In the continuing battle between Fastcase and Casemaker to win over the hearts (and business) of state bar associations, score one for Fastcase. And a big one, at that. Today, the North Carolina Bar Association announced that, effective June 1, Fastcase will replace Casemaker as the legal-research service it offers its members. Making that particularly notable [...]
TAG | Casemaker
Almost a year ago, I wrote here about the major upgrade in the works for the Casemaker legal research service. At the time, I was given a demonstration that previewed the new interface but I was not then able to try it out directly. Well, it’s taken awhile, but I have finally been able to test it out and I can now verify that the new Casemaker is a dramatic improvement over the version now in use, Casemaker 2.2.
(While the original plan was to call this new release “CasemakerElite,” the company now calls it simply “Casemaker.”)
As I wrote in my original preview, the new version of Casemaker takes its cue from WestlawNext and Lexis Advance, incorporating a single, Google-inspired search box that searches universally across libraries. Enter a simple search, a phrase, a more complex syntax search or a citation and Casemaker will deliver the most relevant results from all its libraries of primary law — cases, statutes, court rules and other materials. From there, you can easily drill down and narrow the results. If you want to see just cases, one click narrows the results. If you want just Massachusetts cases, another click further narrows the results.
This makes search much easier than in the current Casemaker 2.2. In the current version, before you can enter a search, you need to pick a library. From the home page, you would click, for example, “State Libraries,” and then select “Massachusetts” and then pick a Massachusetts-specific library, such as “Case Law.” Only then could you enter your search. You could also use a feature called MultiBook Search to search all libraries within Massachusetts, but this limited your ability to tailor and narrow your search.
Universal Search from Every Page
Now, with the new Casemaker, you can enter your search directly from the home page or from any page — the search bar is always there at the top of your screen, no matter where you are in your research. Search results span all libraries, so you see results for cases, statutes, rules, law reviews, etc. In the center of the page, you see the top two results for each category. To the left, you see an overview of results, showing how many matches there are for each type. To the right of each case name is a number showing how many times it has been cited throughout the entire Casemaker database.
I searched “Daubert” and saw that there were 11,172 matching cases, 45 matching law review articles, etc. To see just the cases, I click “Cases.” From there, I can further narrow the results by clicking specific jurisdiction or court names. I can also search within those results or narrow results by party name, judge name, attorney name, date decided, docket number or citation.
The universal search bar also offers advanced search options. Click “Show Advanced Search” and you can limit the search by citation, party, docket number, section number or keyword. A drop-down menu to the right of the search bar lets you easily narrow a search by jurisdiction. The search bar includes auto correct that automatically fixes misspelled citations.
Of course, you do not have to start with the universal search. You can browse through libraries and select the one you want.
The new Casemaker also makes it easier to navigate through results. Now, as you view the results, a simple drop-down lets you reorder them by relevance, date decided or most cited. Previously in Casemaker, you had to select the sort order when you entered the search query. If you wanted to change it, you had to backtrack and re-enter the search.
Another change is that, once you select a result to view, a navigation bar above the result lets you easily return to the full results list, move to the next document in the results list, or jump to the next appearance of the search term. If at any time you get lost in your research trail, you can always select “History” to see a full list of where you’ve been and return to any point.
Also as you view a result, you can click a tab at the top of the screen to show “Citing References.” This displays the cases that cite the selected case. (This exists in Casemaker 2.2 as CaseCheck.)
Other Enhancements in Casemaker
In addition to universal search, the new Casemaker provides a number of other enhancements. They include:
- User-created folders. The new Casemaker lets you create custom folders and store documents in them. As you view a document, a folder icon at the top lets you add it to any folder you’ve created. A separate button at the top of the page does this same thing and also lets you create a new folder. Once you’ve added a document to a folder, this same button shows you the name of the folder in which you’ve stored it. You can also drag and drop a document title to the folder icon to save it.
- Track research by client. You can assign a research session to a specific client and matter number. Casemaker will remember clients you’ve previously added. When you select a client, the client name appears in the navigation bar and Casemaker tracks and produces a report of that research session showing hours worked for that client.
- Add notes to documents. You can now add notes to any document with a single click. You can choose to show or hide these notes and can edit any notes you’ve already created.
