Future-proofing law firms through enterprise search

Massood Zarrabian, CEO, and Debbie Ferolito, chief marketing officer, BA Insight, suggest a source of inspiration for firms to transform team members’ ability to find what they need in the moment

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Google turned 23-years-old in September of 2021. Could you have imagined the impact Google has had on how we find information? And a world without Google in the last 20 months? The Google search bar has left competitors in the dust, continuously becoming better at helping anybody, anywhere, anytime, on any device, to find information, no matter where it is or how old it is.

Sadly, enterprise-driven search, whether for employees, clients, or your web visitors, is behind the times and quite archaic. Many of our customers tell us that they hear team members say, “Why can’t we search like Google?”  That search experience improves productivity, reduces duplication of effort, and increases engagement. Why would somebody prefer to sift through multiple systems, or look through a document page by page, instead of using a search bar that brings you the information you asked for?

Until recently, providing a Google-like search experience has been difficult. But technology has changed, and you can now address many search-based application needs with ease.

Here is a recipe for what has made Google such a useful solution, contrasted with the typical situation in a law firm, highlighting how you can innovate and future-proof your firm.

1) Infrastructure connectivity
  • Google: The web is interconnected, enabling Google to literally search the world.
  • Law firms: Also use state-of-the-art technology networks and connectivity, continuing to make investments to keep up with the ever-changing world.
2) Information connectivity
  • Google: There are no silos on the web. You don’t have to go site to site to find information. The Google search bar finds it, regardless of where it is or how old it is.
  • Law firms: This is not true in many law firms. Team members either need to know where to go, or sift system-by-system, each system with its own quirks. Emulating the web and connecting information to a unified interface is the first step to providing a Google-like experience.
3) Relevancy
  • Google: On the web, if it’s not on the first page, then forget it. It is rare that we click to the second page. As much as a lot of it is Google ‘magic’, the reality is that if the content isn’t tagged, it won’t be on the first page. SEO, a multi-billion-dollar industry, came about to address this issue and organisations invest meaningfully to tag web pages so they can be found.
  • Law firms: The state of tagging information within an enterprise is pretty bad. The challenge is that there are a variety of systems, each with their own sets of issues.

User tagging doesn’t work, older information is not tagged, and there is no SEO for the enterprise. The issue gets exacerbated because the tags need to represent the totality of a document – versus the web, where tags are per page. Without tagging, users cannot find the right documents and the first-page results won’t be relevant. To future-proof, firms must have an emphasis on using technology to automate document understanding and tagging. The best-in-class approach is to tag information automatically as part of connecting systems to a search engine. In some cases, like the document management systems (DMS), auto-tagging can be done directly within the DMS with technologies like AutoClassifier.

4) Single versus multiple indices
  • Google: The web is a combination of the two. Many sites have their own index, but Google can federate across multiple indices with a fabulous user experience. Amazon has its own search engine, as does Expedia, and then there is Google. When you search, multiple results are merged at search time for a seamless search experience.
  • Law firms: A decade ago, federation/search time merge had an awful reputation, but things have changed. New search engines are open and flexible, and many new application platforms (such as NetDocuments) use modern search engines and have APIs that remove the ‘lowest common denominator’ impact on users, which existed 10+ years ago.

A web-like hybrid approach is the way to go, where the live DMS search index is merged with a second index that is rich with information from a variety of other firm systems. There are huge advantages to this approach, as the freshness of the indices provides updated results, and the lifetime cost and burden on IT are much lower.

To future-proof, firms must have an emphasis on using technology to automate document understanding and tagging. The best-in-class approach is to tag information automatically as part of connecting systems to a search engine. In some cases, like the document management systems (DMS), auto-tagging can be done directly within the DMS

5) Searching
  • Google: On the web you can use keywords and sentences, make typos, see previous searches, and still find relevant information. Search-as-you-type understands your intent and navigates you. Also, analytics helps organisations to make intelligent decisions about improving search.
  • Law firms: NLP technologies such as Microsoft Cognitive Services, Amazon Comprehend and Open-Source Technologies like Rasa and spaCy, along with back-end analytics, enable law firms to emulate what Google does.
6) Personalised search results
  • Google: Considers factors such as location, search history, interests, user intent, and more to provide personalised search results.
  • Law firms: With newer, integrated software you can provide similar or better functionality. Team members searching for information can receive personalised results based on a variety of criteria. They can even find experts based on their digital footprints – for example, proposals or matters they have worked on, or the number of hours spent on a matter.
7) Web search is actionable
  • Google: On the web, as soon as you find information, you can act.
  • Law firms: Hybrid robotic automation and integration platforms make this possible within law firms. Users can stay within search and take actions without needing to go to multiple systems.
Customise or connect?

When Microsoft acquired FAST and introduced SharePoint 2010, many tried customised implementations to solve findability issues.

A customised approach is expensive, hard to maintain, inflexible and not future-proofed. Technology has evolved such that law firms can now mix and match search engines and NLP platforms with BA Insight’s out of the box connectors to deploy search-based applications that improve productivity, loyalty and the search experience for employees, clients, and website visitors. In our opinion, the way to future-proof search deployments is to make use of a technology-driven, best-of-breed approach that provides 100% flexibility.

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