Oregon State Bar Bulletin — APRIL 2008
Fingerprints and Clusters
New Legal Search Tool Has Broad Potential
By Robert Ambrogi

A powerful new search tool that had its start in the medical field is now branching into law. From what I have seen, it promises to be a major player in the field, not just for online searching, but also — through the engine that drives it — for e-discovery and knowledge management.

I am a fan of search tools that use clustering — organizing results into folders and subfolders so that you can more easily narrow results. This new tool, to use an overworked phrase, is clustering on steroids. Through semantic analysis and weighting, it delivers highly targeted search results. It then presents the results in a graphical format that reveals not only the most relevant hits, but also related concepts, patterns and even timelines within the data.

The company behind this search tool is Collexis, www.collexis.com, based in Columbia, S.C. Through its long-time research partner and recent acquisition, the German company SyynX Solutions, it operates the web-based search tool Mediator. Mediator is designed to be used by legal professionals to conduct medical research, using the Medline and Cochrane medical databases as its sources.

So far, the best way to get access to Mediator is by taking advantage of discounts offered by the handful of bar associations that have affinity relationships with Collexis. As of this writing, two state bars offer it, South Carolina and North Carolina, as do trial lawyers’ organizations in Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts and Nebraska.

Others can access it, as less favorable pricing, through Mediator’s public site, www.mediator.syynx.com/english. The company is preparing to add new pricing plans for non-affiliated users that will allow for daily and annual registrations.

Perhaps more notably, Collexis just announced its acquisition of legal publishing company Lawriter LLC, operator of the legal research service Casemaker, www.casemaker.us, which contracts with 28 state bar associations to provide research services to their members. It also announced the purchase of an additional legal library consisting of 3.5 million documents to add to Casemaker’s existing library of cases, statutes and other materials. The company plans to continue to offer Casemaker while also adding a premium service with enhanced features.

Search Fingerprinting
The signature characteristic of the Collexis search engine is what it calls Fingerprinting. For each database, Collexis creates a thesaurus — or what might be called a search vocabulary. Using that vocabulary, it creates a Fingerprint of each unique document within the database. The Fingerprint is a profile of key concepts contained within the document and their weight.

When conducting a basic search, this Fingerprinting helps ensure a high degree of relevance in the search results. Collexis ranks the weight of concepts within documents on a number of variables, with specific terms weighted higher than general terms, for example, or words in a title given greater weight than words in the text.

Search results are displayed in a highly graphical page called a Search Fingerprint. The top half of this page shows what Collexis determined to be the top-ranked concepts within your query and the weighting attached to each. The bottom half of the page lists matching documents by their degree of relevance, along with lists of key concepts and terms within the documents and graphic depictions of their relative weights.

Also displayed on the results page is a graphical timeline of search results. This can help reveal trends in public and scientific interest in a topic.

One feature that makes Collexis stand out is the ability to modify the weight of search concepts. Going back to the top-of-the-page search fingerprint showing the most heavily weighted concepts, each includes radio buttons allowing you to assign them greater or lesser weights. Perhaps a concept that you know could help you narrow your search is rated low. Click the button to reset it as higher priority and Collexis immediately reruns the search using this new parameter.

In the same way, click any of the listed concepts that appear on the lower half of the page to add them to the Search Fingerprint and then use the buttons to assign them relative weights. Or, through a feature called "Semantic Analysis," Collexis will create an index of top-level and subsidiary concepts related to your search. Click any term in the list to add it to your Search Fingerprint.

Another key feature is the ability to form your queries using any amount of text, from a single word to a complete document. In an example shown by the company, the concluding paragraph from a research article about suicidal behavior among adolescents using antidepressants is copied and pasted into the search field. The same could be done with a patent filing or a deposition excerpt.

In addition to using Mediator for medical research, it can also be used to find medical and scientific experts. For each author of each retrieved article, Mediator can display a profile showing published articles and also using conceptual analysis to show the author’s main areas of focus. This means that authors are ranked not by how much they write, but by the relevance of their writing to your research.

The easiest way to do this is to click the "Expert" tab that appears on the search results page. This reveals a list of authors, sorted by the relevance of their writings to your search. Click any author’s name to open a window showing the author’s publications alongside a weighted list of key concepts, showing you at a glance the author’s primary areas of specialization.

You can view a demonstration of Mediator and sign up for a six-hour free trial through the South Carolina Bar Association’s website at http://scbar.mediator.syynx.com. Non-members of the South Carolina bar can register for the trial by entering their e-mail address in place of a bar number.

Meanwhile, watch for new developments in the area of legal research following the company’s acquisition of Casemaker.

Robert Ambrogi, who practices law in Rockport, Mass., is the former editor of National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly USA. He is internationally known for his writing about the Internet and technology.

© 2008 Robert Ambrogi

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