Category Archives: Fastcase

Fastcase as a Supplement to Westlaw

In these strange new times, lawyers in firms of all sizes are seeking ways to reduce costs while remaining effective advocates. While many small firm lawyers in South Carolina rely heavily on Fastcase free legal research through the South Carolina Bar, larger firms with Westlaw subscriptions can also benefit. As a librarian, I am privileged to use Fastcase, Westlaw, Lexis, Casetext, ROSS Intelligence, Bloomberg Law, and other research platforms. Part of my job is to assess strengths and weaknesses of each platform, so I can better help anyone who contacts the law library with their research.  

Since Fastcase is provided free to all South Carolina Bar members, there are some good reasons to use it even if you are satisfied with Westlaw. Here are five examples: 

  1. No-Stone-Unturned Searches. Most lawyers who are unsure about a research result will get a second opinion from a colleague or a librarian. After all, two heads are better than one.  

By the same token, two platforms are better than one. We can’t see the proprietary algorithms each platform uses to interpret search terms and generate a list of relevant results. But we know these algorithms differ.  

When you need to doublecheck Westlaw search results, try running the same search on Fastcase to see if anything different pops up. Fastcase also lets you customize your Relevance Algorithm to ensure the results you’re seeking rise to the top. 

  1. Cost-Effectiveness. Lawyers must balance the requirement to perform competent research against the pressure to minimize both the cost of the resource and the cost of their time. Current trends favor flat-rate Westlaw contracts and treating research costs as overhead rather than passing them on to clients. Still, depending on how a firm allocates research costs internally, cost concerns continue to incentivize self-imposed limitations on Westlaw usage. 

Searching. If your preferred Westlaw search strategies are hemmed-in by cost concerns, unlimited Fastcase use can be a boon. For example, you can run as many searches as you want in Fastcase—wide-net searches, highly specific searches, searches within searches—it doesn’t matter. Searches are free, which removes the worry about costs and saves time by letting you focus on resolving the issue you’re researching. After trying out as many search queries as you want in Fastcase, you can always doublecheck a search in Westlaw. 

Analyzing Results. Westlaw lets you read a case excerpt before you decide whether to click the link to read the full text of that case and possibly incur a charge. Each case has to be in a different tab or window than your results list, complicating your workflow and leading to duplicate charges if you click on the same case twice. 

By contrast, Fastcase lets you freely view the full text of as many cases as you want, not just excerpts, and you can open each case side-by-side with your search results—in the same tab. Especially for a lengthy list of possibly-helpful results, the speed of the back-and-forth between your results list and the full text of the cases can save significant research time. 

  1. Cloud Linking. If you’re citing case law for someone who doesn’t have Westlaw, try Fastcase’s cloud linking feature. Drag and drop a blog post or white paper written for a general audience into Fastcase’s cloud linking drop box, and links to the full text of the cited cases will be added automatically. Anyone can click the links and read the cases for free online. 

Suppose your co-counsel uses Lexis or Casemaker, or that users of your firm’s brief bank want to limit their Westlaw usage. Cloud-link your shared research using Fastcase. Then, links to the cited cases will work for all lawyers with whom you share research, without their needing to log in anywhere or incur charges. 

  1. Additional Jurisdictions. It can make financial sense to limit a Westlaw contract to South Carolina law or Fourth Circuit law if that’s where your practice is focused. However, sometimes persuasive authority from other jurisdictions is needed.  
     
    Free resources (like Google Scholar, Findlaw, or Justia) will usually retrieve the full text of a case. However, those resources don’t let you check whether the case is good law, and they don’t make it easy to find other relevant cases from that jurisdiction.  

If you pull up a case in Fastcase instead, Authority Check will alert you to cases that cite it, positively or negatively. If you run a search, the Interactive Timeline points out additional relevant and frequently cited cases from that jurisdiction. You can retrieve those other cases on Fastcase for free, while avoiding charges for going outside your Westlaw contract. 

  1. Beyond the Basics. Upgrades from standard Westlaw packages cost extra, and the same is true of add-ons from Fastcase and its partners. Particularly for lawyers who rarely need premium research products, it is worth evaluating Fastcase partner options to assess resource quality and potential savings for occasional use of secondary sources, public records searching, case tracking alerts, and more. 

My hope is that SC Bar members—whether or not they use Westlaw—will get their dues’ worth from Fastcase. For more help doing so, the Fastcase support number is 866-773-2782, option 2, available Monday-Friday 8 am to 9 pm. 

