Law firm turns to software to ease case data searches

With 19 offices around the globe, it was becoming harder for the 3,000 attorneys and support staff members at law firm Morrison & Foerster to quickly find needed case information.

The attorneys and other legal staff members had to log in remotely to voluminous, poorly organized document management systems in each location to find information -- if they could locate it at all. The old system was difficult to search, with some data available in disparate global offices, some available through the law firm's portal and some data in client databases -- all using slow connections.

"The big problem was that we had too many systems," said Oz Benamram, knowledge management counsel at the San Francisco-based firm. "Basically, nothing could be found. When you work in an organization, I need 'the' answer, not 'an' answer."

Three years ago, the law firm began looking for alternatives, evaluating options from consumer-focused search engines such as Google and Yahoo to software vendors that specialize in legal firms and enterprise search.

After considering 14 possibilities over the course of a year, Morrison & Foerster chose two finalists -- enterprise search and knowledge management vendor Recommind and search vendor Endeca Technologies. After three months of massaging their applications for testing -- and adding the capacity to handle millions of documents -- workers in the firm had two options to test under real-world conditions. The firm eventually picked Recommind.

"We call it Googlizing [Morrison & Foerster]," Benamram said. "Recommind goes on top of [the data] and finds everything."

The law firm uses two Recommind applications: MindServer Legal Matters & Expertise and MindServer Legal Enterprise Search. The applications are Web-based and require no formal training for users. The Recommind products have been renamed in-house as Morrison & Foerster's AnswerBase.

"The rollout was a 10-minute demo," Benamram said, adding that users who missed the presentation needed only a five-minute video to learn how to use the applications.

All of the firm's 1,100 attorneys and 1,900 support staff members got access to the search software when it was rolled out last spring.

Bob Tennant, CEO of Recommind, said the company's Enterprise Search module includes a data "crawler" that peruses the law firm's native systems, finding data and pointing to it for retrieval by users; the Matters & Expertise module joins the data and allows inferences to be made across the data objects identified. The system essentially creates virtual objects from data, with each lawyer or staff member being "seen" as the documents they have written, the projects they have worked on and the human resources data held by the company.

"It's creating virtual representations out of data that is already there," Tennant said.

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