It was one year ago that I first wrote here about Casetext, the free legal research site that uses “crowdsourcing” to annotate court opinions. More recently, I wrote about Casetext’s addition of a citator, called WeCite. Now, there is more Casetext news to report.
Casetext is preparing to launch a new version of its research platform that will add communities and other social features. The new features have already been rolled out in a beta version. The text version came out of private beta last week and is now in public beta at beta.casetext.com.
These communities are structured around legal practice and interest areas, such as environmental law, business law and legal research. Casetext describes them as places where lawyers and law professors can meet and interact with others who share their interests. This being a legal research site, the idea is that many of the discussions that take place here will be linked to primary legal documents.
Users who opt to follow a community will then receive a feed of all updates to that community. Updates can be posted directly from the community page or from a case page. Say, for example, you are reading a case involving environmental law. If you decide to post a comment or annotation to the case, you can tag it with the community name and it will appear in that community’s feed, as well as with the case. (You can tag it to multiple communities, if it is relevant to more than one.)
Once a comment is posted, others can respond and begin a discussion. Other members can also share your comment through their social media networks or by email.
Another new social feature is the ability to follow other members. Casetext will no longer allow users to post anonymously. All users will get a profile page. The page shows their posted comments and annotations, the communities they follow, the users they follow, and their followers.
In this new beta version of its platform, Casetext has also changed how cases are displayed. The design of the case page has been simplified to make cases easier to read and scan. Information that appears at the top of a case in the current Casetext version — such as the Quick Facts feature that shows key elements of the case — has been moved to the right-hand column. When text in a case has been annotated by a user, the text shows up as highlighted.
When I first reviewed Casetext last year, I noted the problem inherent in a crowdsourced site: It only works if contributors come forward. Lawyers, as a whole, seem particularly stingy about sharing their knowledge through sites such as this. These new communities and other social features could provide added incentives for lawyers to contribute, both to engage with others who share their interests and to help build their own reputations as knowledgeable about their fields.