Home > Uncategorized > Fastcase to Partner with DC Bar Association!

Fastcase to Partner with DC Bar Association!

Anyone concerned with the advancement of free legal research should read the blog articles “Fastcase snags D.C. Bar and its 70,000+ Attorneys” and “DC Bar Partners with Fastcase to Provide Free Legal Research” in 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.  What are the articles about? As the titles suggests the articles are about the DC bar giving their more than 70,000 members unlimited access to Fastcase.  Still unclear about why this is such a big deal? Well perhaps it is because some are unfamiliar with Fastcase.  For those unaware of what Fastcase is, the program was created 11 years ago by two attorneys with a vision.  This vision was to create an alternative to traditional legal research engines, like West Law and Lexis Nexis, and to democratize the law by making it more accessible to the people in respect to ease of search and affordability.  Fastcase has been adopted by many state bar associations that have used fastcase as a replacemnt for search engines like Lexis Nexis, Casemaker and VersusLaw.  Fastcase has also become the largest legal research service after Lexis Nexis and West Law, with more subscribers than Louis law and Bloomberg Law combined.  Fastcase even has free applications for Ipad and Iphone.  Fastcase has also won awards for best service.   In Fastcase’s website when you go to “What is Fastcase” it explains many of its great features, like the fact that you can visualize search results and integrated citation analysis,  at an average of 80% less than the leading search engines if you happen not to be a DC bar member.  Yet for those who do belong to the DC bar, the implication of getting free legal access is a saving of S2,000 per attorney per year.  DC members also have the option of subscribing to the premium version of Fastcase for $198 a year, a savings of up to $1,400.

 

Now that I am done gushing about Fastcase, what does the DC Bar and perhaps more bars in the future signing with Fastcase imply for the future of free legal research? The idea of having bar organizations giving attorneys the opportunity to get free legal access and another search engine that with enough subscribers could grow to be better than Lexis Nexis and West Law.  But does it have a larger implication for the general public? I don’t really know about that.  Sadly the implications for the general public is not as huge as I would like because it is still not completely free for the general public and although less expensive than the leading competitors still might not be affordable enough for the average person.  Even if Fastcase was extremely cheap the average person might still be discourage from using it because of the money barrier, like PACER discourages the average person from using it because of its cost although it is not very expensive.  Yet when a program invovles such a refined and technologically advanced search engine money must be involved.  Perhaps  the average person should then not be so focused on free legal websites and perhaps invest on a cheaper but more effective website with a much better search engine.  After all what good is a website with limitless amount of information when there is no good way to access information a person wants and needs.  But in the end one must also be mindful that Fastcase was invented by attorneys and although their goal is to democratize legal research it has been a goal that has focused on helping attorneys more so than the average person.

 

To conclude, regardless of the fact that the last part of this blog post has been a little critical of the limitations of the democratization of legal research, Fastcase itself seems amazing and innovative.  Although free access to legal research for non lawyers might not be a plan of Fastcase in the near future, I believe it is a search engine that will revolutionize and make legal research engines better in the long run.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. lenael
    February 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I have to admit I was one of those who read the blog “DC Bar Partners with Fastcase to Provide Free Legal Research” in 3 Geeks and a Law Blog and had no idea what Fastcase was. So, of course, I went to Fastcase.com and clicked on “What is Fastcase?” The website describes Fastcase as “the leading next-generation legal research service that puts a comprehensive national law library and smarter and more powerful searching, sorting and visualization tools at your fingertips.”

    So what makes Fastcase different? Again according to the website it’s the “only legal research system that sorts the best results to the top of the list like Google…without the risk of overfocusing your search.” Fastcase also prides itself on its patent-pending interactive map of search results called “Interactive Timeline.” The map displays all the results and shows the relevance of each case based on the search terms, the number of times each case has been “cited generally” by all other cases or cited by super-relevant cases within the search results (“cited within”), among other things.

    Well, today I had the chance to test out Fastcase (the Cornell Law Library subscribes to Fastcase, and it is accessible on any of the computers at the law school at http://library2.lawschool.cornell.edu/esources/default.aspx?id=274). I thought generally the service was pretty user friendly. You can do a “quick caselaw search” of all jurisdictions by typing keywords in a box similar to Google or any other search engine. There’s also the option to switch to an advanced caselaw search, which looks more like Westlaw’s “terms and connectors” box. Basic connectors automatically show up under the search box for easy reference. The page is clean and uncluttered without the many databases to choose from in Westlaw. It gives several jurisdictions you can select (ex. all jurisdictions, all federal appellate, all state, etc) with the option of choosing individual jurisdictions. The searches are similar for statutes. There is also the option to search regulations, constitutions, court rules, Attorney General Opinions, newspapers, federal filings, and legal forms.

    Though I admit performing searches seemed easy and straightforward, I’m afraid I lack the legal research expertise to know if their claim that it’s the “only legal research system that sorts the best results to the top” is accurate. Also, I did look at the “Interactive Timeline,” and honestly, it looked like a bunch of bubbles that didn’t make much sense at first. Then I realized the larger the bubble, the more times the case has been cited. I’m still not sure how useful it really is though and how often people will use the map over the normal list of results.

    All of you who’ve tried Fastcase, please give me your opinion on if it lives up to its claims, and if it does, what makes it so great. Nelsynuez, I’d love to hear why you “believe it is a search engine that will revolutionize and make legal research engines better in the long run.”

    • nelsynuez
      February 8, 2011 at 2:59 am

      Well I believe its a search engine that will revolutionize and make legal research engines better in the long run because I feel it is one of the few truly strong competitor of Lexis Nexis and West Law, in large part because of its search engine and its innovative ideas (like the ipad application). Fastcase is also revolutionary because it is provided at a much more affordable price than Lexis Nexis and West Law and, as the trend continues, free for many lawyers in various states. I like the fact that Fastcase has one search box that searches everything on their database (like Westlaw has done although they have not gotten quite the positive response they wanted). It also has the last ten searches conveniently displayed and easy to get when you log on again by just one click unlike Lexis and West Law who require you to click on history tab. More importantly when you go to advanced research it provides various subcatagories like jurisdiction, date, and results display options, including sortability by several variables much like West Law and Lexis Nexis. Like Lexis Nexis and West Law it also has a cite checker that shows how many times the particular result has been used. The results can also be sorted by document titles, titles with the first paragraph, or titles with the most relevant paragraph. Like West Law and Lexis Nexis it even has a separate section that appears when you click on a document that gives related articles, links and documents and even direct links to the document on Lexis Nexis and West Law. Something I feel was even more of an improvement from its competitors was “My Library” which allows you to save documents and access it later. Yet the Interactive Timeline is perhaps its best feature when you get use to it. Why? Because it lets you see how relevant each document is in relation to your search. You can read it better once you understand that relevance is on the y axis, date is on the x axis, the inner circle size indicates the number of times document has been cited in search results, and outer circle size is for the times the document is cited total in the Fastcase database. The most relevant are the highest circles but the biggest circles are the most cited and by clicking on the circle you get the case or document name and the relevant paragraph. Did I also mention it has an almost identical interface for the Iphone and Ipad and so lawyers can even research in court, but that is of course another topic but if anyone is interested in the review check it out here.

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