Lawyers spend much of their time at their computers, and much of that time using Microsoft Word or Microsoft Outlook. In recognition of that, LexisNexis today is announcing a major new product that integrates search and other tools directly within Word and Outlook. Called Lexis® for Microsoft Office, the product is an add-on to Office [...]
TAG | caselaw
Rumors have been circulating for some time now about Project Cobalt, Westlaw’s internal code name for its most significant overhaul since it moved to the Web. Now we know that Project Cobalt’s official name is WestlawNext and that West will formally introduce it to the public on Feb. 1 at LegalTech New York.
Recently, West gave me a preview of WestlawNext and supplied me with a password to try it out. This is no mere cosmetic redesign. WestlawNext completely changes the search interface and the search engine behind it. In fact, the change is so dramatic that West has given its new search engine its own name: WestSearch. This new search engine does not just look at the terms you enter, a West executive said. Rather, it tries to identify the issue of law based on the terms you searched.
The most striking change from the former Westlaw to WestlawNext is the disappearance of the database directories. No longer need you select a specific database to search. Instead, the front page of WestlawNext is Zen-like in its sparsity – or, I should say, Google-like. Atop the page is a search bar which invites you to “enter search terms, citations, databases, anything.”
Your search – Boolean or natural language – will run across everything in the Westlaw database and return a page showing an overview of the most relevant results from each group – cases, statutes, secondary sources, briefs, whatever. If that sounds daunting, it isn’t. On the left of the screen is a menu for refining the search by group. Click to see only caselaw that matches your search or only statutes or whichever. After you select one of these filters – say, cases – a new submenu appears allowing you to further filter the results by any number of parameters, including court, judge, party, topic and Key Number.
This is much simpler and more intuitive than having to choose a database to search, if for no other reason that you don’t always know which database is best suited to your search.
At the same time, WestlawNext makes it simple to limit your search by jurisdiction or to a particular library. Within the search box, a drop-down menu lets you choose as few or as many jurisdictions to search as you want. You can also browse any of the various libraries by jurisdiction and topic.
The same search bar works to KeyCite a case. Just type “keycite” and the cite to bring up the subsequent history of a case. Whenver you view a case, the KeyCite information is displayed across the top of the page, in tabs for Negative Treatment, Citing References, History and Filings.
Currently in Westlaw, the default ranking for search results is by date. In WestlawNext, the default ranking is by relevance. At any time, you can reset the default to whatever ranking you prefer.
The new Westlaw makes a number of changes in how documents are displayed, including all new settings for fonts, margins and other styles. The user is able to customize these settings to their liking. A notable change is that headnotes no longer display automatically. Instead, the user can opt to display the full set of headnotes for any case by clicking on a button. This makes it easier to get right to the meat of a case.
Another change is that a case’s most negative citing reference is shown right on the same page with the case. The previous version of Westlaw would show a yellow flag but provide no explanation.
As you view search results, a panel on the right of the screen shows relevant entries from treatises and other secondary materials. For example, a simple search, “Massachusetts open meeting law,” revealed secondary sources such as relevant entries from the Massachusetts Practice series, briefs filed in open meeting appeals and pleadings from open meeting lawsuits.
There are many smaller enhancements that fall into the category of nice touches. For example, select a block of text and a pop-up menu appears allowing you to highlight it, add a note, copy it with its reference, or add it to your research. All of your research can be saved and organized in folders. WestlawNext will also keep a history back a year of every search you do and allow you to search within your history.
The bottom line is that WestlawNext brings the experience of searching the Westlaw database in line with what users today expect from a Web-based tool, making it simple and intuitive.
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.
In a post earlier today at Legal Blog Watch, The Google Gorilla Enters the Research Game, I wrote about Google’s announcement yesterday that Google Scholar now allows users to search full-text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state appellate and trial courts. I wrote there about the implications of the announcement, but wanted to post here to add my initial thoughts about the search itself.
So far, I like what I see. As it is throughout Google’s various offerings, the search interface is seamless and simple. Search for a case in the same way you’d search for anything on Google — by name, words or a phrase. You can also search by citation, but be careful to put the citation in quotes. If you search 794 F.2d 915, the results will include cases that have “794,” “F.2d” and “915.” But if you search “794 F.2d 915″ you get the cited case plus any others that cite it.
As you view a case, a tab on the top of your screen lets you switch to a second screen showing how it was cited. This shows a list of cases and articles that cite your case. It also includes a separate list of cites showing a quote extracted from the case at the point of the citation — in other words, the proposition for which your case is cited. Click on any of those quotes and jump right to that point in the citing case.
