massbarfastcase

I’ve written any number of times here about the ongoing head-to-head competition between legal research services Casemaker and Fastcase to win the loyalty of America’s lawyers — or, to be more precise, to win the loyalty of America’s bar associations, since both services market themselves to state and local bars to be offered as a member benefit. This week the competition hit home for me, as my state bar, the Massachusetts Bar Association, formally made the switch from Casemaker to Fastcase.

Effective yesterday, the 12,000-member MBA is the 28th state bar to offer Fastcase to its members. As they did before with Casemaker, MBA members will now get unlimited access to Fastcase as a benefit of their membership, with no extra charge. According to Fastcase, more than 800,000 lawyers now subscribe to its service, many through state bars.

“One of the greatest benefits of belonging to the Massachusetts Bar Association is access to tools and services that strengthen an attorney’s practice,” said MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. “We’re pleased to enhance this benefit by providing MBA members free access to Fastcase — one of the largest online legal research libraries, and the top-rated app for attorneys.”

[Disclaimer: I am president of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, a separately incorporated charitable organization that is loosely affiliated and shares offices with the MBA.]

Interestingly, Fastcase was already available to Massachusetts lawyers through the Social Law Library, a quasi-public law library that provides research services to lawyers throughout Massachusetts who sign up as dues-paying members. In fact, the Social Law Library was the first entity in the country to offer Fastcase access, according to Robert J. Brink, its executive director. (I had a lengthy talk with Brink this morning and plan to write more here about the legal research services his libary offers.)

The MBA has set up a webpage for members with information on transitioning from Casemaker to Fastcase. It will also be offering training sessions in Boston on Dec. 15 (introduction course, followed by an advanced tips seminar) and in Springfield on Dec. 16 (introduction course, followed by an advanced tips seminar). Recordings of the sessions will also be made available through the website.

 

The new Fastcase 7 start page.
The new Fastcase 7 start page.

The legal research service Fastcase is today unveiling a complete overhaul of its platform, its first entirely new version since 2003. The new version, called Fastcase 7, promises greater speed, expanded search, more intuitive functionality, and a more readable interface.

“We want to balance having powerful tools that give power users a lot of options with straightforward simplicity that makes it easy to use for everyone,” CEO Ed Walters told me. “That’s the balance we’ve tried to strike here.”

Fastcase7_betaThe new version is being released in beta today and will be available by invitation only. Invitations will be distributed through bar associations that have affinity relationships with Fastcase and to law firms with enterprise-level subscriptions.

Those who receive an invitation will be able to toggle a switch in the current Fastcase 6 to turn on Fastcase 7 and just as easily turn it off and return to Fastcase 6.

Fastcase will continue running its current version for at least a year, probably longer, to allow itself time to work out any kinks and to allow users time to make the transition to the new version. Over the next few months, Fastcase will continue to refine the new version based on user feedback.

(If you are a Fastcase subscriber and would like to try Fastcase 7, you can request an invitation by sending an email to support@fastcase.com. Invitations will be sent out on a rolling basis.)

‘Search Without Borders’

Earlier this week, Walters gave me a tour of the new platform and provided me with login credentials so that I could try it for myself. I found it to be a major step up over Fastcase 6, thanks to improvements in speed, search and usability.

The first change you encounter is to the start page. It has been redesigned to display information in colorful tiles similar to the look of Windows 10. (See image above.) The information available on the start page has not changed significantly from Fastcase 6. You can still start a quick search here or switch to advanced search. You still see your recent searches, find links to help and support, and read a post from the Fastcase blog. Added to the page are alerts and your print queue. Gone are options for starting a search of a specific type of material, such as cases or statutes.

The advanced search page lets you search everything or mix and match types of materials, jurisdictions and courts.
The advanced search page lets you search everything or mix and match types of materials, jurisdictions and courts.

But those options are not really gone. Rather, they are waiting in the background — in a new and improved form — that appears when you click Advanced Search. Here is where you encounter the first of the platform’s major enhancements. For the first time in Fastcase, you can now search across different types of materials at the same time. You can search universally across all jurisdictions and all types of materials — cases, statutes, constitutions, regulations, etc — or select any combination of categories. Fastcase describes this as “search without borders.”

