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Has your firm become an e-mail-centric culture? If you’re not sure, try answering the following questions: 1. Are your e-mail storage requirements expanding at a rate previously unseen outside of laboratory experiments? 2. Do you think a 75 MB mailbox is small? 3. Can you read the latest Harry Potter book in the amount of time it takes to backup your e-mail server? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, congratulations! You are an e-mail-centric! Rather than fight the flood, turn your storage problem into a resource. Those gigabytes of storage contain more than just fax cover sheets and invitations to lunch. They are rich with the knowledge your attorneys work with every day — such as innovative points of law, important contract clauses and cutting edge client advice. Use e-mail mining to find the knowledge nuggets and attorney experts hidden in the data. The trick is separating the knowledge from the noise. HOMEGROWN MINING Until Microsoft gives us Web Store for searching our Exchange databases, you can mine your e-mail system with homegrown tools and attorney support. Create unique public folder “homes” for items worth saving. For example, “patent.mail,” “labor.info” or “real.estate.ideas” are aliases you might choose to label your e-mail repositories. Once e-mails have been forwarded to their new homes, you can access these e-mails through keyword searches. While this seems simple enough, the challenge is motivating your attorneys to feed the repositories with content. At 3 a.m., what’s important is getting the answer to the client, not sending a really hot definition or legal insight to a knowledge base. Perhaps you’d prefer a tool that’s less human-work-intensive. How about a knowledge base your attorneys will create without even knowing it? Meet KnowledgeMail by Tacit Knowledge Systems. KnowledgeMail is a software application that silently and privately develops public and private knowledge profiles about each of your attorneys based on their outgoing e-mail content and attached documents. This may lead you to believe that Tacit is e-mail’s version of Big Brother, always lurking over your shoulder reading every word you write. While it’s true that Tacit does scan your e-mail, it quickly tosses the message away, retaining only the noun phrases in the end user’s profile. For example, this article might deliver only the following phrases: “KnowledgeMail,” “natural language search,” “Talisma’s self-service knowledge base.” For even more comfort, every e-mail-derived term goes first into the private profile, and to your attorneys to decide which terms remain private and which terms become public and accessible to all. The attorney is always in control of his or her profile and how it is viewed by others. Creating public and private profiles without attorney effort is a nice trick, but finding the person with the right skill is the real goal. Let’s say you’re looking for someone with expertise in the new concept of “deep linking.” With KnowledgeMail a search is as simple as entering “deep linking” into your firm’s Web or Microsoft Outlook-based search engine. In seconds, you are presented with a list of individuals who have that concept in their public profile. The experts are ordered by their personal fit for your question with pie charts indicating their rank; quarter-pie good; half pie better; three-quarter pie … well, you get the picture. To prove the point, relevant terms from experts’ profiles are presented for review. If you’ve selected that option, the documents that contributed to their expertise are also listed. No hits in a public search? It’s time to go private. Private searches, (known as “knowledge sweeps” in Tacit-talk), alert experts that their assistance has been requested. They are free to go public and reply, ignore the request and remain anonymous, and even can divert the requestor to someone else. In the current version, the questioner never knows if their private search has hit the mark. In an upcoming version, they will at least know if anyone’s private profile meets their needs although they still won’t know who the expert is until the expert chooses to make him or herself known. While KnowledgeMail is, at heart, a people finder, the source database can be aggregated to present a firm knowledge map, based on a variety of “slices” — including practice group, office or entire firm. Ever wonder where your firm’s concentration of specialized knowledge is strongest, or weakest? Also in future versions, Tacit plans to summarize and present that information based on today’s actual knowledge base. EXTERNAL E-MAIL? Talisma accepts generic e-mail (such as that from prospects or candidates), analyzes the content, and directs the message to the person best able to provide immediate assistance. Support center, recruiting and general [email protected] e-mail can be logged, assigned to the right specialist and tracked through all phases of service to completion. If continuing the dialog in e-mail isn’t enough, Talisma supports online chat and Internet voice technologies. Your firm can stock Talisma’s self-service knowledge base with answers to common questions. Whether you make this natural language search function available on your Internet Web site, or keep it in house, it’s a great way to be sure everyone on your team provides the same answer to the same questions. Talisma also can customize its product to fit “legacy” system requirements. While Tacit and Talisma work almost out of the box, there’s an interesting e-mail mining tool in use by broker/dealers and insurance companies. SRA International Inc.’s Assentor is an e-mail screening and alert system that reads e-mail for “puffery” and other inappropriate communications, such as insider trading, harassment or high-pressure sales tactics. In the financial world, these messages are quarantined for management review. While there are many legal challenges technology can solve, knowledge management requires that your attorneys have both a will and a way. They must want to participate in the firm’s knowledge management programs and they must know how to use the appropriate tools. The best e-mail mining system in the galaxy won’t make a whit of difference if it’s unknown outside of your in-house technology team or if it’s too difficult to use. There’s knowledge gold in your e-mail servers. Pick your mining tools, enlist your attorneys in the effort and go prospecting. Jo Haraf, based in San Francisco, is chief technology officer of Morrison & Foerster, and a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board.

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