Why Can’t You Just Make It Work Like Google? Part 2 – Good Enough Is Not Good Enough

My post Why Can’t You Just Make it Work Like Google? last week surprised me by going viral. Well, as viral as a blog post about information management can go. It certainly seems to have struck a nerve with people from all across the legal industry. It turns out that making search work effectively inside the organization is something a lot of people are attempting to tackle. After posting it, however, I realized there is also a reason why you would not even want to use Google as it functions out on the Internet for use inside the organization.

Allow me to recap: documents or information or intranet pages inside the organization cannot benefit from the “recommendations” of links from other websites, unlike the way Google search results are created.

However, one big reason why you would not want to use Google as we do on the Internet for searching inside your organization: the results it pulls up are just “good enough”. That is, unless you have a specific webpage or document name to work from, you may be getting inaccurate results.

You are pulling up results that do well in the search results rankings according to Google’s search algorithm, but this does not necessarily mean they are the exact results you need. You are seeing results that are pulling up as a result of all that linking from outside, and possibly from other Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics being used by organizations to drive their results up in the list.

Even if you are an expert researcher well versed in all the tricks of searching Google, it can be pretty darn difficult to run an accurate search. That is, you may be looking for the best law firm in Winnipeg, but quite possibly that law firm could be falling on pages 2 or 3 (or 10 or 12) of the Google search results. And who among us spend the time to click through to page 2 or 3, much less 10 or 12?

Compare with the searching we do at work inside our organizations: we look for the exact answer, the exact document, or ALL the documents that follow a specific criteria. Unless you are looking for a “quick and dirty” result such as a sample letter, there is little room for fuzziness.

If you are looking for all the documents created on a client file, or all documents on a specific subject, or all documents to be pulled out of the system for the purposes of destruction under a records management program, quite frankly “good enough” is not good enough.

One solution that we see floating around frequently is the idea of full text searching — “We just need a search engine that is powerful enough to search the full text of all the documents.” This would be nice if we worked in organizations that only produced a few hundred documents. But in the case of legal organizations, lawyers can produce millions of documents. Searching full text in this case quite likely means sorting through hundreds or thousands of documents that pull up in the search results.

What do do? Again, it seems that indexing the documents as they are added to the system is the best bet. Which means creating some sort of classification system or list of index terms or taxonomy is required.

A lot of people offered up their thoughts for alternatives to me on Facebook. What about you: what do you think is the solution? Do you have search working well in your organization? How is this being achieved? Please, I invite you to share your thoughts with us.


  1. The answer is to install Recommind Decisiv Search in your law firm. Decisiv Search combines sophisticated enterprise search technology with a simple Google style user interface that helps users quickly and easily find the information they need. Rules-based access enables secure customization of results for each user, giving optimal relevancy in context as well as increased control over the display and ranking of information by administrators. With over 10 years of installing enterprise search solutions in law firms worldwide, Recommind is as close to implementing an out of the box enterprise search solution as you will find anywhere.

  2. I would suggest that ‘like Google’ is not actually the same as being ‘Google’ and the challenge as you have correctly stated is bringing back the right results but more importantly from only the right resources.

    The additional challenge for traditional enterprise search solutions is that they have to crawl and index the content and then apply search and indexing algorithms to the entire index or set of indexes. This is not ideal for legal content as it can mean that this alternative indexing changes the results the user sees when compared to the high value and actively managed online information services. The loss in consistency between the native online service and the new index is simply not good enough for most lawyers and they can be turned off by the different results returned by the new index.

    Enterprise search has its place and is suitable for indexing large unstructured and primarily internal data sets such as email, DMS, intranets, etc but would you trust these tools to crawl over and index the more structured content available in paid for services like Westlaw, Lexis Library, PLC, Justis or can such tools even reach out and index all of this content and if so at what cost and who manages the huge infrastructure and volumes required?

    ‘Like Google’ means a simple, easy to use solution that returns the right results from the right resources in a consistent and predictable manner. By combining traditional Enterprise Search products, like Recommind, with the Solcara Legal Search (advanced federated search for legal resources) technology firms can achieve a Google like experience with the benefits of a predictable, consistent and easy to use search interface. With more than 25 leading law firms now making use of Solcara the solution is already out there and available, what’s more it works with whatever systems you have with minimal infrastructure and connections to most UK legal services.

  3. Thank you both for finding this post and discussing your tools.

    John, I know a number of firms are successfully using Recommind for search. While the search interface may be Google-like, it sounds to me like the way results are found is not, which is a good thing! What kind of work is needed to put it into place?

    Rob, I had not heard of Solcara. I see from the website it is a Thomson Reuters product focussing on federated search. I hadn’t even tackled the idea of federated search yet, but certainly a number of legal organizations (not just law firms) have been looking into this also.

    I’m curious to know from readers if there are other solutions out there?

  4. Connie,

    Thanks for two great articles. It provides me great food for thought.

    I am really interested in your view on “content” versus “people”. Actually, when you think of “people” are the key knowledge source, and “contents” are just a form to capture knowledge in the written form, the whole enterprise search issue is getting different and much more interesting. The whole principle will actually serve enterprise environment much better. In another word, you are connect people (or knowledge owner) with content as the context, so all the tacit knowledge within people’s heads could be unlocked, shared, and ideally captured.

    This principle is the whole concept behind a startup we are working on called Acrossio. So, your comments on people (+content) search for knowledge sharing would be super useful to us. :)



  5. The most sophisticated development of the technology for an internal centralized database of legal materials that is available to all lawyers within a law office is at the LAOLAW division of Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). It has been the best and biggest centralized legal research unit in Canada since July 3, 1979–the day I started to develop it as its first Director of Research. It saves LAO millions of dollars every year by providing legal memoranda and document drafting precedents, specifically written for each requesting lawyer’s file. Therefore, it has the technology which could solve Canada’s law societies’ greatest problem–that the majority of the population cannot obtain legal services at reasonable cost–if made available to all lawyers at cost, for all of their cases, in all fields of law. As suggested by Connie Crosby for building internal databases, LAOLAW uses index searches to access all of the various kinds of materials within its databases. That allows each database to be purged of superseded materials by simply removing the index entries for those materials, rather than having to delete the purged materials themselves. That mandatory procedure of database management identifies the most serious and common failing of law office databases–they are not purged of superseded materials at the time new material is entered into the database. As a result of that failing, searches retrieve a lot of extensively duplicative materials, all of which has to be read to be sure that all useful arguments and writings have been found. Do you bill the client for all of that duplicative reading time? There are several other cost-saving innovations that have been developed at LAOLAW since July 3, 1979. And equally important, attitudes have changed. For example, research lawyers no longer complain, as they did when I employed them 30 and more years ago, that having to work on a desktop computer was turning them into clerical workers who type on typewriters, which was not what they became lawyers for. Now, well trained legal research lawyers don’t need secretaries, stenographers, and Dictaphones, which were thought to be essential to a lawyer’s productivity, status, and self-respect 30 years ago. The developed technology of centralized legal research has been ignored in all of the reports written about the law societies’ “legal services unavailable at reasonable cost” problem. Pity!