Similarly, you can search simultaneously across all materials for a specific state. You no longer need to separately search cases and then statutes and then whatever else.

In fact, you can mix and match to search virtually any combination of resources. Maybe you want to search all materials from Massachusetts, cases from Maine, statutes from Vermont, and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. You can do that. Everything you select to search is shown at the top of the page. If you did not mean to add the Alabama federal court, you do not need to modify your search — just click the X next to its name to remove it from the search.

This is a major advance over Fastcase 6, where you had to search each different type of material separately. If you wanted to search cases and statutes, you’d have to first search cases and then conduct a second search of statutes.

Anytime you want to close out of the advanced search page, click the X in the upper right corner and you return instantly to the start page.

Single-Page Results

The next dramatic change is to the results screen. I had a preview of this last year at the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting on the condition that I keep the details private. I had previously published some details in a piece I wrote for the ABA Journal about visual law:

Fastcase is preparing to release a new version of its platform that will give visual search even greater prominence. In the new version, the Interactive Timeline will appear on the same page as the search results rather than on a separate page. The results page will also display a tag cloud, showing the words and concepts that are most prominent in the cases within the search results.

That much remains true. But the more impressive aspect of the new results page is that everything now loads onto a single page. Different tools and different types of information all load at the same time in a single-page experience. By clicking orange arrows in different parts of the screen, you can expand, contract and customize what you see.

The results page now includes the Interactive Timeline, a word cloud, facets, and other suggested results.
The results page now includes the Interactive Timeline, a word cloud, facets, and other suggested results.

Now, for example, Fastcase’s Interactive Timeline appears on the same page as the search results. In Fastcase 6, you had to switch to a separate tab to view the Timeline, meaning you could not see the results and the Timeline together. (The Timeline shows a visualization of when the cases in your search results were decided, how they relate to each other, and their relative importance.) If you want to maximize the view of the Timeline, click the orange arrow and it fills the page. To minimize it, click the arrow again.

Other features of the new results page include:

  • A tag cloud showing the key terms that frequently appear in your search results. Click on any tag to see only results that use that term. Fastcase says it is the first legal research platform to include a tag cloud.
  • Filters (or facets) on the left panel that you can apply or clear to refine search results.
  • Suggested results appear in the right panel. This feature suggests results that may be relevant to your search but that may not match your specific query. For example, if you searched only Massachusetts cases but there is also a Supreme Court case or law review article on point, this feature will offer those suggestions. Although Fastcase 6 had already included suggested results from the HeinOnline library, this has been expanded in Fastcase 7 to include results from Fastcase’s Forecite (a feature that identifies important cases that can be missed in ordinary keyword searches), journals and other materials.
  • Bottomless results, meaning that all results load in the same page allowing you to continually scroll down through the results and back up again without ever having to click to the “next page” of results. Here again, Fastcase says it is the first legal research platform to have bottomless search results.

“Without reloading the page, you’ve got the full dashboard of applications to filter or sort or visualize results,” Walters said. “This is the most powerful suite of legal research tools in the world to find what’s most important.”

Viewing Documents

Also changed is how specific cases and other documents are displayed. Here again, everything is displayed in a single page. The default view shows the case on the right with the list of search results and the Interactive Timeline on the left.

The default document view shows the search results and Interactive Timeline to the left. The document can be expanded to full screen.
The default document view shows the search results and Interactive Timeline to the left. The document can be expanded to full screen.

Click on the diagonal arrows in the case to expand it to a full-screen view, then click the “X” to exit full-screen view. Click an arrow on the left of your screen to reveal the panel containing the filters and tag cloud. Click the arrow on the right to reveal the panel containing suggested results. Click the arrow in the results panel to hide the document altogether.

Besides convenience, the advantage of this single-page view is speed. Everything is preloaded in your browser. There is no need to open new tabs or pages and wait for them to load. These different panels and options appear and disappear instantly.

When viewing a document, panels can be expanded to show more options.
When viewing a document, panels can be expanded to show more options.

