the practice of law. Building those use cases takes time, but the payoff is worth it.