Searching for Concept Searching at LegalTech New York

Legal vendors far and wide have jumped on the concept search bandwagon after the ruling in Victor Stanley.   But if you ask the typical attorney to define concept searching all she can really tell you is that is isn’t  keyword searching. 

Part of the problem is that vendors often rely on  “black box” technology where users enter a query and get a result, with no understanding of how those results were obtained.  Part of the problem is that understanding how those results were obtained often seems to require a degree in paranormal psychology. Which is exactly why I think this will be one of the top three topics at Legal Tech New York next week.  (The other two?  Early case analysis and figuring out which vendors will still be in business at Legal Tech 2010.)

So can we help define the parameters of this discussion at all?  Well, first it is important to note what concept searching is NOT. It is not a content search which recognizes patterns of  text in documents and then displays documents that have similar content.  Content search engines match documents with search criteria at the page level based on their content by finding text similar to that in a user defined database and then displaying the results based on a ranking of similarity.  This can be a ontology of concepts, categories or relations or, in the case of many applications, it can be based on the publically available WorldNet Lexical database, an open source thesaurus from Princeton University with over 100,000 English words and associations.

This type of software does not perform any type of interpretive analysis of the document and has has  historically been used within the review phase of the ediscovery process.  True concept search technologies, however, are based on semantic evaluation of the data sets and have typically been used for enterprise wide searching and as a result, are better known to legal KM wonks than e-discovery experts.  Herb Roitblat, one of the true experts in this field, has an excellent yet simple example where he describes using word patterns  to find meanings as the difference between the words court and lawyer meaning something legal versus court and basketball meaning something related to sports.

Another expert in this field is Gene Eames of (at least so far) SPi.  Browning Marean and I interviewed Gene on this topic several weeks ago for our E-Discovery Zone  broadcast and I thought it interesting that Gene felt we should look more at the process and the results rather than trying to parse definitions of the technology.  He called it focusing on “….  a formalized search process – which we sometimes refer to as an “iterative criteria refinement process.”  I think this is what Judge Grimm was going for when he said it was common sense that you would sample results of what hit or did not hit on search criteria.  This is in opposition to the more casual, ad hoc approach often taken in e-discovery whereby search terms are dreamed up by counsel, handed over to a vendor, blindly run against a collection, exported to a review platform and off we all go.”

Not to mention far more defensible which is really the point raised by Judge Grimm. 

I’ll be in New York next week and when I’m not speaking or walking around the exhibit hall talking technology, you can find me at the Anacomp CaseLogistix booth.  Stop by ….I’d love to hear about your expereinces with concept searching.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] Searching for Concept Searching at LegalTech New York Tom O’Connor explores “concept searching” as it relates to eDiscovery and describes the start of his quest for true concept searching at next week’s LegalTech New York Conference. Read it all about it on Tom’s blog – docNarative Paradigm […]


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