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Will retrieval engines replace search engines for lawyers?

January 25, 2012

Christian Dirschl, a content architect with Wolters Kluwer, has an interesting piece this morning on the future of retrieval engines, which he believes are going to replace search engines as we know them today.

The information needed could be existing textual content that we have been publishing for decades. But the user should not have to search for it, he or she would only need a snippet which includes the information and hints where to find similar stuff or more detailed things, etc.

The key is creating a user interface which does not require one to enter a search.

The question now is how to create an intelligent interface between the information and the software application, which takes into account all the context information coming from the software and also knows everything about the content that contains the answers. So the software itself is asking the retrieval automatically on a more or less permanent basis for hints that help the user in his current situation. And these hints and answers are displayed as context information within the professional workflow the user is currently executing.

Dirschl believes the gap between the existing data or content and a software application that delivers the data in context is huge. The software is not here today, but I am not sure the gap is all that huge.

The legal industry, through e-discovery, has invested huge sums in delivering a context to raw data. Interfaces have been developed to ‘discover’ spines of relevant data which are then displayed without entering a search term.

Google, which no doubt is studying the concepts of discovery and retrieval, is adding another element, being social. What will others bring us as relevant data without us needing to run another search?

I’m interested in the concept of retrieval or discovery because of all the latent data included in lawyers’ blogs. Each and every day thousands of legal blog posts, some of course better than others, are penned by practitioners and academics.

With retrieval or discovery, the insight and commentary offered by these law blog posts would not need to be searched for. A lawyer doing case or statutory law research could have blog content displayed in context along side their research. A lawyer drafting a pleading, brief, or transactional document could have relevant insight or clauses displayed which other lawyers have blogged about.

Imagine the ability to advance the law and advance cases by connecting ‘like minds.’ Imagine the ability to reach out and connect with possible co-counsel who has addressed similar issues.

LexBlog’s role today is threefold: 1) To develop a sound and scalable technology infrastructure for blogging and social engagement, 2) To hone and scale our teaching methodology that enables lawyers to blog and engage socially, and 3) To curate content so as to create a community that fosters discovery (as we know it today) of people and content and exchange that leads to relationships.

It will be up to the rocket scientists elsewhere to develop the software solutions that enable retrieval and the user interfaces which drive it.

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