Thinking Like a Lawyer

It’s been a hectic year (my excuse for a lack of SLAW posts). As I gear up for a really busy fall at my new firm, I’m rather amazed that after 29 years in law firms, the debate between the browsers and the searchers has still not received the level of visibility that I think it deserves.

The issue is very important to the many law firms who are now involved in portal and enterprise search projects. At last week’s ILTA Conference in Orlando, there was certainly evidence of the continuing interest in enterprise search – Microsoft’s SharePoint Search continues to get publicity; Interwoven announced its new Universal Search, Recommind was well represented (to name a few). It may be a little harder to see the products aimed at the browsers – I view Microsoft’s SharePoint portal software as a great browse tool (even though the enterprise search part seems to get more publicity in legal circles).

It would be helpful to find some well researched studies that properly evaluate browse vs. search. Without these, those who want to be even-handed to the browsers and searchers have a tough job. Entreprise search, while quite expensive, is relatively easy to implement these days (given the amount of information in SQL databases and other discrete locations). One issue that usually comes up with implementing search is the surprise of users to suddenly discover all sorts of information that should have been secured in some fashion (but wasn’t).

Browse implementation is much harder – no one wants to spend the time and effort to create a taxonomy (if that’s the right word) but without the up-front effort to classify information, the browsers will not be happy with the end result of browse technology. Perhaps even more of a challenge is getting users to understand that they are browsers – some lawyers may insist otherwise. Unless you have a well structured browse environment, it’s a hard debate to win. And how do you get lawyers to invest in the classification exercise when they won’t see the value until the work is done?


  1. It’s a very hard debate to win. And even when you create a well tuned browsing environment, the ‘searchers’ can call it a waste because it doesn’t suit their learning/researching style. And depending ‘who’ are your browsers and searchers, firm politics can often enter the mix.

    I remember glossing over a lot of the search-browse literature in Library school. There’s been a number of times over the past few years I wish I hadn’t. Even if the analogy was a book shelf-vs-opac, the commentary around the people part of the research would stand the test of time.

    Nice post Elizabeth. Very thought provoking.