Casemaker Responds to my Review

[Update 7/20/09: I did not post the attachments to Mr. Newsom's letter because I could not replicate their formatting. Casemaker has now posted those attachments on its own Web site.]

In response to my review of Casemaker vs. Fastcase published this month in Law Technology News, I received an e-mail yesterday from Steve Newsom, general manager of Lawriter, the company that produces Casemaker. Attached to the e-mail were a letter responding to the review and also two attachments providing more details, including a point-by-point response. Newsom will be distributing the letter tomorrow to bar associations.

The great limiter in writing for print is space. I had wanted to say much more about both Casemaker and Fastcase but simply did not have the room. As it was, LTN editor Monica Bay allowed me more space than usual for the review.

Space is not a problem here, so I am printing below the text of Newsom’s letter, which summarizes his response to my review.

Recently an article was published that compares Casemaker and Fastcase in a “head-to-head” comparison by Bob Ambrogi. I thought, overall, it was a pretty good article. It favored one of our top competitors, Fastcase. I have expanded on the article below, but I believe that Bob makes many good points about our products. He misses some points, which are less apparent, but are critical for success. I wanted to note a few below, to help our readers evaluate Bob’s comparison.

As with Bob, my head is sometimes turned by great graphical interfaces and designs that have been created by Fastcase. I admire their marketing savvy, some of their Flash design, postings on Twitter, Facebook; etc. While we have made a massive improvement over the past 12 months to the look and feel of Casemaker, we still have further to go. Fastcase has great style and a simple interface. I can imagine how first time experiences for their service would score high, but our repeat users continue to reject their approach in favor of greater flexibility and functionality.

And while we have beat Fastcase to market over the past 12 months with new features, like 24 hour customer service, our social networking site for students, free daily webinars for our members, linking our citations to secondary reference materials, etc. – they continue to impress me with their response time to try to replicate similar offerings.

Two major points were missed in this article however – the ideas of quality and market response. As a very simple example of market response, I liked Bob’s point about ranking search results on relevancy (which is currently an option for all Casemaker users and the default for Fastcase.) We, Casemaker, started with this same default – ranking results on relevancy. But we switched after our users asked us to use dates, and give relevancy as an option. Specifically, our attorney clients stated that they would prefer to have a 2008 case that was slightly less relevant than a 1964 case that software deemed slightly more relevant. This is also why we keep both options as a setting that can be changed by our users.

The same is true for allowing our attorneys to search for just judges, just attorneys, just citations or other specific search fields instead of one search-box for everything as used by Fastcase. That would certainly be easier (and less expensive) for us to implement. However, we find in survey after survey that our attorney users (who I imagine are not as search savvy as Bob) prefer and request such separate search capabilities. I agree with Bob, they are less intuitive for a new user than Google features, but they are much more useful to a returning user. As a simple example, you can search for “Smith” in the attorney field, and not have to wade through all of the “Smith”s that were defendants, judges, mentions, etc. (Trust me, it is hard enough just getting through the attorneys!)

But I always believe the big difference is quality. I think it is really hard for an outside evaluator to easily measure the quality differences between the two solutions. Bob references some cases he found in Casemaker and did not find in Fastcase, but I don’t think the difference ‘hit home.’ It makes all of the difference in the world when a case is missing, incorrectly linked, or misplaced in a system.

Bob notes that we both use the same provider for some of our data – excellent point. But even though both companies use the same resources for Slips and Advance sheets, Casemaker with a staff of 16 assigned to data quality and integrity, invests heavily in quality review AFTER the data is received. We know where Fastcase errors are, because we have identified and corrected them within our system. In a recent comparison of our data vs. Fastcase, for just one State, we found and corrected hundreds of errors and missing cases. I have included an attachment – Attachment B (“One State’s Comparison”) – with these details.

There is no way that Bob could see this in an initial trial of the products. And unfortunately, there is little way that many decision makers get to view this information before they make a decision about which service to provide to their members. It is only after implementing a solution that many clients find out there is a real difference. But for the Bar’s who have experienced Casemaker service, the difference is obvious. This is why Casemaker has signed 9 mutli-year state bar contracts in the past 14 months.

The extra work that it takes to identify these hundreds of missing cases costs real money. It means having US resources that do significant Quality and Assurance (Q&A;) – 16 dedicated staff. At last count, our Q&A; team was larger than the whole Fastcase Company. It is also the reason that Casemaker typically charges about 20% more for their services than Fastcase. We could do it for less, and cut out this process, but our clients put an emphasis on quality.

I hope this review is helpful. There are a LOT of other point by point explanations that I thought I should give from Bob’s article. They are attached in Attachment A (“Points of Clarity”). I would really encourage you to look at these differences. As always, we greatly appreciate your time. Fastcase is a good company run by smart guys, and I know they will continue to improve. But as they do, we want to make sure you have the facts to make the best decision for your Bar and your members.

We thank Mr. Ambrogi for creating this platform; it will only make both products better and the market is the truly beneficiary.

Steve Newsom,
General Manager, Lawriter