The legal research service Fastcase is preparing to launch an application that will let users research cases and statutes on their iPhones, all for free. The app is awaiting final approval from Apple before it will be available in the App Store. Fastcase granted me an exclusive first look at a pre-release version of the app. Here is what I found.
The app provides access to the largest free law library available on the iPhone. When you arrive at the main menu, you can select to perform one of three tasks: search caselaw, search statutes or browse statutes. Select caselaw and you come to a search screen. By default, the app searches all jurisdictions and date ranges. You can choose to narrow any of these. For example, you can select all or any combination of federal circuit courts, all or any federal district courts, all or any bankruptcy courts, and all or any state courts. (Like Fastcase on the Web, it includes all 50 states and the federal courts.) Likewise, you can search all dates or set the start and end dates to limit the range.
Also on the search page, you can select how many results to show and how you wish the results to be displayed. By default, results are displayed by relevance, but you can opt to show them by date or name. You can also select whether or not to display results using Authority Check, the Fastcase tool that shows subsequent citations of a case.
As with Fastcase on the Web, you can search using natural language or Boolean queries or search by citation. Search results show the case name, decision date, a relevance score, and either the first or most relevant paragraph from the case. If you selected Authority Check, an orange-colored icon tells you how many times each case in the results list has been cited overall and how many times it has been cited by other cases in the search results. Press the orange button to bring up a list of those citing cases.
Cases are displayed in a crisp, readable, Times Roman font. The font can be adjusted to display in three different sizes. Cases include pagination and search terms are highlighted. Internal citations are hyperlinked. As you look at a case, a button on the bottom of the screen lets you jump to its most relevant paragraph. At any time, you can return to the results list with the press of a button or jump to the next case on the list. A red “save” button lets you save any case for easy retrieval later on. Using buttons along the bottom of the screen, you can return to your recent searches or view a list of your saved documents.
Searching statutes is similar. The app lets you choose whether to search by keyword or by citation. You can select the U.S. Code and most state codes. You can search only one jurisdiction at a time. A half-dozen state codes are not included on the app because the states claim copyright in them. For these states, the app offers to open the state code’s Web site in Safari. Alternatively, statutes can be browsed. As with cases, you can save documents for easy retrieval later on.
Settings allow the app to be customized in various ways. Users can set how many results to display on a page and what information to display in the results list. Users can also set the size of the local storage file, to prevent the app from clogging the iPhone’s storage space. Stored cache can be cleared with the click of a button.
As I noted at the outset, the app will be free to download and searching the Fastcase library using the app will also be free. First-time users will be required to register, but there will be no cost. Current Fastcase subscribers will be able to use their existing log-on and password.
I have included a number of screen shots along with this post so you can see for yourself what the app looks like. I was impressed by its ease of use. I was even more impressed by its speed. Results appeared quickly in all my searches and full opinions appeared just as quickly. The app does not have all the features of Fastcase on the Web. For one, there is no print or e-mail option. However, using the iPhone’s ability to copy and paste, I easily copied an entire case and pasted into an e-mail that I sent to myself. That said, this is a surprisingly robust legal research tool that will allow its users to find cases and statutes wherever they are, whenever they want, all for free.
Fastcase could not say when the app will appear in the App Store. When it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.