White Paper “Are All Citator Services Created Equal?”

An interesting recent brief report of Internet For Lawyers is:

Are All Citator Services Created Equal? A Comparison of Google Scholar, Fastcase, Casemaker, LexisNexis, WestlawNext, and Bloomberg
by Carole A. Levitt and Mark Rosch (2012)

Hat tip to the January/February 2013 issue of The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher Newsletter.

Cross-posted on Law Library Blog.

Fastcase partners with the Philadelphia Bar Association

From the Spring 2011 issue of The Philadelphia Lawyer, Vol. 74, No. 1, p. 30:

Fastcase: Research Made Easy

by Daniel J. Siegel

Legal research services are a necessity that no lawyer, or law firm, can be without.  Yet lawyers frequently lament about their cost, particularly in today’s difficult economic climate.  Recognizing this need, Chancellor Rudolph Garcia has announced that the Association has partnered with Fastcase, an innovative legal research service, so that Philadelphia Bar Association members will be able to complete most, if not all, of their online research for free.

New Web Resource: SCOCAL: The Supreme Court of California, Annotated

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Supreme Court of California website, SCOCAL (http://scocal.stanford.edu).

SCOCAL is a joint project between the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford Law School, and  Justia, Inc.

The site provides free access to the full text California Supreme Court opinions from 1934 to the present, along with detailed annotations of selected cases written and edited by students in our Advanced Legal Research class here at Stanford.  For selected cases related California Supreme Court briefs, other documents and news items are also available, all free of charge. Users may subscribe to separate RSS feeds of new opinions, annotations, Court news and follow the site on Twitter.

Special thanks to FastCase for providing a large number of the California Supreme Court opinions available on the site.

Between a Rock and a Free Site

We are big fans of free and low-cost legal research alternatives here at LRP.  And, we share our enthusiasm with our students in Advanced Legal Research.

But what do you do when there are apparent discrepancies in the free sites that you steer your students to time and time again?

Here is the story:

A professor stopped by the library one day and started off by saying how great Cornell’s LII site is but was wondering about a potential error on their site.

What was the error?

In the Federal Rules of Appellate Practice, Rule 4: Appeal as of Right — When Taken, there is a section dealing with appeals in criminal cases.

In 2009, that rule was modified: defendant’s notice of appeal needs to be filed within 14 days of certain events.  The prior version of the rule required that this notice needed to be filed within 10 days.

The big change: 14 days now; before, 10 days.

As of May 13th, the version of FRAP Rule 4 on LII’s site still shows the text of the old rule.  The top of that page states that it is current through 2007.  (And, not 2009.)

I decided to look around at other important research sites and see what was online.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel prepares and publishes the United States Code, and on their site (uscode.house.gov) they have the text of the code and the rules.  They also have the wrong version of FRAP Rule 4.  The LII folks work off of the House site, so it isn’t that surprising.  This House version has a currency date as of 1/2009 — the rule was changed in March, taking effect in December 2009.

However, another site at the US House of Representatives has it right.  On the House Judiciary Committee site, they have the correct version of the rule posted on their Procedural Documents page.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has the correct version posted on their Rules page.   I also checked a number of Federal Court websites and all had the current version.

The GPO Access site directs you to the most recent printed, official version of the US Code (2006), so this is out of date.  And, worth noting: “The information contained in the U.S. Code on GPO Access has been provided to GPO by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives.”   But, of course.   Also, FDSys has such a great interface and so much useful information, but it is only current through the last official supplement — missing the current version of this rule.

As to various commercial versions: Westlaw and Lexis have the correct version.  And, FastCase and CaseMaker also have the current version.

However, newcomer on the block, Bloomberg’s BLAW has a 1998 version — very out of date (and still with the 10 days instead of 14 days mistake, among others).

So, what is the right thing to say to your class?  Do we feed the research paranoia, as Bob Berring describes it, where students feel the need to double or triple check everything online on multiple sources?  Or do we frustrate the students with the caveat that sometimes even the best resources aren’t going to do the trick?

This is truly a teachable moment, but not the type of lesson I had in mind.

Will Knowledge and People Converge?

In today’s HuffPo, Paul Lippe (Legal OnRamp founder) interviews David Curle (legal information market analyst) in “Will Knowledge & People Converge?”

The interview moves through key trends and recent history in the legal information and publishing sector (including the latest improvements offered by the ‘big guys’ at Westlaw and Lexis).

Then the discussion shifts to the impact of Google Scholar‘s free case law on the legal information market:

“It’s revolutionary in the sense that the general public now has easy access to the law of the land, something that was surprisingly hard to obtain before.”

Curle mentions the FastCase iPhone app that allows free searching of its database.   The days of charging for ‘just access’ to primary legal materials are coming to a close.    And, welcome to the generation of data.gov and law.gov:

“Law.gov has the ambition of making all primary US legal material available in standardized, machine-readable formats that can be incorporated into new kinds of information products.”

. . . .

“open access to legal sources will spur the creation of new markets for legal information among consumers, and even more so among non-lawyer professionals who need to understand a narrow field of that they work with all the time. Expect to see new products and services built on top of the free legal information that will make the law more accessible to those new markets.”

And, speaking of new products building on free content.  Curle moves on to discuss SpindleLaw.

“They are building, in a kind of collaborative, Wiki-like way, a database of the legal rules that lawyers find in court decisions and in legislation. Their idea is that it’s pretty inefficient to get to those rules by searching and reading long court opinions. They are extracting and organizing the rules with links to the legal sources. They have a long way to go to prove that the concept works, but I like the way they are trying to turn the research process on its head.”

