Tuesday Two.Oh! is not meant as an endorsement, but as an exploration of the tools that are out there. Click at your own risk. 🙂
Today on Tuesday Two.Oh! we’ll be continuing our lawyer and law student theme. Today we’ll examine a site that acts as a “Law Library” and research tool. As many of us in the library business know, databases and other digital research tools can be extremely pricey. With excellent resources like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis on the radar, it’s interesting to find a relatively low-cost law research tool on the market. Let’s take a look at FastCase.
Find them on Twitter.
From the site: “Fastcase is a comprehensive online law library with all federal cases going back to 1 U.S. 1, 1 F.2d 1, 1 F.Supp. 1, and 1 B.R. 1, not to mention state and appellate cases going back to 1950 or earlier, for all 50 states. We also offer access to federal and state statutes, as well as adminstrative codes.”
In order to gain access to this tool, I used their free 24 hour trial access. It’s very easy to sign up for, and requires email confirmation.
The free trial will give you complete access to the site.
Once you have access to FastCase you’ll be able to conduct searching. FastCase provides the user with many search aides- and I find this imperative when doing research in the law. Law can be very confusing to the novice, and a guide to any tool is welcome. I would even go so far as to saw beginning law students and lawyers would benefit from the tutorials provided.
Once you have chosen a tutorial to watch, you will be taken to a screen that gives you video as well as chapter titles for the tutorial, so if you have a specific need you can choose that option from the menu.
If you do run into problems, live help is available via an online chat interface.
I did end up signing on for this chat service, and a rep was on the line quickly. This is a good way to ensure that questions are being answered quickly, and the FastCase potentially has the service to back up their site.
Once you feel confident in your ability to search the site, the search screen will provide you with all of your options.
One thing that I noticed was that Boolean searching is the acceptable norm on FastCase, and as a librarian I am comfortable with this method of searching. That said, other searchers might not be so comfortable, and will be provided with a natural language searching option.
I conducted a very simple search using the terms “slavery” and “property.”
The search results are linked cases with brief descriptions.
Once you click on a case you will be taken to the case text.
This is very similar to the searching capabilities of Westlaw, and the result layout is also similar. Above the text of the case there is a toolbar. The options on this toolbar include KeyCite information, saving options, and links to WestLaw and Lexis (for a price). I wonder if your IP has Westlaw or Lexis access you will be able to link for no cost- and, if so, what FastCase offers that doesn’t make it redundant to these other services.
One thing that I liked was the appearance of my search results to the side of the case that I was currently looking at. This gives the user the ability to browse the text of a case while keeping in mind the other search result options.
I would like to just take a second to expose you to one of the other search features of FastCase. There are a lot of options here, and I just don’t have the time to cover them all, but I do know that State Statute searching is a popular thing in a law library, so I’ll examine the procedure here. The option to search statutes is linked from the search page. The first thing you do is choose the state in which you would like to search:
Again, you enter your search terms.
The results are then displayed with a brief explaination and link to statute text.
In closing, this tool seems like a viable alternative to the powerhouses in the business of law research if you are a small firm or single lawyer. For a monthly fee of less than $100 I could see this being useful to many people. And, if the need arises to supplement Fastcase, the site links to WestLaw and Lexis Nexis.
I enjoyed the interface, and found the tutorials helpful.
As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.