Fastcase has also changed the typeface its uses in documents to enhance their readability. It now uses the Kepler font with larger point sizes and increased spacing between lines. The effect is to produce cases and documents that look much more like they would in print. You can see the difference in the examples below, the first showing the new typeface and the second the previous.

The new typeface in Fastcase 7.
The new typeface in Fastcase 7.
The same text as it appeared in Fastcase 6.
The same text as it appeared in Fastcase 6.

“A lot of the legal research applications pay very little attention to things like readability,” said Walters. “Fastcase 7 has a much more modern sensibility but more importantly is meant to be very readable and very understandable.”

The New Authority Check

Consistent with the single-page organization I’ve described above, Fastcase 7’s Authority Check (its version of a Shepard’s or KeyCite) is also now displayed on a page that shows multiple pieces of information.

FC7 Case and AC Report
The red flag indicates negative treatment. Clicking on it opens Authority Check to the left of the case.

When viewing a case, click the flag icon that appears above it to open Authority Check. In Fastcase 6, Authority Check opened in a new window. Now, the Authority Check report opens on the same page to the left of the case and includes the Interactive Timeline. Here again, you can maximize or minimize the report by clicking the orange arrows.

FC7 Authority Check Report
When you maximize Authority Check, the Bad Law Bot appears on the right. Click any case listed there to view it on the same page.

Working the Bugs Out

As noted at the outset, Fastcase 7 is still in a beta version. It is currently running on an in-house development server rather than in the cloud. That means it runs slower than it will when it comes out of development. In a few weeks, Walters said, it will move to cloud-based servers and should be much faster.

Even so, I encountered only minimal speed issues. I saw no lag of any kind when viewing the search results page. As I said, all the elements of this page load as a single page and you can toggle the views of them almost instantly.

I did encounter minor lags when loading full documents. For example, when I clicked on a case name in the search results to view the full document, I regularly experienced a lag of about five seconds before the case appeared. Five seconds is still pretty quick and I expect the lag will be even less when the platform moves to cloud servers.

Also, I sometimes experienced lag times of several seconds in loading all elements of the search results page. This happened most typically when I did a universal search across all libraries in Fastcase. The actual results listing would load quickly, but the Suggested Results and Interactive Timeline panels would take a few seconds longer to load.

Not Google By Design

It has become a mantra for legal-research services to describe their search interface as “Google-like.” That is not their aspiration at Fastcase, Walters said.

“When you’re searching the web and looking for one thing, Google is the best thing in the world,” he explained. “When you’re doing legal research, you may be looking for 21 things or or 11 things or six things. You need tools that will separate the wheat from the chaff, to drill down, to filter and visualize.

“We want to build better tools that empower people to do better research. We’re going in the other direction – more controls than Google, more interaction, more visualization. We want to empower people with smarter tools.”

The Bottom Line

Back in 2009, I wrote a head-to-head comparison of Fastcase and Casemaker, its chief competitor for bar association affinity relationships. My conclusion then was that both were worthwhile services that were comparable in many ways, particularly in their coverage of federal and state libraries and the relative strengths of their search tools. However, I gave Fastcase the edge over Casemaker, primarily because of its intuitiveness and ease of use.

When a company already has a winning platform, it is a big gamble to jettison it and replace it with something that is entirely new. But for Fastcase, it was time. Its platform was more than a dozen years old. Even as its search capabilities got faster, its platform held it back. Plus, it was designed for outmoded square monitors and failed to take advantage of the additional real estate offered by the wider aspect ratio of today’s displays.

I was impressed by Fastcase 7 when I saw a preview of it a year ago and this beta release confirms my initial impression. Current users will be glad to know that this new version does not discard any of the functionality that was already available in Fastcase. Rather, it enhances that functionality in several respects — most notably with universal search — and does it through a faster, more intuitive interface that puts all the key resources and tools right in front of you.

I know that Fastcase spent a long time developing this new platform and put a lot of thought and work into it. From what I’ve seen so far of this beta version, the gamble paid off.

Fullscreen capture 6162015 80919 PM.bmp

The legal research site Casetext is launching something today that could be a game-changer in how lawyers publish and share articles about the law. It is called LegalPad and the Casetext folks compare it to LinkedIn’s publishing platform or to the Medium publishing platform, but for people who write about the law online.

