“Search” is familiar territory for lawyers – the term impliedly describes computer-aided discovery, evolved from the longer, two-syllable term “research”, which, of course, includes old school book-based methods. But search itself is an evolving concept. We are far from the days of early Boolean search on a Walt II terminal. Furthermore, electronic search for lawyers now must adress the needs of both the legal researcher and the e-discovery expert.
I stumbled across an article today at Law.com’s Law Technology News entitled “What Lawyers Need To Know About Search Tools.” The article is written byMark Grossman and Terry Sweeney. Glancing only at the title, I thought it might be a *yawn* list of free on-line legal resources or *yawn* 1L explanation of how to form a search query. Not so. Written from the e-discovery perspective with the apparent intent of helping lawyers properly respond to discovery requests and comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure, the article is a decent critique of keyword searching as an effective means of information retrieval, particularly over vast stores of e-documents.
By far, the best part of the article is the section entitled A VARIETY OF MODELS, which discusses variations on the theme of concept searching. The authors explain how taxonomies and ontologies (oooh, semantic!) can power-up search systems, retrieving far more relevant results than simple keyword search, particularly if beefed up with mathematical or statistical algorithms and/or combined with metadata. The authors concede the keyword and Boolean searching is still useful for small and rolling data sets. Nonetheless, it is clear that new search models are pushing our ability to quickly find and categorize information and changing the very definition of what constitutes a “reasonable” search.
The authors conclude that perfection is not the goal and reasonableness is, well, reasonable in e-discovery. My take away is a little different – the better our machine language / learning systems, tighter the algorithms and more consistent and deep the metadata, the closer we will get to perfection in search results. I, for one, can’t wait.