Availability of Casemaker
Casemaker has arrangements with 25 state and local bar associations that make it available for free to their members. Casemaker is available on a subscription basis to those who do not have free access through a bar association, but not in every state. For example, lawyers in California and New York can subscribe to Casemaker for $49 a month or $499 a year. But no subscription is currently available for Florida. You can go here to find out if a subscription package is available for your state.
Premium Product: Casemaker+
With the new Casemaker, the company is now selling a premium add-on it calls Casemaker+. Whether you receive Casemaker through your bar association or purchase it as a subscription, you must purchase an additional subscription for access to Casemaker+. It consists of three features:
- CaseCheck+. This is Casemaker’s answer to Shepherd’s and KeyCite. It identifies whether cases are good law. If you subscribe to this feature, then as you view search results, you see a green “thumbs up” or a red “thumbs down” icon next to each case. When you view the full document of a case with a red icon, you can click through to see the case that is identified as the negative treatment.
- CasemakerDigest. These are summaries of the most recent decisions handed down by state and federal courts. You can sign up to receive these by email or via an RSS feed.
- CiteCheck. This tool lets you upload a Word or searchable PDF document and run it through a citation checker. The check will show whether cases you’ve cited are good law and will reveal any citation format errors.
The price for Casemaker+ varies by state. In Massachusetts, where I am, you can buy the bundle of all three features for $59 a month or buy just CaseCheck+ for $49 a month (which includes CiteCheck) or just CasemakerDigest for $19 a month. You can check the cost for your state from this page.
The Bottom Line: A Much-Improved User Experience
As I wrote last April in my preview of the new Casemaker, I have never received more impassioned feedback than I did when I published a head-to-head review of Casemaker vs. Fastcase. At the time, I called it a virtual draw, except that I concluded that Fastcase had the “clear edge” for intuitiveness and ease of use.
With this new release, Casemaker has enhanced its interface by leaps and bounds. Where once it could be clumsy or tedious to use, it is now simple and intuitive. By incorporating universal search and making it easy to drill down through results, Casemaker has answered the criticisms I once had.
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.
Promising a comprehensive legal research tool at an affordable price, a new legal research site, eLaw, launched yesterday. Although the service provides access to case law and statutes for all 50 states, it is available only to attorneys in New York and New Jersey.
My guess is that the geographic limitation is because eLaw uses the Casemaker database. Casemaker is marketed primarily as a member benefit for state and local bar associations. That means a lawyer can subscribe to it only through a bar association affinity program.
As it happens, the two states in which eLaw is offering access to Casemaker are two states whose bars do not. New Jersey offers its members Fastcase and New York offers Loislaw. Thus, eLaw provides lawyers in those states a “back door” into Casemaker.
I have not tried eLaw yet. Subscriptions start at $25 a month, according to the site. Subscriptions can be bundled with eLaw’s other products, Dates & Dockets, a docket-monitoring and e-filing service for New York and New Jersey, and Bench & Bar, an online version of Lawyers Diary and Manual.
eLaw includes federal and state cases, as well as statutes, court rules, attorney general opinions, state administrative rules and select municipal codes.
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.”
My latest Web Watch column is up at Law Technology News (free registration required). This month’s column reviews:
- Example-Motion, a document-sharing site.
- WhichDraft.com, a document-assembly site.PatentSurf, USCodeSurf and Case-Law, three related legal research sites.
- Casemakerdigest, a new case-digesting service.
- DASH, a new Harvard University site for obtaining scholarly articles by faculty and students.
- The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory, a resource for lawyers who volunteer their services to domestic-violence victims.
- Capital Cases Resources, a collection of resources on capital cases.
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.
Earlier this month, I published here the letter I received from Steve Newsom, general manager of Lawriter, the company that produces Casemaker, responding to my review of Casemaker vs. Fastcase published in Law Technology News. Because I could not replicate their formatting, I did not publish two attachments to his letter that went into greater detail. Casemaker has now published those attachments on its own Web site.
[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.
General Manager, Lawriter
The two major U.S. legal research companies, West and LexisNexis, both separately announced new initiatives and new Web sites to help laid off lawyers as they make the transition to new jobs. I have more details in a post I published today at Legal Blog Watch, West, Lexis Offer Help for Hard Times.