Graphical display of thesaurus terms

The graphical display of discovery / disclosure information has been one of the most interesting developments in software designed for search of all kinds. It is specifically so for litigation document review purposes and, perhaps even more so, for early case assessments when you are trying to find out just what the scope is of your document universe.

One of the distinguishing features of such a task is that the searcher often has no real idea of what the search will turn up. In most areas of research, you have a broad idea of the parameters of the hunt – I have been looking up flights and hotels recently, for example, and had the advantage of knowing that I was after a particular kind of information (a hotel, say) in a particular place (or places, given the particularly daft schedule which faces me over the next few days). Ranging shots in Google brought me to specialised databases which had fields to search in which corresponded with obvious inputs – dates, room-type, number of nights and so on – which are standard across most such resources.

Litigation is often not like that. You will, of course, have got from your clients some clues – names, date ranges, commonly-used words and so on – but whilst they may narrow the field, they are not conclusive as to what you might turn up, not least because you (if you are a lawyer) are an officer of the court as well as the client’s gladiator, and it is your practising certificate and insurance policy which is on the line.

You also have costs in mind – Mr Justice Morgan referred in Digicel (St Lucia) v Cable & Wireless at [46] to Lord Justice Jacob’s analysis in Nichia v Argos of that “perfect justice” for which “no stone, however small, should remain unturned” and which “would actually defeat justice [because of] the cost and time involved”. You do not need high-flown concepts of justice to know that you want the fastest and cheapest route which is consistent with your duty both to advise the client and to present the case in a manner acceptable to the court and to your insurers.

If you have not seen the visual tools which some of these applications offer, then set up a demo (or preferably more than one demo) straight away. Your ideas of what you can discover quickly will be transformed.

All this is by way of introduction to a new visual tool which I have stumbled over for seeing (as opposed to merely listing) synonyms, related words and concepts. I publish something like 5,000 words a week, and occasionally run out of words. This is sometimes to avoid repetition, sometimes for alliteration and sometimes because the balance of a phrase requires a particular number of syllables which the default word does not give. I use a web site called which, like all search tools, needs the engagement of brain as well as eye in order to know which variants are peculiarly American as opposed to English. Mere words, let me tell you, are easy; the hard part is those nuances of phrasing which mark out an Englishman as surely as a bowler hat and Union Jack pants (that’s English pants, not American ones) or an American in tartan trousers (that’s pants) and a tall hat.

Another paragraph gone, and I still have not reached the point. There is a now a link from the site to ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus, a subscription site which shows you links between words and concepts. That shows you visually what a conventional thesaurus (even a computerised one) shows as a list.

Here, for example, is what you get when you search for “Search”:

searchThe red dots signify nouns and the green ones are verbs. If there had been any adjectives or adverbs, they would have appeared in different colours.

Here is something more complex – the word “run”:

runThis really needed a higher-resolution screen, but you get the picture as it were. The further you go away from the centre, the more remote the word or concept is from the starting point – some, indeed, to an extent which defeats me on a quick look (that is, I feel I am missing some intermediate links to show me what the connection is).

That may be because I did not drill down save in the one corner (the top-right) where the connections are fairly obvious anyway, and it is when you drill down that you see both the value of this and the relationship with some of the litigation support tools out there. This picture:

run extended… is what you get when you click on a sector of the source graphic. It does not, so far as I can see, add any extra detail (as most litigation tools would do) but it does make it easier to read.

My trial timed out before I could explore it all and I did not get as far as checking the subscription rate. If you are interested in words, and in the connection between words, you may like to have a look.


About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Discovery, E-Discovery Suppliers, Early Case Assessment, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure, Legal Technology, Litigation, Litigation costs, Litigation Support. Bookmark the permalink.

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