These are very interesting times.

Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, Westlaw — New, Improved

From today’s New York Times:

The New York Times, Monday, January 25, 2010, p. B5


Legal Sites Plan Revamps As Rivals Undercut Price

By Ashlee Vance

Westlaw and LexisNexis, the dominant services in the market for computerized legal research, will undergo sweeping changes in a bid to make it easier and faster for lawyers to find the documents they need.

And in the February issue of the ABA Journal:

Legal Technology
Exclusive: Inside the New Westlaw, Lexis & Bloomberg Platforms
By Jill Schachner Chanen

After decades of Westlaw and Lexis rolling out incremental improvements, real innovation has become the watchword in online legal research. At stake: billions in revenue and a big piece of your computer desktop.

The ABA Journal article quotes yours truly.   A point I was trying to make, but it didn’t make the article, was how useful I find added features such as Westlaw’s ResultsPlus and Lexis’s Related Content.  These features steer students to what could be very valuable secondary source material that they wouldn’t necessarily think to search since many have the inclination to jump feet first into the case law databases.

Open Letter to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, part 1

Dear Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts,

Recently, a few of my librarian colleagues and I deployed a brief petition aimed at improving PACER.

Instead, I’d like to share with you some of the amazing comments that we have already gotten in our petition’s first week.  We have heard from librarians and lawyers and legal academics, and here is a sampling of the feedback:

Professor Howard Friedman (from University of Toledo College of Law) comments:
I would like to suggest that PACER also make it possible to create hyperlinks to opinions and major pleadings so blogs and websites can link to them.


Carl Malamud (of Public.resource.org) writes:
Access to primary legal materials is a foundational issue for the judiciary. We cannot be a nation of laws if the proceedings of our courts are distributed at high cost and with no certificate of authenticity.

Dawn Urquhart (of Canada) shares:
I value the content and only wish we had a similar resource in Canada. However, it is a very confusing database to use. I often have difficulty trying to identify the documents I need. The interface needs to be more user-friendly.

Ed Walters (of FASTCASE) suggests:
A few things would be really helpful: 1) Offer a bulk access, flat-rate license fee. Many would pay for bulk access and update. 2) Please do a better job identifying judicial opinions. Often not tagged or mis-tagged. 3) It would be great to unify PACER in a single web application instead of different apps for each court. Justia has a nice UI for this. 4) I would also support a re-rationalization of access fees so that they are proportionate to costs. I have no problem with fees to cover the costs of maintenance, or even fees to cover costs of modernization. . . .

Ellen Simmons (of Texas) writes:
As a Depository librarian, I strongly believe in free public access. Allowing Depository libraries to have free access to PACER would be another step to shore up our democracy. To echo Carl Malamud, in a nation of laws, the people should have access to the proceedings of our courts. That access should be authenticated, straightforward,and preferably free so as to be accessible to all.

Ryan Calo (of Stanford Law School, Center for Internet & Society) states:
Usability and transparency go hand in hand.

Margaret Leary (Director of the Law Library, University of  Michigan) comments:
The information in PACER was accumulated through the use of taxpayer dollars and should be freely available to the public, perhaps via the Federal Depository Library program. . . .

More comments to follow as we continue to add signatories to the petition.

“SEARCH FREEDOM – New online services offer law searches gratis”

An article in the ESQ section of the January 2009 issue of California Lawyer magazine offers a nice summary of free legal research case law databases.  The article, “Search Freedom – New online services offer law searches gratis,”  by Jake Widman, also reports on a survey involving Precydent and its retrieval abilities:

. . . To test Precydent’s search functions, CEO Thomas A. Smith, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, asked several law professors to list the cases that should come up in particular example searches. He then compared the results obtained on Precydent against those from commercial services. Precydent, according to Smith, delivers results that more closely mirror the law professors’ lists.

Fastcase news

First, there’s this interview on Fox Business:  “Legal Research – Ed Walters, Fastcase CEO and Phillip Rosenthal, Fastcase president, discuss the business of legal research and competing against Lexis Nexis.”

Hat tip to Christine Hall’s post to law-lib “Fastcase on Fox Business – Competitor to Wexis in legal research”

And then over on the Open Case Law Google group, Ed Walters posted a discussion “Opening the rest of the caselaw library – IGOTF and beyond Options” which begins:

Earlier this year we at Fastcase were gratified to work with Public.Resource.org to open the U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Court libraries to the public domain.  Many have argued that this is a slightly unusual profile for a for-profit publisher, which I hope illustrates that ours is a different kind of company.

Today I’m pleased to announce two new initiatives that open a much, much larger collection of cases online, the FastCite API and the Fastcase Querystring API, which allow any publisher to plug in to the Fastcase legal research library, with cases from all 50 states going back at least as far as 1950, as well as federal district and federal bankruptcy cases going back to 1 F.Supp. 1 and 1 B.R. 1.

Note that these APIs are open, but not free — although there is no charge for searching and viewing results, we will make individual cases available to the users of any site for $4.99.  We share 10% of the revenues with the referring site, which is one way to support many of the cool, innovative projects pursued by the members of this group.  Our service remains a subscription service — it’s hugely expensive to source and update this data — but we’re excited to work as partners with the many new legal research services that are shaking up this industry.

. . .


Details on the APIs over at Open Case Law.