I could not find within Google Scholar a description of the scope of the case law database. According to Tim Stanley of Justia, it includes U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1 US 1 (pre – 1776), federal circuit opinions since 1 F 2d 1 (1924+), and many federal district court opinions. Opinions from all 50 state supreme courts are included since 1950. I was able to determine that intermediate appellate courts are included for some states, but I could not tell whether they are included to the same extent as state supreme courts.
The Advanced Scholar Search lets you choose to search just federal cases or just a single state’s cases. You can search multiple states only by checking boxes for each state, so if you want to search all 50 states but not federal, you’ll have a lot of checking to do.
There remain lots of questions about Google Scholar’s case law search. Google offers no documentation so answers are hard to come by. Besides not knowing the precise parameters of the database, we also do not know how often new cases are added — a key piece of missing information. We also do not know what kind of quality control Google has in place to ensure the cases are checked and error free.
Still, putting the power of Google search behind a comprehensive database of federal and state cases is more than just a good start. Google’s engineers clearly put a lot of thought and effort into this and I expect there will be further refinements and enhancements to come.
After publishing my head-to-head review comparing Casemaker and Fastcase, I noted in a follow-up post earlier this month the Oregon State Bar Association’s decision to switch from Casemaker to Fastcase and Casemaker’s response to that decision.
Now, Laura Orr at Oregon Legal Research offers another perspective on the Casemaker vs. Fastcase debate that she describes as “closed vs. open source.” Casemaker only allows lawyers to subscribe, whereas Fastcase is open to anyone to subscribe. That means that law librarians, paralegals and other legal support professionals cannot use Casemaker.
Casemaker’s closed-subscription policy, Orr writes, “is a real liability in the legal world, where non-attorneys in large and small law firms are the very people who not only do a lot of database searching but are also the very people who can offer hands-on, real-time database training to attorneys, on the spot.”
Over the summer, I wrote a review (also here) comparing Casemaker and Fastcase. Each of these legal research services markets itself as a member benefit to state and local bar associations. In my review, I said that “both are worthwhile services with many similarities.” But I gave Fastcase the edge for intuitiveness and ease of use.
In my review, I described the two as “in a head-to-head competition to win the loyalty of America’s lawyers.” That competition reached a critical juncture last month when the Oregon State Bar Association announced it was switching from Casemaker to Fastcase. That switch took effect today.
Today, Casemaker shot back, doing something it has never done before. It is offering Oregon lawyers free access to its research service. This is the first time Casemaker has offered its research service outside the context of a bar association member benefit and the first time it has offered its service directly to lawyers for free.
Casemaker today sent an e-mail to Oregon lawyers titled, “Welcome Back Oregon Users!” It said:
Recently, the Oregon State Bar made the decision to replace Casemaker with a less expensive and we believe less substantial product. However, we would like you to decide for yourself.
Some have been persuaded by the surface and seductive interface of Fastcase, but we know you need data that is sound, complete, and timely. That is why we have more quality editors checking the data’s completeness; our editors alone outnumber the entire Fastcase staff. Our additional investment assures a product on which you know you can trust based on a proven six-year history together.
As you compare over time you will begin to discover Fastcase’s missing data and learn of link-outs to third-party sources (Casemaker brings the data in-house, integrates into a single search and assures its completeness and timeliness… again an investment into product integrity).
You deserve the best, not cost reductions, and that is why we will continue to allow Casemaker 2.1 FREE so you may make the long-term comparison for yourself.
Eventually we will have to convert to a low-cost subscription-based product in order to cover our service outlay, but not today or even tomorrow as we do appreciate you and your loyalty to Casemaker.
A brilliant counterattack or an act of desperation? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
The legal research service Casemaker has launched a new case-digest service providing summaries of the most recent cases decided by the courts. Called CASEMAKERdigest, this initial roll-out of the service covers only state and federal courts in Texas. Eventually, it will cover all 50 states.
The service provides summaries of cases soon after the cases become available. Summaries are listed by date and can be sorted by area of practice, court, judge and jurisdiction. They can also be searched by key word. Additionally, a user can subscribe to an RSS feed that shows the 50 most recent cases published on the site.
The service is offered free for a trial period of 30 days. After the trial runs out, the service will be offered for a subscription price of $39.95 a year.
Casemaker General Manager Steven Newsom says that the company is investing heavily to hire highly experienced staff to write the summaries. The company also plans to launch a citator product to flag whether cases in its legal research database remain good law.
says that the company is investing heavily to hire highly experienced staff to write the summaries. The company also plans to launch a citator product to flag whether cases in its legal research database remain good law.