How to Achieve a Paperless Law Office – Part 3:
Document & Email Search
Recently we discussed How to Achieve a Paperless Law Office. We explored the process necessary to achieve paperless bliss, and the tools necessary to support that process.
In this supplement we’ll cover a key component to going paperless: Document & Email Search. After all, one of the biggest benefits of going paperless is being able to quickly search for–and find–the documents you’re looking for. A robust Document and Email Management System will make searching your matter’s data quick and easy.
In this post we’ll elaborate on why a universal search is critical for your law firm, how document indexing and search works, and how to go about implementing a system that implements search properly.
Indexing & Search – How it Works
Have you ever wondered how search (any search) works? How something like Google is able to quickly find what you’re looking for so fast? Most search technologies use a process called indexing. Indexing is the process of scanning all available content and making–you guessed it–an index of what content exists. Google, for instance, scours and indexes most of the Internet and builds an ever-growing index of what web sites exist where. And when a user performs a Google search: the Google search engine looks up your search query in its index.
A Document and Email Management System works similarly. (At least–the good ones do.) A Document Management System will scan and index your firm’s repository of documents, email notes and more, making everything your law firm has stored quickly searchable. A Document Management System does this much in the same way Google indexes the Internet for rapid searching: in this way, having a powerful Document and Email Management System is a bit like having your own private Google just for your matters.
In Search Of…
What your search will look in makes a big difference in how useful a search tool is. Windows Explorer, for instance, has a basic search function: but it doesn’t search within the contents of every document. DropBox and Google Drive also have a search tool, but they too are limited to searching by file name only.
It’s important that your chosen Document Management System searches everywhere. We’ll elaborate next.
Searching is only useful if the tool that does it scans every page of every document. And: documents of every type, including Word document, WordPerfect docs, PDF files, web pages and more.
Your Document Management System’s search capability should be able to not only search within each document, but search within each previous version of a document. What if what you’re looking for exists in a document–but several versions ago, and not in the current version?
Metadata and Comments
You should also be able to search a document’s metadata: the tags, comments and notes members of your firm have entered about that particular document. Especially if your firm is diligent about keeping internal notes for key matter documents: searching metadata is crucial.
Don’t Forget About Email
You should also be able to perform a single search across all documents and email. You may not know if what you’re looking for is in a document or an email. Having your documents and email managed in a single system enables your firm to be able to universally search both.
Search Within a Matter
You should also be able to narrow your search, and search within a single matter only. Imagine a matter with thousands of documents and thousands more email messages. A search across your entire Document Management System might produce a lot of irrelevant results. Being able to precisely search within one matter will save you a ton of time.
Search by Tags and Type
Another key element of precision searches is the ability to search or filter by document tags and types. A good Legal Document Management System will allow you to tag documents as one type or another. For example: you may want to tag a particular document as a motion, a pleading, a complaint and so forth. (And: a good Document Management System will allow you to define your own tags and document types.)
You should be able to filter and search by document tag and type. For example: You may need the ability to see every motion within your system. Or every contract within a particular matter.
A critical piece to making index and search work for your firm is: OCR. OCR is a process that converts scanned files such as scanned PDF’s text-enabled; without OCR many of your law firm’s documents will be completely unsearchable. In case you missed it, we recommend you read our post: Paperless Law Office: Implementing OCR.
Everything in Once Place
Now you see the importance (and power) of a robust index and search system. Index and search is a key component of a Document Management system and an important part of achieving a paperless law office.
We hope this was not only a good education, but provided some actionable intel as you work towards your own paperless law office.