In close to 20 years of writing about legal technology and the Web, one article of mine stands head and shoulders above all others for the impassioned feedback I received. That article was my head-to-head review of Casemaker vs. Fastcase, the two legal research services that market themselves to bar associations to offer as a benefit to their members. To this day, e-mails responding to that review still trickle in. Some chastize me. Some pat me on the back.
The irony is that I called the competition between the two services as more or less of a tie in many respects. “Both are worthwhile services with many similarities,” I wrote. With respect to their coverage of primary legal materials and the strength of their search tools, “neither stands out as significantly superior to the other,” I said.
In just one respect, I gave Fastcase “the clear edge”: intuitiveness and ease of use. Granted, these are important. Even so, by that simple judgment call, I quickly learned that both services have legions of fiercely loyal users.
That is a long-winded way of getting to the point of this post: Coming soon to Casemaker is a significant upgrade to its interface that promises to significantly enhance its intuitiveness and ease of use while also enhancing the product’s core functionality. To be called “CasemakerElite,” this new version takes a cue from WestlawNext, which has an interface that I once described as “Zen-like in its sparsity — or, I should say, Google-like.” The folks at Casemaker looked at what West did and said to themselves, “We can do that.”
Steve Newsom, managing director of Casemaker, gave me a demonstration of Elite by web conference yesterday. I have not yet tried the product directly. I hope to do that sometime in May and write a more detailed review then. Based on the demonstration, here are some initial impressions.
A Single, Universal Search
WestlawNext and Lexis Advance both took their lead from Google, incorporating a single search box that searches universally across libraries. CasemakerElite does the same. You can enter a simple search, a phrase, a more complex syntax search or a citation. Casemaker will deliver the most relevant results from across all its libraries of primary law — cases, statutes, court rules and other materials. From there, you can easily drill down through or narrow the results. Choose to see just cases or just statutes. Search within search results. By default, results are sorted by relevance, but they can also be sorted by date decided or frequency of citation. As you narrow your search, you retain a “breadcrumb trail” of your search path.
Elite will add various other new features to Casemaker. Among them is the ability to add notes to cases and to save cases and notes in custom folders. When you sign in to Elite, it will remember you and highlight your most frequently used libraries and your most recently viewed documents. A second-phase roll-out will include the ability to save searches and to set up email alerts when there are updates to your saved searches.
Casemaker Elite will be rolled out to current Casemaker subscribers late in May or early in June. This will be the first phase of a five-phase update, with additional enhancements to be rolled out later in June and continuing thereafter.
New Ownership for Casemaker
The impetus for this major redesign was Casemaker’s acquisition in 2009 by SSN Holdings, the parent company of the legal research service JuriSearch. Daniel Shapiro, the California lawyer who is CEO of JuriSearch, said a first priority after the acquisition was to enhance Casemaker’s interface.
In 2002, JuriSearch bought the National Law Library and BriefReporter, and with those services came David Harriman, the former CEO and editor-in-chief of The Michie Company, along with several other former Michie editors.
Now, Harriman is part of the team working to enhance Casemaker. He has a team of legal editors in the United States and India who produce the CasemakerDigest, a service that provides summaries of federal and state cases. He has also helped create CaseCheck and CaseCheck +, Casemaker’s version of a Shepard’s-like citation checker.
As I say, I hope to have an opportunity to try out CasemakerElite in the near future. When I do, I will report back here in more detail.