LegalPad is an application within Casetext where users can draft articles. The articles get published to Casetext’s communities and immediately shared with all the users who are members of those communities. The articles also become part of the Casetext database of legal commentary. If an article discusses a case, the article links directly to the case and the case links back to the article.

In a sense, it is an alternative to blogging. It is a place to publish legal analysis and commentary and have what you publish both be shared directly with others who are interested in the topic and be connected to the actual legal materials you discuss, so that when others read that case, they will also see your commentary connected to that case.

“It is a new way to read and write about the law,” says Casetext founder Jake Heller.

I’ve written about Casetext several times. It launched in July 2013 as a free legal research site that used crowdsourcing to annotate its cases. The idea was that users would add descriptions and annotations to cases and eventually build up a substantive collection of editorial annotations similar to what you might find with a paid legal research service.

Last October, Casetext introduced new community pages — pages organized around practice areas and interests where lawyers could contribute analysis, meet others in their fields, and engage in discussions about current legal developments.

“Part of our move to communities was about refocusing on engaging people and helping them write and share commentary and hold discussions in a way that is more familiar, but that would still help us reach that ultimate vision of a legal database that is commented on and discussed and enhanced by the legal community,” Heller says.

Put another way, Casetext wants to become not just a legal research site, but also a platform to build legal commentary, Heller says. It therefore made sense to build a tool designed specifically for legal writing and for writing about the law and legal commentary.

“So what we’re trying to do is make it easier,” Heller explains. “You don’t need a blog or a WordPress installation. You don’t need to worry about SEO. We have 350,000 readers every month. From day one, you can speak to a built-in audience.”

As a legal writing tool, LegalPad is very cool.

Start typing, “Brown v. Boa” and it suggests the full case name. Accept its suggestion and it drops in the full name, in correct Bluebook citation form and hyperlinked to the full text of the case. If you want, you can then load the full case in a panel alongside the editing tool. Select text in the case and, with a click, insert it as a quote in your article.

OK, I wasn’t supposed to tell you about that autocomplete feature, because Casetext is still working out some bugs with it. But it’s there now. If you try LegalPad, you can see it for yourself.

Another cool feature: If you want to add an image to a post, you can search for images on the web from directly within the editor. When you find one you like, simply click it to insert it.

Adding PDFs is just as easy. Drag the file to the editor and it will embed the full PDF document within your post.

Also in the style of Medium.com, all posts will use the same fonts and formatting — a fairly basic but professional-looking format. Choosing styles such as bold or italics involves just highlighting text and a style bubble appears with those options.

Coming soon is the ability for multiple authors to work on an article simultaneously, similar to collaborating on Google Docs.

When you are ready to publish, LegalPad prompts you to select the Casetext communities you want your post to appear on. As you select communities, you see the numbers of people who will receive your post. Finish publishing to share your post to have it appear on those communities’ pages.

If you wrote about a case or statute, then that case or statute within Casetext will include a link to your article. Eventually, if your article quoted any specific text in the case, that text will be highlighted and will link to your article. (This feature is not yet active.)

Casetext uses heatmaps to show the most cited and discussed parts of cases. These heatmaps will reflect the articles published through LegalPad. “The heatmap will show you that this aspect of the case has been talked about a lot,” Heller says.

As a corollary to linking these articles to cases and statutes, Casetext will phase out the individual annotations that were a hallmark of its initial launch. “Users will still be able to highlight and bookmark language in case for themselves privately, but the act of writing the annotation will probably come to a close,” Heller says.

“The big-picture goal is to match the incentives and interests of people who are excited to write about the law, to tap those interests, with what we think will be a really powerful research experience,” he explains. “You can do a lot of things to make your reading and discussion of cases interesting. We want to make these discussions into data, to overlay the social layer with primary source documents.”

 

As I start to make my way through some of the news I picked up at LegalTech last week, here’s a big one: The start-up legal research site Casetext announced that it has raised a $7 million Series A financing round. The round is led by Union Square Ventures and includes participation by, among others, Thomas H. Glocer, the Yale Law School grad who is the former CEO of Thomson Reuters and, before that, Reuters Group PLC.

