TAG | Fastcase
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.
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.”
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.
Two legal research services are in a head-to-head competition to win the loyalty of America’s lawyers. If you think I’m talking about Westlaw and LexisNexis, think again. This battle is between Casemaker and Fastcase. For my monthly Web Watch column in Law Technology News, I offer a head-to-head review of the two services: Web Watch: Casemaker vs. Fastcase.
[Note: Because the original link to my column no longer works, I have updated this post to include the full text of the column below.]
Face-off: Casemaker vs. Fastcase
Two legal research services are in a head-to-head competition to win the loyalty of America’s lawyers. No, I am not talking about Westlaw and LexisNexis. This battle is between Casemaker and Fastcase.
Each markets itself as a member benefit to state and local bar associations. Casemaker has the bigger share of the market, with 28 bars representing 475,000 lawyers. But Fastcase is fast on its heels, with 17 state bars and other smaller bars representing 380,000 subscribers.
How do the two services compare? To find out, I tested both and also sat through online presentations from each company. Through my own state’s bar association, I already had access to Casemaker. Fastcase provided me with a temporary password.
My conclusion is that both are worthwhile services with many similarities. In the coverage of their federal and state libraries and the relative strengths of their search tools, neither stands out as significantly superior to the other. But in their intuitiveness and ease of use, Fastcase has the clear edge.
Scope of Coverage
A key factor in comparing legal research services is the scope of their data. Here, Casemaker and Fastcase are largely comparable but not precisely parallel.
Both provide libraries of federal and state primary law and both cover all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In fact, both receive new cases from the identical source. Where their case libraries differ is in how far back they go. Each also has some minor collections that the other does not.
In their federal libraries, both have the full archive of Supreme Court cases. Both have federal circuit opinions, with Casemaker starting from 1930 and Fastcase from 1924. Both also have U.S. district court opinions, with Casemaker starting in 1932 and Fastcase in 1912.
Both also have bankruptcy cases, Tax Court decisions and decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Each has some other narrower federal libraries that the other does not.
State coverage varies by state. With a couple exceptions, both have all state appellate opinions at least back to 1950. Some in each date back to the late 1800s. A small number of state libraries in each include trial-level opinions.
Both also provide access to statutes, regulations, court rules and other materials. Casemaker houses these within its database. Fastcase houses the statutes but for other materials, such as regulations and court rules, it frames content housed on external sites.
Conducting a Search
Fastcase and Casemaker both describe their search interface as intuitive. Indeed, both are easy to use. But Fastcase is the more intuitive, largely because of its Google-like simplicity.
Log on to Fastcase and you land at your personal search page. At the top of the page is the Google-like quick-search bar. Lower on the page are links to advanced search options for caselaw, statutes, regulations and other libraries. The page lists your 10 most recent searches as hyperlinks, so you can easily go back.
Fastcase allows you to use either Boolean or natural language queries or to look up a case by citation. Search across all jurisdictions at once or only those you select. You can set how results will be sorted – by relevance, case name, decision date, court hierarchy or frequency of citation.
When you log on to Casemaker, you start not at a search page, but at your state library page. From there, you select the library within your state to search. You can also opt to perform a MultiBook Search across all of your state’s libraries at once.
To search other jurisdictions, you need to navigate back up to higher-level state and federal libraries and then back down again to the library you want.
Choose a library and you come to its main search screen. Casemaker uses traditional Boolean searching. Unlike Fastcase, it offers an array of fielded search options. These let you search by attorney name, opinion author, panel members, docket number, court, case name and citation. It also allows thesaurus searching, which broadens a search term to include synonyms.
You can search all state cases or all federal cases, but not both sets at once.
Display of Search Results
In their displays of search results, Fastcase provides more information and more flexibility. The Fastcase default is to list results by relevance, much as Google would. With a quick click, you can re-sort the results by name or decision date. With another quick click, you can narrow results to a specific jurisdiction.
Casemaker’s default is to sort results by date. This means the most relevant case could be anywhere on the list. In the state libraries, you can reset this to sort by relevance. The federal libraries do not have this option.
