Last week I mentioned it, this week I review it. I have downloaded and have been playing with Fastcase’s new, FREE, iPhone application that offers a portal to a database of caselaw and statutes at your iPhone-bearing fingertips. New to Fastcase? From their site:
Fastcase is a next-generation, Web-based legal research service, that puts the complete national law library on your desktop anywhere you have Internet access. Fastcase’s smarter searching, sorting, and visualization tools help you find the best answers fast – and help you find documents you might have otherwise missed.
Fastcase reaches back to volume 1, page 1 of the major federal reporters and also includes primary caselaw from the 50 states and statutes as well as other materials via its Web interface. Fastcase had already positioned itself as the affordable, legal research option, free to many via bar memberships. Fastcase is sure to blow that particular part of the field wide open with its free legal research iPhone application, the first of its kind to hit the App Store.
The iPhone application uses the same process as Fastcase’s web-based application – a natural language and relevancy weighted search function. But Boolean search works too. What’s more, there is a citation analysis tool integrated into the search results. No need for an existing Fastcase account: I quickly filled out a form within the app, providing my name, company, job title, and log-in information and achieved full access immediately. In their welcoming email, they include an offer for a free trial of their web product (aaahhh, THERE’s the marketing hook.)
Fastcase lists the features of its app as follows:
- Free, searchable library of American cases and statutes
- Keyword (Boolean), natural language, and citation search
- Browse or search statutes
- Most relevant results first
- Customizable search results that you can sort five different ways
- Search results automatically display number of citing cases
- Jump right to most relevant paragraph of any case or statute
- Integrated research history
- Save favorite documents for use later
- Case law is updated regularly
Not bad for a free application.
Of course, I have opened and closed the doors and hood, kicked the tires a couple of times and have run a few searches. In a word, it delivers.
I entered my search query:
set my jurisdiction and date parameters,
and let it run. Thirty seconds later, my results showed up.
The relevancy-weighted algorithm assigns a relevance score to the case from 1 (not relevant) to 100 (right on point). Authority check shows via an orange button indicating how many times the case has been cited overall and how many times it has been cited by other cases in the search results. You get more details on the citing cases when you press the button.
When you click on a particular case, it brings up the header with both the official and West Reporter citations (cool!), docket number, court, parties and officiating judges. There are arrow buttons to scroll through the results list, a save button to save a particular case (which you can also copy, paste and email to yourself if you want to print 😉 ) and a “most relevant” button which brings you to your search terms. The case text is easy to read and it hypertext-links you to other cases cited within the text. Footnotes are displayed at the end of the case.
A burning question in my mind is how quickly Fastcase gets decisions loaded into its database. I haven’t queried Fastcase themselves and my research did not disclose a clear answer.
Another potential drawback for frequent users of the Big Two premium legal research products is the lack of the editorial treatment in these cases – no headnotes, keynumbers of introductory paragraph summarizing the case posture and holding. This editorial treatment is the value-add the Big Two lean heavily upon in keeping their prices at the top of the range. The lack of these features in Fastcase and, consequently, their app, may dissuade some from using this tool for more than the occasional quick look-up while on the go. But I do have to commend Fastcase’s relevancy algorithm – in an area of law that I am VERY familiar with, Fastcase quickly showed some of the key cases right at the top of the results list. Impressive showing for the first, free, legal research app for a mobile platform.
I give Fastcase’s app a hearty two-thumbs up for both effective implementation and the surefire “kick-in-the-pants” this free tool will bring to this somewhat archaic, top-heavy industry.
Run. Don’t walk.