CasetextLogoThis investment adds to the $1.8 million in seed funding the company secured in October 2013, bringing its total funding to $8.8 million.

I’ve written about Casetext for the ABA Journal and multiple times on this blog. The site provides free access to cases and statutes for legal research and uses crowdsourcing — insights contributed by the legal community — to annotate the legal materials in its collection.

Its CEO Jake Heller is a former litigation associate at Ropes & Gray and law clerk to 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boudin. At Stanford Law School, Heller was president of the Stanford Law Review and a managing editor of the Stanford Law & Policy Review.

“We’re taking a totally different approach to legal research,” Heller said in a press release. “The old way of doing things misses the most valuable source of legal knowledge: the legal community itself. Lawyers already share insight about the law publicly to demonstrate thought leadership and grow their reputation. By building the best platform to write commentary on the law, we’re able to collaborate with the legal community to create an insightful, free legal resource for lawyers and the public.”

Last October, I wrote here about Casetext’s launch of “communities” along with several additional new features. Casetext’s community pages are designed to provide common ground for lawyers who share interests and practice areas.

If you are not familiar with Casetext, I encourage you to check it out. For more background on it, read through some of my prior posts.

 

LawGeniusCap

There is something very fitting in the fact that a site that started out deciphering rap lyrics is now turning its attention to making sense of the law.

The site, Law Genius, is the newest member of the larger Genius network of crowdsourced community sites, all of which grew out of the original site, Rap Genius, which was started in 2009 for the purpose of listing and annotating rap lyrics.

Soon, users started using the site to annotate all sorts of other stuff, from the collected works of Shakespeare to the roster of the 1986 New York Mets to the warnings on the back of a Tylenol bottle. Last July, the site officially relaunched as Genius, becoming a hub for a range of communities devoted to topics such as rock, literature, history, sports, screen and tech. All are united by the site’s overarching goal, “to annotate the world.”

Genius breaks down text with line-by-line annotations, added and edited by anyone in the world. It’s your interactive guide to human culture.

Now law is the latest addition to this ambitious effort at global annotation. It is an effort to crowdsource statutes, case law and other legal news. At the helm of the project, as executive editor of Law Genius, is Christine Clarke, a 2010 graduate of Yale Law School who practiced plaintiff-side employment law in Manhattan before joining Law Genius full time.

“There’s so much information lawyers have (particularly in our own little fields of expertise) and we have so much to say about what’s happening, though we usually keep those thoughts to ourselves, either writing emails to listservs or blogging in our small interconnected blogospheres,” Clarke said in an email. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if those conversations happened publicly, around the text of actual opinions and statutes themselves? And before you know it, I came here to kickstart Law Genius.”

Any User Can Add Text

At Law Genius, any registered user can add text and annotate any text. Other users can vote up or down on annotations, or add their own suggestions to the annotations. As you view text, any portion that is highlighted has an annotation. Click on the highlighted text to view the annotation. To add your own annotation, just highlight a selection of text.

Any text on Law Genius can be embedded into any other web page, complete with annotations. Users can also share a document through social media or follow it to be notified of new annotations.

As examples of the types of annotations on Law Genius, Clarke point me to these:

There is also a section of Law Genius specifically for law students, where they can find classic cases such as Marbury v. Madison along with “Genius casebooks” on topics such as civil procedure.

Annotations on Law Genius are moderated by editors. Editors can accept, reject and edit annotations and help with training new users.

I’ve written about a number of sites for crowdsourcing the law, most recently CanLII Connects, Casetext and Mootus. Any of these sites face the same challenge — building a sufficiently critical mass of users to fuel contributions and discussions.

“Any text can be as layered, as allusive and cryptic, as worthy of careful exegesis as rap lyrics,” says the about Genius page. If you want layered, allusive and cryptic, look no further than legal text. Perhaps Law Genius can help make sense of the law.

 

CourtListenerAudio

The free legal research site CourtListener rolled out a notable enhancement this week, adding oral arguments from the Supreme Court and nine federal appellate courts to its collection of primary legal materials.

Now, when you conduct a search on CourtListener, the search results page includes matching oral arguments. You can toggle the results page between matching opinions and matching oral arguments.

