P R O B A T E   &   P R O P E R T Y
July/August 2005
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Articles from other issues of Probate and Property


Technology Update

  Technology—Probate Editor: Jason E. Havens, 4400 East Highway 20, Suite 211, Niceville, FL 32578, jasonhavens@abanet.org.


Technology—Probate provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the probate and estate planning areas. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.


Local Search Tools Rule: Finding Your Files

Search, and you will find.”

Have you ever used the Microsoft Windows Search tool (located on the “Start” menu), which uses a cute little hound dog as its illustrative, animated icon? Did you actually find the file for which you were searching with that tool? This editor suspects that your search probably did not find your desired file, and, if it did, you waited quite some time to find it. Some practitioners in the editor’s part of the country would say, “That dog won’t hunt.”


Local Search Tools: New Ways to Search

During the past year or so, nearly every major search engine has unveiled a local search tool that purports to extend the search engine’s capabilities to your local hard drive or your server. In his excellent article published in the March 22, 2005, issue of PC Magazine, Cade Metz provided Total Recall: [A] Desktop Search Primer. The article not only rated local search tools released by major search engines, such as Ask Jeeves, Google, MSN, and Yahoo, but also included warnings about privacy and other issues associated with these “free” local search tools.

Beyond the privacy and other issues, the “free” local search tools released by most major search engines have contained serious limitations. For example, Google Desktop searched only Microsoft and limited other file formats for almost a year. Recently, Google Desktop was upgraded and now searches alternative e-mail agent files, alternative browser files, and, most importantly, portable document format (PDF) files, which this editor and many others suggested as an improvement.


The Ultimate Local Search Tool: X1

Metz ’s article awarded top honors to Yahoo Desktop Search, which is based on the search tool designed and produced by X1. In this editor’s limited experience with Yahoo Desktop Search, it did not seem likely that Yahoo could collect personal information from its search tool because of its complete reliance on X1’s technology. But estate planning and other lawyers are particularly concerned about privacy and confidentiality issues. Consequently, even using the Yahoo Desktop Search might not be a viable option for lawyers.

The full version of X1 makes perfect sense, though, for lawyers and other professionals who need to find files and conduct research. The X1 Desktop Search, now in its fifth version, allows users to search local and network drives, which is a notable limitation of the Yahoo Desktop Search tool based on the same technology. The X1 Desktop Search also indexes Microsoft Outlook data (PST) files.

One of the best features about X1 Desktop Search is the ability to index your files when convenient for you. In fact, the indexing process resembles what search engines do as they scour the Internet at “off-peak” times with so-called “search robots” (or “search bots,” “crawlers,” and/or “spiders”). These search robots retrieve incredibly large amounts of data, mostly represented by the words (content) on web sites all over the world, and bring all those words back to an enormous group of powerful computer servers. The servers then index those words. As a result, when you search for “ Probate & Property” via any major search engine, you receive your results within a fraction of a second because the search engine uses its latest index to provide rapid results to you.

The X1 Desktop Search indexes nearly every conceivable file format, including all types of generic text files, Microsoft files, Corel files, PDF and other graphic files, and numerous other file formats. A list is available on the X1 web site at www.x1.com/products/viewable_file_formats.html.

For large firms, the X1 Desktop Search, Enterprise Edition, might be more suitable. You can direct local X1 Desktop Search tools on a network to a single index file on a server, but in larger organizations, the Enterprise Edition probably makes more sense and is configured to be accessed by multiple users at any given time.


A Viable, Free Alternative: Copernic Desktop Search

The Copernic Desktop Search represents a viable alternative to the X1 Desktop Search tool. In fact, it functions very similarly. The Copernic Desktop Search was recently updated to version 1.5 and is still being offered as a free local search tool (with a premium version to be released in the future that will include “additional features for advanced users,” according to Copernic’s “Frequently Asked Questions About Copernic Desktop Search” page at www.copernic.com/en/products/desktop-search/faq.html).


Another Free Alternative: Filehand

Filehand represents another excellent freeware option for a local search tool. Unlike the local search tools offered by major search engines, Filehand operates as a stand-alone program like X1 Desktop Search and Copernic Desktop Search. In fact, Filehand provides a comparison chart of most free and premium local search tools on its web site’s home page (www.filehand.com/index.html—toward the middle of the home page), including ratings based on how search results are displayed, file formats that are searched, and how intuitive the local search tool’s interface is.


Why Should Lawyers Care?

Although the value of a local search tool should be obvious to lawyers, please allow the editor of this column to expand on the functionality of a local search tool in a law office. Many law firms do not maintain procedures regarding file naming conventions. For an excellent discussion on how to name files, review attorney Jeffrey S. Lisson’s TechnoFeature article published by TechnoLawyer on July 28, 2004, entitled Where Are My Files?, which describes file organization and naming conventions. Nevertheless, even with such organizational and naming procedures in place, searching for a file’s name or the actual contents of a file using the Microsoft Windows Search tool may not yield the desired result (and will definitely take some time to conduct).

Some firms use document management systems. In fact, some of the practice management systems reviewed by this column (see the March/April 2005 issue) include document management capabilities. But most of these options require additional steps to attach files to the system, and, even if the inclusion of a file requires no additional steps, none of the document management systems of which this editor is aware allows searches of nearly any file format based on a consolidated index.

On the other hand, local search tools such as X1 Desktop Search, Copernic Desktop Search, and Filehand allow a lawyer to find in an instant that elusive document that he or she drafted years ago. These local search tools also afford some of the same search capabilities that publishing companies offer for purposes of legal research. If a law firm maintains a vast amount of research materials in electronic format, which is often the case in estate planning law offices, its lawyers can conduct their research in-house in numerous instances via a local search tool that maintains an index of all of those files and electronic folders (and subfolders). Finally, when searching for some type of important evidence, such as a critical e-mail message or a letter documenting that the lawyer indeed sent the client’s documents on a certain date, these local search tools might represent a lawyer’s redemption of his or her reputation.

In this fast-paced, digital age, finding your files is one of the most important aspects of practicing law. Local search tools make this task much easier than rifling through three filing cabinets for an entire day (or longer). Finding the right local search tool is a unique process, as is the selection of most any other software (or hardware) solution. Thankfully, the current selection of local search tools delivers results that should please even the most demanding (and even the most disorganized) lawyer.