The Fastcase results page displays the name of each case, its relevance ranking, how often it has been cited, and a paragraph excerpt. You can change whether this shows the case’s most relevant paragraph or its opening paragraph. A button next to each case lets you easily add it to a print queue.
Casemaker’s results list has less information. It includes each opinion’s most relevant paragraph and a relevance ranking shown as a percentage.
Both services share the same serious fault. Search results often list the same case twice, once as a slip opinion and again with its official citation. To compound this fault, Casemaker sometimes list these duplicate cases as having different decision dates. For the researcher, de-duping the results list is an unnecessary waste of time.
A feature Fastcase touts is its Interactive Timeline. Click this tab above the search results to display them in a visual format designed to highlight the most important cases. Each case is shown as a circle, its size corresponding to the number of times it is cited – and thus its weight. Hover over any circle for a pop-up with more info about the case.
I could not get the Timeline to display in the Firefox browser. It worked well in Internet Explorer. The company said it should work fine in Firefox.
In performing identical searches on the two services, I obtained surprisingly similar results. Once, each returned the identical number of results. But after I sorted out the duplicates, I saw that Casemaker had found two cases that Fastcase had not.
In another search, I tested Casemaker’s fielded search by adding a judge’s name in the “panel” field. In Fastcase, I included the judge’s name as part of the Boolean query. To my surprise, both yielded virtually identical results.
As you view individual cases, Fastcase displays the list of search results in a panel to the left. That makes it easy to move through the list. Hover over any case on the list to see its first paragraph. In Casemaker, the search results are not shown as you read each case. You need to backtrack to return to them.
Casemaker uses bread-crumb-trail navigation. As you conduct searches, the hierarchy of your progress is displayed at the top of the screen. You might see a string saying “Maine : Case Law : Search : Results.” To return to the list of results, click that word. To return to the top level, click “Maine.”
This approach requires a lot of back and forth movement through pages that Fastcase does not. It is one reason that Fastcase is simpler to use.
Both services highlight search terms within a document and let you jump to the next hit of a term. Oddly, Casemaker treats the Boolean connector AND as a search term and stops at each occurrence. Fastcase lets you choose to highlight only specific search terms. It also has an option to jump to a case’s most relevant paragraph.
A nice feature in Fastcase that Casemaker lacks is permanent URLs for cases. That means you can send colleagues a case URL and they can open the case (provided they have Fastcase). Fastcase also lets you save cases to favorites folders.
Both services provide page numbers within cases and both hyperlink case citations. Casemaker also hyperlinks statutory citations. Fastcase does not.
Casemaker also lets you browse cases, but this feature is tedious. I found duplicate libraries for the same courts and cases listed only by numbers that had no relation to the docket number or citation.
Casemaker is developing a feature that lists “knowledge references” on the same screen as search results. These are links to CLE materials related to the search. So far, results are spotty.
Printing and E-mailing
Both services allow you to export cases to Word or PDF format. Casemaker also offers RTF and HTML formats. Both services format the document in dual columns. Fastcase lets you also choose single-column formatting.
Both services also provide an option for e-mailing a document. I tried this several times in Fastcase, e-mailing it to myself, and it worked each time. In Casemaker, it seemed to work, but I never received the e-mail.
Both services include citator functions. Neither will tell you whether a case is still good law in the way that Shepard’s or KeyCite would.
Casemaker’s citator is called CaseCheck. As you view a case, it appears to the right of the screen, listing any cases that have cited your case. Click on any case in the list to be taken to the spot within it where the citation is found.
Fastcase calls its service Authority Check. As you view a case, an icon at the top of the screen shows the number of citations. Click on the number to open a pop-up screen that provides an array of information about the cases.
It includes the visual timeline, a summary showing how often by which courts the case was cited, and the list of citing cases, which includes the paragraph containing the cite.
Both companies offer customer service options that include telephone and e-mail support. Fastcase also has live chat with a research lawyer on its staff. Casemaker has plans to add this option.
Both offer a variety of user guides, FAQs and training videos. Casemaker provides free live training via Webinars.
Due to limits of space, this review focuses on caselaw research. Both services offer other features and other libraries. Both also link to external libraries for legal forms, newspaper articles and other useful materials.
A bar association that offers its members either of these services is giving them a valuable benefit. While both offer comparable research libraries and search tools, Fastcase holds the edge in ease of use and intuitiveness of its features.