Alternatively, you can simply browse the latest oral arguments added to the site. Browsing can be refined by jurisdiction, case name, judge, date range and docket number.

In addition, you can create a podcast feed of oral arguments along virtually any parameter you want. For whatever query you enter, you have the option of subscribing to it as a podcast. For example, if you want to receive all oral arguments in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving a particular party, you can do that.

Another option is to set up an email alert for any search. Whenever you conduct a query, the results page gives you the option of creating an alert for that query. Thereafter, you will receive emails alerting you to new arguments that match your query.

So far, CourtListener’s oral arguments cover 10 courts: the Supreme Court and the federal courts of appeal for the 1st Circuit, 3rd Circuit, 4th Circuit, 5th Circuit, 7th Circuit, 8th Circuit, 9th Circuit, D.C. Circuit and Federal Circuit. Arguments are loaded to the site at the end of the day in which they occur.

Searching the arguments is limited to the metadata provided by the court, such as case name and docket number. You cannot search the full text of the spoken arguments — although CourtListener would like to add this ability.

Started in 2010, CourtListener is part of the broader Free Law Project, a non-profit devoted to providing free online access to primary legal materials and to developing legal research tools.

For prior posts of mine about CourtListener, see:

Ravel with Cooley Client Alerts
A box in the right column shows Cooley’s client alerts that discuss the case.

The legal research site Ravel Law has partnered with the law firm Cooley LLP to pair Cooley’s client alerts with the court opinions in Ravel that they discuss.

Now, if the court opinion you view in Ravel was ever discussed or cited in a Cooley alert, the two are linked. When viewing the case, a box appears to the right titled “Featured analysis by Cooley.” The box shows a snippet of the alert that discusses the case and provides a link to the full alert. If multiple alerts discussed the case, the linked page lists them all.

Last week, I wrote about another legal research site, Casetext, that is planning to do something similar by adding law firm client alerts distributed via JD Supra.

This makes a lot of sense. Law firm client alerts typically provide in-depth analysis and thoughtful perspective on developments in the law. For someone who is performing legal research, alerts that discuss a case can provide a quick way to understand its holding and significance. Ravel founder Daniel Lewis described it to me as “targeted insight at the right moment.”

Normally, these alerts are not readily available. Adding them into a legal research site is a win-win, benefiting the site’s users with added useful content and benefiting the firm by bringing new eyes to the materials it generates.

Lewis said that Ravel hopes to add alerts from other firms as well.

If you are not familiar with Ravel, see the article I wrote for the ABA Journal about “visual law,” in which Ravel was featured. Ravel is distinct from traditional legal research platforms in its use of visualization to map out search results. In addition to listing results, it draws a map of them, showing the relationships among cases and their relative importance to each other.

Ravel offers free and paid subscription plans. Access to the client alerts requires a paid subscription.

 

Casetextcommunities

Crowdsourced legal research site Casetext officially rolled out its new community pages this week. Designed to provide common ground for lawyers who share interests and practice areas, these pages allow lawyers to contribute analysis, meet others in their fields, and engage in discussions about current legal developments.

Also this week, Casetext announced new features, added new cases, and added new forms of content that will help provide greater perspective on the cases. I’ll get to these later in this post, but first more about the communities.

In July, I previewed the beta version of Casetext’s communities in July. Now that this feature is out of beta, much of what I wrote then remains true.

The communities are structured around legal practice and interest areas, such as environmental law, business law and legal research. These are designed to be places where legal professionals can find and interact with others who share their interests. The discussions that take place here will be linked to the cases they discuss, and the cases will link to the discussions.

Once a user decides to follow a community, the user will then receive a feed of all updates to that community. Users can post updates 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 the comment with the community name and it will appear in that community’s feed, as well as with the case. (You can tag comments to multiple communities, if relevant.)

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.

There are 41 of these communities. In addition to the topics I mentioned above, others include constitutional law, civil rights, tech law, appellate practice, legal ethics, privacy and cybersecurity, maritime law and Native American law.

