Lessons for the Digital World from “Classic” Search – Restoring Lost Context

Before the age of computers, we searched with physical collections and tools. Our content could be found in books, bound volumes, pleadings bibles, case and matter files (in their Redweld® expandable files and manila folders), and card catalogues.

These tools had many characteristics other than the documents themselves. Their size and width conveyed the number of items they contained. Many had a standard order. In a transaction closing binder, the size, and physical placement of the documents offered cues that serve as shortcuts to finding content without even looking at the table of contents. With repeated use, one can find an item in a file “just by opening to the page” – a result both of familiarity with the physicality of the collection and the cues it presents. We aided our navigation with clips and later with Post-it® notes.

The physical containers and collections put search in context. Searching for an item in a case or matter file helps the searcher stay focused on the context. Each of the folders declares its own context, and reflects a human filing decision that assists the searcher. Books convey their source and authority by their author and publisher. A closing binder declares that its contents are the final and executed documents for a transaction.

Additional physical cues could be found in the documents themselves. Letterhead, memo formats, copies of documents from outside the firm have distinctive paper and other physical variations that help can help the searcher sort among the contents of a file, and remind the searcher about source, veracity and authority of the item.

Compared to physical files, our online search tools achieve gains and suffer losses. We gain full text search. We can search among multiple collections without having to retrieve a physically daunting set of materials. We gain in immediacy, and, especially in availability no matter how many must search the same content simultaneously. The file is not hidden or lost in another lawyer’s office.

Too often, though, we lose context and cues. When we start a search from the search boxes in Google and its descendants and imitators, we lose the opportunity to select immediately a context that focuses and adds meaning to a search. Displays of content lack the physical cues we used consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes we have too many and meaningless cues.

We can improve online search experience by emphasizing how to see context and cues, and how to use online search capabilities that complement or replace the techniques we mastered with physical documents, binders and indexes.

My focus here is on contexts we need when we search to find information, not contexts that are imposed on us by the tools we use, especially when they are created by marketing tools.

A searcher who seeks a product on Amazon.com or Google Shopping can employ contexts. The contexts are presented as facets and filters highly targeted to the results of the search, including price, size, product features and related products. Wikipedia also offers a variety of tools and links that focus on contexts. General purpose Google and Bing do not (yet) offer only limited context search tools, such as time, and Amazon does not (yet) offer general search.

Enterprise search tools, such as Recommind’s Decisiv Search and Northern Light’s search tools do offer faceted and context based results. Thinking back, Northern Light did so before Google arrived in public search tools. It is now a premium tool for the enterprise.

Lawyers – Overcome the “Google Search Fallacy”

We have been seduced by Google and other broad search tools to believe that with the right search term entered into a single search box, a searcher can find the results they need.


Often, Google (and Bing, and their competitors) return a good enough result among their first few hits. And for much of what we seek outside the practice of law, good enough is indeed “good enough.”

Google_MichelangeloSearch for “birthdate of Michaelangelo” and Google returns a result in 0.67 seconds that answers the question, corrects spelling and illustrates the results. The search reported a specific fact, and its most likely answer, although one can’t immediately verify the source of the information.

For practice the practice of law, “good enough” is not a high enough standard for search. Lawyers must find precise results, know their sources, and determine whether they are authoritative and complete. Often lawyers must gather a collection of results, review them, and explore where else the search will take them to assure that the search meets the lawyer’s responsibilities to their client.

Success in searching builds on many ways, many places, many times. It takes more thought and analysis than one search, more time than Google’s instantaneous results.

Contract Companion (formerly Eagle Eye) at Work – A Lawyer’s Perspective – A White Paper published in 10 Serial Episodes

Microsystems is publishing my white paper on its Contract Companion (formerly EagleEye) product in 10 serial episodes. The white paper explores in depth the needs for empowered agreement drafting and checking with Contract Companion’s capabilities. Episodes appear every Thursday on Microsystems social media pages:

The episodes can be found here:

Let’s Be Safe Out There

Favorable mention for the latest Collaborista Blog post from Jeffrey Brandt at PinHawk.


Let’s Be Safe Out There

Security from the Start

In my latest post on the Collaborista Blog, I explore how to begin a matter employing sufficient security, especially for email communication. I wrote,

There are legal matters deserving “Highly Confidential” or even “Top Secret” treatment from the start. However, more common matters such as secret merger negotiations also need protection.

Read the full post at Practicing Law Securely — Security from the Start.

“Top 12 Objections to Scanning and Destroying Paper” published by ILTA, November 2015

From the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), a November 2015 digital white paper, “Business and Financial Management – Driving Client Value” includes the article, ” Top 12 Objections to Scanning and Destroying Paper.”

In 2016 and the years to come, lawyers must be prepared to work in a world of rapid and disruptive change. When necessary, take lessons from children and grandchildren. Trade the litigation bag full of papers for a tablet with scanned documents. Your lower back surely will appreciate.


Technology Property September / October 2015

The Probate and Property magazine of the American Bar Association has published my contribution to the Technology Property column in its September / October 2015 issue.

Why do we need a power assist for document drafting and editing? It should help us to create and complete agreements, contracts, and other work products and to fashion client communications that are clear, correct, and complete. It should help make drafting precise and exact, free of error and ambiguity. It should help us against the pressures on fees, for which proofreading may not be collectible time. In a world that expects turnaround at the speed of e-mail, we may be hard-pressed to proof thoroughly. Though the prevalence of e-mail and instant messaging has made much of our communication less formal, words remain our stock-in-trade and, nearly all the time, deserve and require careful craft.

Practicing Law Securely – Current Developments, October 2015

The Practicing Law Securely series on the Collaborista blog now includes current developments reports. Here are Practicing Law Securely current developments for October 2015.

Follow the link to the full collection of Practicing Law Securely blog posts.



Blacksberg Associates offers strategies and tactics for the technology of law. Blacksberg Associates is now  engaged to assist law firms in the selection and transformation of their technology, as well as providing CLE training. Blacksberg Associates also works with leading vendors of legal technology to assist in the identification, explanation and implementation of significant new technologies.

Lawyers – Overcome the “Google Search Fallacy”

We have been seduced by Google and other broad search tools to believe that with the right search term entered into a single search box, a searcher can find the results they need. Instantly. Often, Google (and Bing, and their competitors) return a good enough result among their first few hits. And for much of […]

Practicing Law Securely – a blog series at the CollaboristaBlog

Enjoy Bob Blacksberg’s posts on the CollaboristaBlog, hosted by Intralinks. The first post, “Practicing Law Securely – Be Aware” begins a series devoted to data security and the practice of law. The posts balance understanding risks, professionalism and practical guidance. To say that data security is a hot issue may be the understatement of 2015.

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