How much time do you spend every day on e-mail? As you read through your inbox and write and respond to messages, how much of that time are you tracking? My guess is that lawyers lose track of significant chunks of time spent on e-mail. A new plug-in for Outlook aims to capture that lost time by tracking and recording your activities in Outlook.
Called MonetaMail, it was unveiled at the recent ABA Techshow and is the first component of the broader MonetaSuite the company plans to roll out. The concept is simple: Install it in Outlook and it seamlessly tracks your time and allows you to allocate each activity to a particular client or billing code. For example, begin to compose a new e-mail, and the timer starts automatically. Switch to reply to an e-mail, and the timer stops on your draft message and starts on the reply message. (Of course, you can start and stop the timer manually.)
As the timer is running, a drop-down menu lets you select the client for billing. Once you select a client for a particular e-mail address, the client box will automatically use that client for all future correspondence with that e-mail address. (You can always override this.) The same occurs as you read and respond to e-mails. All of your time on each message is captured.
To view a report of this activity, simply click the Billing Report button it adds to the Outlook toolbar. The default view shows the current week’s activity, but you can customize this to show any of a variety of date ranges. The report can be printed or exported to an Excel spreadsheet.
The cost of MonetaMail is $99 per user. However, you can download a free version that is fully functional except that you cannot print or export the billing reports. The full MonetaSuite will track activity in all Microsoft Office applications and eventually in other programs and in mobile applications.
MonetaMail is not perfect. One shortcoming is the lack of a matter-description field. The company indicated it would work on adding this. Another is that it does not easily integrate with a time-and-billing program, although the geekier among us should be able to pull data from the billing reports in Excel. But I see a key strength of this as offering a productivity tool — a way of tracking and accounting time too often lost to e-mail.
At the recent LegalTech in New York, I conducted video interviews with “10 tech stars” who were there. The series of videos are now posted here. The video interviews were the brainchild of the folks at the Legal Talk Network, who did all the filming and production and also did their best to keep me from looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
Having just participated in an “un-conference” for the Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, I am sold on the un-conference format. I suppose that different un-conference organizers orchestrate these in different ways, but here is how it worked in N.C. We kicked off in the morning with a featured speaker, Reid Trautz. Before Reid started, conference organizer Lee Rosen tacked up sheets of paper in the meeting room with various topics pertaining to law practice management (paperless office, blogs and web sites, etc.) Each attendee was given four or five sticky notes and asked to put their names on the topics that most interested them.
While Reid was speaking, Lee was going through the sheets to identify attendees’ top topics. He then set up discussion tables for each of the top five topics and assigned a moderator to each. After the morning speaker finished, we all went to whatever table we wanted, although no table could have more than 10 people at a time. There was no agenda and anyone could get up and move to another table at any time. We continued this format through an informal lunch. Just after lunch, I spoke for 90 minutes. We then reconvened for another round of informal discussion sessions, with different topics for the most part. At 4 p.m., we did another round.
What made this so successful was how lively and interesting were these discussion sessions. People at each table had really good and practical questions, but they also had an equal amount of good and practical advice to share. Rather than hear from one speaker for an hour, the participants got to hear and learn from a number of people, all their peers and all lawyers who had faced and addressed these issues in their own practices.
One other point worth noting about the un-conference format is its flexibility. The night before the conference, the speakers and organizers (Reid, Lee, Erik Mazzone and me) got together over dinner to discuss the plans for the day. The original format called for me to speak at 9 a.m. and Reid at 3:20 in the afternoon, with the discussion sessions sandwiched in between. As Reid and I discussed our presentations, Reid suggested it would make more sense for him to go first. Everyone agreed, so we swapped. Then we thought it might stimulate more afternoon discussion if I spoke just after lunch instead of later in the day. So we agreed to do that. The schedule juggling worked.
My feeling at the end of the day was that this had been one of the most successful conferences I’d been to in awhile. Turnout was smallish — about 50 registrants — but that number fit well with the format. I think the conference provided everyone who attended with invaluable opportunities for networking, sharing and learning. I can’t imagine that a single person left when it was over and wasn’t glad to have participated.