What Google Can Teach You about Effective E-Discovery Search

googleUniversityIn e-discovery, it all comes down to search. All the time spent collecting and reviewing. All the whiz-bang platforms from an array of vendors. All the newfangled technologies such as predictive coding and computer-assisted review. They all have one predominant purpose: To search for nuggets within mountains of data.

As Catalyst’s CEO John Tredennick put it so well in a post here last year, “Without search, we would be in a world of hurt, at least for e-discovery.”

Given this, it is surprising how little so many of us understand about even the most rudimentary principles of effective search. Google has spoiled us. We type some words in the query field and expect results. That may work for finding a recipe or a restaurant, but it doesn’t stand up to standards of defensibility in e-discovery.

What many e-discovery professionals desperately need is a course in the fundamentals of basic and advanced search techniques. It should be a course that would cover the key concepts, that would explain how to use operators, that would show how to filter results, and that would demonstrate how to tie these together to create complex searches.

Ideally, because we’re all busy, the course could be taken from our desktops, at our convenience. And, because we’re all tightwads at heart, the course should be free of cost.

As it turns out, there is such a course, and it comes courtesy of the very search powerhouse that I’ve already blamed for spoiling us, Google.

Power Searching with Google

In July, Daniel Russell, a senior research scientist at Google, presented a course, Power Searching with Google. The course consisted of a series of videos of Russell demonstrating search techniques, along with activities and assessments you could perform to test your skills. Those who completed it were awarded a “Power Searching with Google” certificate. Until just a few days ago, the entire course remained online, available for anyone to view. The July course is now closed, but the good news is that Google is about to begin a new session. It starts Sept. 24 and registration remains free of charge.

The course is composed of six “classes,” each consisting of multiple lessons. From start to finish, the classes take you from elementary to advanced, beginning with a basic discussion of how search works and ending with demonstrations of how to combine advanced techniques to find pinpoint results.

Let me be clear: This is not a class in e-discovery search. It is about Google search. However, while the search syntax the lessons use is specific to Google, the search concepts they teach are universal.

In fact, it was one of the search consulting experts at Catalyst who told me about the course. “Every law student and every practicing attorney embarking on his or her first intensive e-discovery case should take this course,” he urged.

Here is some of what the course teaches:

  • Class 1 is an introduction to “being a great internet searcher.” It covers how search works, the art of keyword choices, and why word order matters, among other topics.
  • Class 2 is a series of lessons on how to interpret and build on search results.
  • Class 3 begins to explore advanced search techniques, demonstrating ways both to filter and expand a search and to remove invasive or irrelevant results.
  • Class 4 is titled “Find facts faster” and it focuses on features built in to Google that help you narrow and refine your searches and quickly jump to specific types of results.
  • Class 5 covers fact checking and includes tips worth noting in e-discovery, such as how to search for variations of a concept and how to avoid biasing your searches through your queries.
  • The final class consists of three lessons focused on “putting it all together.” It shows you how to combine search techniques into complex queries and how to “think outside the box” in constructing searches.

The lessons are presented through a series of short videos that you can watch in bite-sized chunks. Text versions of each lesson are also available. I recommend both: Watch the videos then save the documents for later reference.

If the course whets your appetite for search information, you may also want to follow Russell’s blog, SearchReSearch, where he writes about search and search skills and offers regular search challenges where you can test your own search skills. Also, Google provides a range of training videos on everything from Google Scholar to Google Maps through its Google Search Education site.

As that Catalyst search expert said to me in recommending this course, “Not only will you be a better searcher, you may just impress your kids next time they ask you for help on their science project.” That alone is worth its weight in nuggets.


About Bob Ambrogi

Bob is known internationally for his expertise in the Internet and legal technology. He held the top editorial positions at the two leading national U.S. legal newspapers, the National Law Journal and Lawyers USA. A long-time advisor to Catalyst, Bob now divides his time between law practice and media consulting. He writes two blogs, LawSites and MediaLaw, co-authors Law.com's Legal Blog Watch, and co-hosts the weekly legal-affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer. A 1980 graduate of Boston College Law School, Bob is a life member of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation and an active member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, which honored him in 1994 with its President's Award.