[This post originally appeared on Slaw.ca, May 1, 2015]
Lawyers need to find information, the faster the better. As the years go by, your electronic files expand and your ability to retrieve information quickly can suffer. I’ve already looked at desktop search by itself and want to look at search that incorporates your e-mail this time around. A search tool that digs into your inbox and, potentially, everything else on your computer, can eliminate the need to repeat searches in more than one place.
Search Your Email
All of the e-mail clients I’ve used have included search. Most, like Microsoft’s Outlook or Mozilla’s Thunderbird, will search your local e-mails, those that you’ve downloaded and stored on your hard drive. Microsoft Outlook can also be connected to your Windows search for a more powerful retrieval tool. If you use Microsoft’s Exchange server or IMAP, you may also be able to search e-mails stored and archived on the server.
Finding information can mean looking in more than one place. E-mail search on its own may not index the contents of attachments or even help you remember when you had them. Google’s GMail helps with that for their users, who can search their e-mail and also retrieve matching documents they have stored in their Google Drive.
Better Search Add-Ins
One way to improve your e-mail search is to use an add-in. Microsoft Outlook has a good dozen or more available for personal use as well as firm-wide “enterprise” options. FewClix is representative of the sort of thing you’ll find when using one of these add-ins. Once activated, you will see a new search bar appear below your Outlook ribbon.
You can do a keyword search, or use the drop down boxes to filter out matches. One of the filters I like best is the file type filter, allowing you to quickly show just those files with attachments. Once the add-in completes its initial index of the files you have in your folders, it updates as you switch to each folder.
FewClix automates some steps that you can accomplish on your own within Microsoft Outlook without an add-in. Like a set of pre-built macros you might get for Microsoft Word, an e-mail add-in can save you time by providing you shortcuts, saving you time.
Search In and Out of Email
I’m a heavy e-mail user but I keep my inbox to the bare minimum, archiving e-mails into long term storage if I need them, and otherwise deleting everything else. At any given time, I’m likely to have fewer than 50 emails in all of my folders, including Inbox, Deleted, and Sent. This limits the utility of many Outlook add-ins because the e-mails are no longer in the system.
I tend to use Docfetcher, the desktop search tool I mentioned in my previous search post, to access things outside of Outlook. Another option is to use a tool like Lookeen to bridge both worlds. The latest version, 10, has created a desktop-only view as well as one integrated into Outlook.
This is the Lookeen desktop view as well as the view you will get if you search from within Outlook. Once it has indexed your Outlook e-mail and files on any external network and local drives you point it at, you can type your search from within Outlook and search everything. The results will appear in a viewer that allows you to filter by type of file, as well as other information about the file. In addition, you can preview the file before opening it.
The continued dominance of Microsoft’s Outlook as the e-mail software for lawyers means that having the search available from within Outlook can lead to a productivity advantage for lawyers who live there already. Docfetcher can search network files and Outlook PST files but takes the focus away from Outlook. Being able to select Lookeen either from within Outlook or outside of it (using a hotkey combination), depending on your work style, is likely to be more efficient than a one way tool like Docfetcher.
As with most technology you might use in your law practice, there’s no perfect answer. The upside is that if you are a heavy e-mail user with Microsoft Outlook, you – or your firm – can license tools that will mine your e-mail and external files for better searching. There’s a literal price to pay – Outlook add-ins tend to cost money – but if you’re saving time, it can pay for itself.