During the beta phase, Casetext focused its greatest effort on building up the environmental law section, as a model for what the others could be. That section will continue to be the focus of the most intense development, as the company works towards securing Series A financing. But the other sections are active and growing as well.

New Content on Casetext

When I first wrote about Casetext in July 2013, its collection of cases included all Supreme Court cases, all federal circuit cases starting from volume one of the F.2d series, all federal district court cases published in F.Supp. and F.Supp. 2d since 1980, and Delaware cases published since Volume 30 of the Atlantic reporter.

Since then, it has been adding additional libraries of state cases. Most recently, it added Massachusetts cases. In addition to Delaware, it also now includes California, Florida, Illinois and Texas, for a total of six states.

Besides cases, Casetext is pulling in other forms of content to help further flesh out the annotations and analysis it provides of cases. For one, it is now aggregating content from a number of leading blogs. Blog posts are linked to any cases they discuss and to any community pages to which they relate. Casetext posts only a snippet of the full blog post and links it to the original source. However, it examines the full text of the blog posts to ensure that posts are linked to any cases they mention.

Casetextcaseview
Cases now include an improved heat map and the new ReCites feature.

Another addition is case-summarizing parentheticals. I wrote in July about WellSettled.com, a site that mines judicial opinions for those parenthetical-style statements and phrases that summarize a case (“it is well settled that …”). That site was developed by Pablo Arredondo, Casetext’s vice president, and he has now brought those parentheticals — more than 120,000 of them so far — into Casetext.

Now, when you view a case, a box to the right shows ReCites (rhymes with KeyCites), which are these parentheticals. They provide an easy way to get a quick sense of a case’s most important holdings.

Several other content additions are soon to be added to Casetext. As with blog posts, these will all be linked both to any cases they mention and to any communities to which they relate. New content expected to be added over the next couple of months includes:

  • Law firm client alerts distributed via JD Supra. These are articles circulated by law firms to their clients that discuss cases and legal developments.
  • Appellate briefs, both collected from online sources and contributed by users.
  • Congressional Research Service reports. These reports contain legal research and analysis performed by the Library of Congress for members of Congress. Congress does not allow public access to these reports, but selected reports are available through various websites. Casetext has obtained a large number of these.

New Features on Casetext

In addition to new content, Casetext also this week introduced new or improved features.

One is an enhancement to the search results page. Now, search results include not only cases and posts, but also registered users. If the search term appears in a user’s profile, that user appears in a new “Users” section of the results page. This provides a way for users to find other users who are knowledgeable about a topic.

Another is an improved “heat map.” As I noted when Casetext first introduced this last March, the heatmap runs alongside each case and shows how frequently each page has been cited. That lets the researcher jump to the most important parts of a case. The heatmap now appears directly along the left side of a case and its coloring has been changed to better show the frequency of citations.

Casetext remains completely free to use. You do not need to register to search cases. You do need to register if you want to be able to post comments and vote on others’ comments.

A paid version is available for law firms and organizations that want to securely integrate their own private content with Casetext’s database of legal documents and user submissions.

If you’ve never tried Casetext, I urge you to do so. And when you do, share what you think about it in a comment here.

CanLIIConnectsCap

Crowdsourcing the law is a concept any number of legal sites have tried over the years, as I’ve written about many times. The idea behind it makes perfect sense. There are lots of very smart legal professionals out there in the world — practitioners, academics, librarians and even law students. If they can be encouraged to share their knowledge and insights, we would all benefit from their collective input.

One of the most recent examples of this for U.S. law is Casetext, a site that provides free access to court opinions and then uses crowdsourcing to add descriptions and annotations to the cases. I’ve written about Casetext a number of times here and also in the ABA Journal.

This week, at the suggestion of Jordan Furlong, I’ve been exploring CanLII Connects, a site that does something similar for Canadian law, drawing on the legal community at large — as well as on blogs and publications — to provide commentary on and analysis of Canadian court decisions.

CanLII Connects is a project of CanLII — the Canadian Legal Information Institute. Much like its U.S. counterpart, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, CanLII is an organization devoted to providing free access to law and legal information and to providing the legal community with a free, comprehensive and robust legal research service.