By the way, the University of South Carolina Law Library can also act as a supplement to Westlaw. For example, we regularly fill email requests for PDFs of law journal articles that do not appear on Westlaw. A lawyer must provide the citation and agree to a $5 handling fee. See https://guides.law.sc.edu/remoteservicesbenchbar.  

By: Eve Ross
Reference Librarian
University of South Carolina School of Law Library
SC Bar Technology Committee

Books Help Lawyers Learn Technology

Some of us prefer good, old-fashioned paper and ink. When adopting new (or new-to-us) technology, it may be easier to grasp if we can read up on the technology before we dive into using it. Studies show there are real benefits to reading from paper rather than a screen, including increased speed and recall.

Here are a few paper-and-ink books that can help any lawyer increase their comfort level with technology that is relevant to their law practice. SC Bar members can check out any of these books by mail from the SC Bar Lending Library, or in person from the law library at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

The 2018 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide: Critical Decisions Made Simple by Nelson, Simek, and Maschke offers current recommendations of what technology to buy and use. The authors explain what technology they believe the average lawyer needs and why; when a free or low-cost product is sufficient; and why it is advisable to upgrade specific features.

The ABA Cybersecurity Handbook: A Resource for Attorneys, Law Firms, and Business Professionals, Second Edition by Rhodes and Litt focuses on information security. Authors explain how hackers are updating their means of attack, and offer ideas for protective measures that are tailored to suit lawyers in private practice, in-house, non-profit, or government settings.

Cloud Computing for Lawyers by Nicole Black defines cloud computing and lays out the risks and benefits of using cloud-based billing systems and/or practice management systems. Ethics, privacy, and security are all addressed, along with practical tips on incorporating cloud-based services into your law practice. The sample terms, policies, and agreements in the appendices appeal to the lawyer in all of us.

Electronic Discovery for Small Cases: Managing Digital Evidence and ESI by Olson and O’Connor recognizes that e-discovery is not just for large cases handled by large law firms anymore. Litigators at smaller firms or who may be dealing with smaller quantities of electronically stored information (ESI) will benefit from the authors’ guidance on budget-friendly solutions for producing, searching, and managing ESI at every stage of litigation.

Fastcase: The Definitive Guide by Brian Huddleston introduces lawyers to the free—that’s right, free—legal research platform available to SC Bar members. The author walks the reader through the basics of using Fastcase to search cases, statutes, regulations, and more. The book also includes lesser known tips and tricks. For example, if you have a document on your computer that contains case citations, you can drop that document into Fastcase Cloud Linking to turn those case citations into links that a judge, a client, or anyone else—with or without a Fastcase subscription of their own—can click on to view the cases themselves.

Find Info Like a Pro: Mining the Internet’s Public Records for Investigative Research by Levitt and Rosch puts a wealth of publicly available information at a lawyer’s fingertips. Factual research can be as important as legal research when lawyers need to discover addresses for service of process; names of potential heirs; real and personal assets; liens, judgments, and UCCs; professional licenses; and more.

LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers by Kennedy and Shields introduces this online professional networking tool to those who aren’t familiar with using social media for business connections and referrals. The authors use layman’s terms to explain what LinkedIn is, how it works, and how to get started. Note that there are many other titles in the “…In One Hour for Lawyers” series. The ABA Law Practice Management Section’s goal in publishing these is to help busy lawyers get up to speed on a particular platform or software, with a focus on understanding whether and how it can help their practice.

Social Media as Evidence: Cases, Practice Pointers, and Techniques by Briones and Tagvoryan guides lawyers through social media issues that come up in practice. The authors carefully demonstrate what happens when legal concepts that have always applied to documents (authentication, discovery, litigation hold, preservation, records retention policy) are now applied in the social media realm.

Check Out a Book on Legal Technology
All the books described above are available for checkout from SC Bar’s PMAP Lending Library (by mail) and the law library at USC School of Law (in person). These are only a small sampling of the current guides to technology available in print from booksellers and libraries. It’s worth asking your local community college or university library, or your local public library, whether they can loan you these and other legal technology books. Even if such books are not on the shelves, you may be able to request to borrow them for free through an interlibrary loan.

Eve Ross, Reference Librarian
Univeristy of South Carolina School of Law Library
SC Bar Technology Committee