How do you find information, documents, emails, etc. that is stored on your system? Interestingly, although many attorneys have become proficient in using Google, LexisNexis, Westlaw and similar tools, they are at a near-total loss when it comes to finding information stored on their firm’s servers in a document management system such as Worldox. Why is this and what can you do about it?
First consider various search paradigms. If you think of your document store as a huge book, how do you find information? You could read everything – much too slow and not practical. You could scroll through the table of contents represented by the directory structure(s) in which documents are stored. This is better, but still very slow and the structures created by different users may be wildly inconsistent. Lastly, you could use an index of your documents and the text in them. This is obviously the best approach and is the solution that document management systems provide.
Proponents of a “do it yourself” approach to document management argue that a well-defined directory structure, typically organized by client, matter and type of document, with document names starting with a date in the format 2012-02-07 can provide an adequate substitute for a “costly” document management system. Even without a conscious rationale, many users substitute for an index by creating extensive systems of directories and subdirectories. This is useful for an individual user, but may be more or less impenetrable to anyone else who needs to find a document. Further, this sort of system will not scale very well. It will rapidly become cumbersome for hundreds of clients, not to mention thousands.
A document management system such as Worldox takes the equivalent of a directory structure (client/matter/document type and sometimes other information) and organizes it into an index. When combined with the ability to full-text search documents, this provides more reliable, faster and much more powerful searching to a degree that is simply not possible when based on a directory structure. To take just a couple of examples:
• Search across all clients for pleadings containing certain words (e.g., “thumb within 10 words of amputate”)
• Search for documents done within a given time span.
• Search for all documents for a given client except for emails. In an era where emails can overwhelm people, this can be critical. For example, I have 726 documents in my system for one long-standing client. Not very useful in terms of a search. But if I search for all documents but NOT emails, I am down to 105, which is much more manageable.
• Search for all emails To John Doe containing certain terms.
The index that is provided here is in what is known as a “silo.” That is, you have to specify certain criteria before you do the search. Silos are somewhat in ill-favor by those in the “knowledge management” world. Some programs, such as Worksite, claim to offer an over-all search of all information on your system (for a fee). And it would appear that Google does the same thing – you just put in more or less free-flowing search information and get results back.
But in fact, Google constructs a personalized “silo” for each user without telling you, based on the location of your IP address, the Cookies on your computer, your past history, etc. A truly free-form search would return much too much information (like those 15,000,000 hits that pop up in Google, of which you only ever look at the first page or two). In fact, Google has publicly integrated this into its “privacy settings” so that starting March 1, it keeps all your information from all your sources – Google email and documents, Picassa, Google +, YouTube, Google Maps, etc. and applies it to all other sources. And, unless the uproar dies down and Google retracts, there is no way to opt out. Google will control you.
In addition, Google will now sort new searches based on old searches. This strikes me as an extremely backward approach, since it will likely result in having access to an ever-more restricted set of information. You will be searching on a shrinking amount of data, not an expanding one that will find new things you had not considered before.
So most document management systems, one way or another, employ silos: you have to minimally define what it is you are looking for in order to construct a search. However, I do not see this as an issue, since most attorneys have some idea of what they are looking for – certain terms in a documents, certain types of documents, a date range when they were done, etc.
Many users want a document management system to mimic their prior directory-based “table of contents” approach. And many DMS’s respond to this desire by mirroring it with topics such as “My Matters.” While this can be useful in the context of an index-based search, ultimately it just builds old inefficiencies into a new system. Making optimum use of a document management system such as Worldox involves getting your head around using an index, not relying on paradigms you used before such a system existed.