CanLII now houses more than 275 databases of caselaw and legislative materials from the federal government, the provinces and the territories. Its collection includes more than 1.3 million documents with new documents being added at the rate of 2,000 a week. CanLII is staffed by Colin Lachance, its president and CEO as well as a 2014 ABA Journal Legal Rebel, and Sarah Sutherland, its manager of content and partnerships.

Contributors are Vetted

Last April, CanLII launched CanLII Connects as a way to marry the caselaw it houses with commentary from the legal community. To do this, it encourages lawyers, scholars and others who are competent in legal analysis to contribute commentary on cases or to post summaries of cases.

Only registered members are allowed to post and only after they have been approved by CanLII Connects staff. Here’s how they describe it:

CanLII Connects is committed to ensuring high-quality information for its users. For this reason, applications will be reviewed to determine whether you have the necessary competency to contribute summaries and commentary on Canadian case law. However, members are not necessarily required to be practicing lawyers or legal professionals.

Lachance, in an email, tells me that all membership applications are manually verified and participation is authorized only for people presumed capable of commenting on Canadian law. “Once membership is granted, any member has the ability to add content, comment on the content of other members, and upvote content,” he writes.

The site also allows entities to register as a “publisher” and post content. A publisher can be any law firm, organization, group, business or school that is also a member of the legal community. Publishers can post content to CanLII Connects directly and also authorize affiliated individuals (such as members of a firm) to post under the publisher’s name. A publisher can manage all content published under its name and by its affiliated members.

Contributors can post either summaries or commentary. Here is how the site explains the difference between them:

A summary is a shortened version of the full court decision. It typically contains the key facts, reasoning of the case, and the court’s ruling. A summary should not include any commentary or opinion about the case; it’s our preference that contributors keep these documents as neutral as possible. Commentary, on the other hand, might include a summary of the case but will go generally further by offering an analysis or new idea related to the case or the legal topics at issue.

When an item is posted as commentary, other registered users can add their own comments to the commentary and create a discussion.

The site also aims to draw content from blogs and other publications. It does not scrape content directly from other sites, but it encourages authors to republish their content on CanLII Connects. In this way, the author can link his or her content directly to the ruling it discusses and make it discoverable by someone who is researching that ruling.

One example of how this works is from the blog ABlawg.ca, a blog on developments in Alberta law written by faculty members at The University of Calgary. When CanLII Connects launched, the authors of this blog joined as a publisher contributed their back catalog of relevant posts and continue to add their new posts to the site, typically within hours of posting them on their own site.

Another example of an academic blog contributing content to CanLII Connects is The Court, an Osgoode Hall Law School blog devoted to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Future Development

Lachance’s email to me includes a paragraph that perfectly describes the ideal of how crowdsourcing can work within the legal profession:

We are at the beginning of a virtuous circle of growth: increased integration with our primary law site means greater awareness of the commentary site, including greater awareness of who is contributing; when lawyers and law profs see work from their peers on the platform, they are motivated to join and contribute their own work; expanding content from an expanding roster of respected professionals drives greater usage which make the platform more complete and more attractive to existing and future contributors to keep the flow of content going; continual growth will prompt us to pursue deeper integration of commentary and primary law which, hopefully, keeps the circle moving.

Perhaps another way to put it is that success breeds success. Of the crowdsourcing sites I’ve covered over the years, several have failed. Their failure has stemmed from their inability to ever build a core collection of contributions. As Lachance suggests, once you can begin to build that core, then the core fuels further contributions, almost virally. From what I’ve seen of CanLII Connects, it looks like they’ve built a solid core and are well on their way to becoming a vital site for Canadian legal research.

Lachance would like to see the site develop beyond only case summaries and commentaries. “In building the legitimacy of the platform and process for sharing of short-form content, we build a community of potential contributors of longer-form content,” he says. That means that CanLII could become attractive to authors as a publisher of longer-form texts, manuals and treatises on a par with those you can find on Westlaw or LexisNexis.

That would take CanLII a long way towards its goal of providing the Canadian legal community with a comprehensive and robust research service.

CasetextEnvironmental
Environmental Law is one of Casetext’s new communities.

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. Continue Reading Casetext Prepares to Add ‘Communities’