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Fastcase: Alternatives to Lexis Advance & Westlaw—Best Bet Legal Research Sites

Judith Kaul  /  Tuesday, February 27, 2018  /  Categories: Databases and Subscription Resources, Legal Research Tips  /  Rate this article:

•  There are freely available research databases.  Fastcase is not one of them, but it is my pick as a top, low-cost. computer-assisted legal research system. Lawyers have to be a member of a participating bar association to get free access to a limited amount of Fastcase services.  But they can upgrade to fully loaded Fastcase for a very low price. CWRU Law students can familiarize themselves with the Fastcase system now at no cost using the Law Library's subscription.

•  Currently available as a free benefit to Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association (CMBA) attorney and paralegal members, Fastcase (Basic Plan) is top of the list for
solo practitioners and smaller firms. Some larger firms may use it as a first source for clients that reject charges for legal research cost and for pro bono work. Fastcase is top of the lower cost alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw due to its smarter searching algorithm, sorting and visualization tools as compared to other computer assisted legal research (CALR) alternatives.          

• The Fastcase platform approaches legal research techniques with a unique twist.  It provides visual signals to indicate special features or treatment of search results. For instance:

          o   The Forecite Special Feature: “When you perform a Keyword Search on Fastcase, Forecite goes the extra mile and identifies important cases that can easily be missed by ordinary keyword searches. Forecite enhances your ordinary search result by carefully and comprehensively analyzing the citation structure of each case in your results list. It looks for decisions that are frequently cited by other decisions in your search results but do not contain all of your search terms. Forecite will notify you of these additional cases at the top of the results page.” I 

         o    Authority Check is an automated system that identifies later-citing cases. It includes Bad Law Bot, which uses language-processing algorithms to identify cases with negative history.When one retrieves a list of cases, to the far right of the citation display, is a header: Authority Check. To the right of each case in your list of citations a number appears under the Authority Check column. 

        o     I performed a simple search in the U.S. Supreme Court jurisdiction:  Bilski v. Kappos. The case I am seeking is the first in the list of 142 decisions. 

        o    The Forecite feature identified 3 additional cases that may be relevant to my search, but do not contain one or more of my search terms. Those cases are ntecedents                 to Bilski v. Kappos:

   Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 101 S.Ct. 1048, 67 L.Ed.2d 155 (1981).
 Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584, 98 S.Ct. 2522, 57 L.Ed.2d 451, 198 USPQ 193 (1978).
 Gottschalk v. Benson 485, 409 U.S. 63, 93 S.Ct. 253, 34 L.Ed.2d 273, 175 USPQ 673 (1972).

        o      Under the Authority Check Header 410 Citing Cases are indicated. If I click on that link, 410, Fastcase provides an Authority Check Report screen.  It links to the full text of Bilski v. Kappos. It also provides a visual Interactive Timeline for that decision, which can be zoomed. Fastcase also reports a Citation Summary showing the number of times that case has been subsequently cited by other cases.

                        The number of times this case has been cited  410
                        Cited by federal appellate cases 111
                        Cited by state cases  5
                        Cited by district court cases  293
                        Cited by bankruptcy court cases  1
                        Decision date of the most recent cite December 14, 2017.

        o        Below that visual and summary are links to Citing Law Reviews. Those articles are linked to the full text of articles on HeinOnline. Fastcase has a special partnership with HeinOnline to offer its subscribers exclusive access to law review articles on Fastcase. HeinOnline Law Review search results appear for free within Fastcase. A HeinOnline subscription is required to view the full text of the law review search results.  For the Law School users this simply connects to our HeinOnline subscription.  For lawyers, daily and weekly subscriptions to HeinOnline are available through Fastcase. 
        o        Then All Citing Cases below the law review list, which can be limited to jurisdictions.

              The Interactive Timeline. When running a search activate the Interactive Timeline tab at the top of the screen. It opens by default in Relevance View. Each case in  your result list is represented on the timeline and represents at least four things about each case:

                        The date of each decision
                        The Relevance Score of each decision
                        The number of times each case was cited overall (the visual cue is the size of the gray circles (bubbles))
                        The number of times each case was cited for your search terms (the size of the god circles). 
                        Hover your mouse over a bubble to see the case name, summary preview, and citation. 
                        Click on the case name to access the full-text of the case.
                        Switch to Court Level View by selecting Court Level.
This gives a view of the court level of each subsequent case. Those cases with large diameters that appear towards the top of the page will be the seminal and authoritative cases. You have to see it. Trying to describe the timeline is complicated but it is actually intuitive. These visual enhancements enable the user to understand the search results very quickly.

Fastcase through Bar Associations.

The CMBA plan covers Ohio supreme and appellate courts, the Sixth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.   Nationwide statutes, regulations and court rules are part of the deal.
Tech perks include:  
o  Mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android,
o   Mobile Sync favorites and usage history, and
o  Learn it with free webinars, tutorial videos, FAQs and support.
Training materials include:

o  Video Tutorials
o  Fastcase Webinars & CLE programs
o  Documentation and Resource information. https://www.fastcase.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Fastcase-7-Complete-User-Guide-2018.pdf
o  Fastcase Quick Reference Guide: 2018. https://www.fastcase.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Quick-Reference-20181.pdf

The CMBA plan offers an upgrade to Fastcase Premium Plan to expand coverage to nationwide supreme and appellate courts, U.S. District Courts and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts $125 per year. 

Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory--U.S. now provides more than 125 secondary  treatises, handbooks, and other resources through the Fastcase platform.  Firms and solo practitioners can select the WK titles they wish to subscribe to (for an additional price). The CWRU Law Library subscribes to several treatises through HeinOnline. These are the treatises that were previously available through the Loislaw system which no longer exists.
To summarize, you must use Fastcase to appreciate it. You can take a guided tour but the system will want to load software to your computer to view it. That software will charge you if you do not immediately remove it from your system after touring Fastcase. Pragmatic law students will take advantage of their opportunity to learn about Fastcase while they can experience it without additional cost. 

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