Westlaw Product at a Google Scholar Price
By Greg Lambert, Law Librarian & Law Blogger
“Casemaker proves that you don’t have to be a high-cost
legal research provider in order to provide a quality product…”
Most solo and small firm lawyers would love to find a legal research product that has the content of a Westlaw or LexisNexis for the price of Google Scholar. Of course this is a dream that will probably never come true as the premium legal research providers demand a premium price for their service. Usually when you compare the categories of content, editorial process, citatory service and secondary resources, most products earn the label of “you get what you pay for.” The high end providers such Westlaw, LexisNexis or the new Bloomberg Law all have excellent coverage in all four areas, but with a high-end price. Could there be a low-cost legal research provider that gives its subscribers excellent content along with value-added services for a more reasonable cost? We’ll take a look at four low-cost providers, Loislaw, Casemaker, Fastcase and Google Scholar and determine which one gives you the most value for the price.
Loislaw is a mid-cost provider. One might think Loislaw would have leveraged its relationship with its parent company, Wolters Kluwer, to produce a product that rivals the high-cost providers. However, when you actually do the comparison, Loislaw tends to look more like the lower-cost providers like Casemaker and Fastcase. With Loislaw, you’re paying a higher price for a product that doesn’t deliver much on the value-added side.
Fastcase is a low-cost provider. Certain bar associations provide access for free, or it can be purchased by solo attorneys for around $995.00 a year. Fastcase is also available through national third party providers like Trial Smith, Law.net, or even part of the database made free through Public Law Library. Fastcase has good content coverage, but offers very little when it comes to editorial process, citatory service and secondary resources, the other categories being reviewed. Therefore, Fastcase falls in the low-cost / low-value category.
Google Scholar is a no-cost provider of basic primary case law material. Scholar offers no statutory material which is critical to the practice of law. It does, however, index secondary sources through its arrangement with third party vendors like Hein Online. Accessing these secondary resources, however, requires paid subscriptions to the other vendors. Google Scholar, even if you add the benefits of its indexing secondary sources still falls into the low-cost / low-value category.
Casemaker is a low-cost provider. Casemaker is available through 28 state bar associations as a free service to the members of each of those bars. Casemaker has very good content coverage of primary case law and statutes, plus it has additional services such as editorial staff review, a legal digest service, access to secondary resources like CLE and bar publications, plus the biggest value-added service of a true citator service that all practicing attorneys need. Casemaker, then, falls into the low-cost / mid to high value category.
Content - Primary Law Coverage
Attorneys rely upon case law and statutes as their primary resources when practicing law. The better the coverage is in the jurisdiction they practice, the better they can research and practice within that jurisdiction. All of the low-cost providers start with a core set of Federal cases that cover most or all of the US Supreme Court cases and a significant collection of Federal Circuit and District Court decisions. For state cases, most low-cost provider collections started with a standard set of cases from 1950 to present. When you start looking at how the different providers cover pre-1950 state case law, it becomes apparent that Casemaker provides better historical coverage than Fastcase or even Loislaw. In all categories but one, Casemaker had more coverage than Fastcase, Loislaw or Google Scholar. Loislaw had five more states with pre-1950 coverage than Casemaker, but the further back you go the better Casemaker starts to look. Casemaker had over twice as many pre-1920 states than Loislaw (28 vs. 13); Casemaker had four times as many states with pre-1899 coverage than Loislaw (28 vs. 7); and Casemaker had over twice as many states with complete case law coverage (11 vs. 5). Fastcase and Google Scholar ran a distant third and fourth place with Fastcase only having 10 states with pre-1950 coverage, and Google Scholar having zero. The overall percentage of case law coverage for all states and the District of Columbia also went to Casemaker (68%).
Red Flags on Content Quality
There are a couple of services which raised red flag issues that should be addressed with regards to case law coverage. First of all, Google Scholar will not disclose from whom they received their cases, and how they will be updating the case law as it comes out. A random sampling of cases indicate that Google Scholar may be as much as a month behind in posting new cases. While Fastcase’s database does not always use the correct National Reporter Citation (A.3d, P.3d, etc.). In a recent review of Fastcase’s citations, there were literally tens of thousands of cases in Fastcase’s database which are missing the proper citation. This not only causes problems with pulling a case by citation, but also with cross-referencing a case based upon that citation so complete citation checking cannot occur. No such issue was found in either the Loislaw or Casemaker databases.
Content - Statutory Coverage
Unlike case law, statutes are much more dynamic in nature. Maintaining a database of Federal and State statutes takes a great deal of effort and dedication. Because of this complexity, Google Scholar has decided not to host any statutes. Fastcase hosts the US Code, plus statutes for 43 states and the District of Columbia, plus Fastcase hosts a number of state session laws. There are seven states that Fastcase links to the official state site. Both Casemaker and Loislaw host US Code and all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In addition to statutory coverage, Casemaker and Loislaw also cover the US Public Laws, and Code of Federal Regulations, plus state session laws, Attorney General opinions, Administrative Codes, Jury Instructions and more. Casemaker also includes a service of seeing upcoming statutes that are awaiting their effective dates.
There are a few things that you just don’t expect to find at a low-cost legal research provider. Out of the providers reviewed here, only Casemaker has a staff of legal editors who review, edit and produce digests as a value-added product. A group of former editors from Michie Publishing have brought their talents over to Casemaker and is proving that top-quality legal editors are not just available through the high-cost providers. In fact, Casemaker’s editorial staff is breaking a number of stereotypes of what low-cost legal research services can provide to its customers.
The new legal digest product called CasemakerDigest provides a summary of recent decisions based on area of law, court or judge. The Casemaker editors write the summaries, categorize them by topics and make the summaries available through the online service, email or even RSS feed. Currently, CasemakerDigest covers 36 state court decisions plus the Federal Court decisions. The service if free through some state bars. But even if you have the pay the $3.99 per month for your state and federal digest or $5.99 for the full product (all states and all federal circuit), that is just something that you cannot find on any other low-cost provider. In addition to the CasemakerDigest product, the editors at Casemaker work on updating state and federal statutes, including adding historical information as the statutes are updated, and providing links to the public acts in US and state codes.
There have been inventive methods to create an automated legal citator service by creating lists of cases that cite the case you are looking at. Loislaw, Fastcase, Casemaker and even Google Scholar use this type of automated citator service. The idea behind these types of automated services is that the researcher can determine on their own which cases are still “good law” or “bad law.” In reality, lawyers and legal researchers still want a premium citator services where trained lawyers and editors compile this information for them and let the researcher know immediately if the case they are looking at is still “good law.” Automated citator services simply do not measure up to the type of service that a Shepard’s or KeyCite product offer.
A true citator service like Shepard’s or KeyCite has always seemed like something that was too much of a challenge for low-cost legal research providers to create. Casemaker is the only low-cost legal research provider that now offers a viable alternative to Shepard’s and KeyCite. When Casemaker launched its CaseCheck+ premium citator service, it broke the myth that only the high-dollar legal research providers could provide a service to identify the current status of a case. The fact that CaseCheck+ is available at $.99 cents per citation, $4.95 for a 24 hour unlimited use, and $19.95 a month unlimited also breaks the myth that a subscription to a true premium citation system is outside the means of many solo and small firm attorneys. CaseCheck+ is managed by the former Michie Publication editors that handle the CasemakerDigest product, and they have the final say in whether a case is labeled as having any negative treatment.
The reason that many attorneys do not want to use low-cost legal research services is the lack of a true citator service. With the launch of CaseCheck+, and the high quality staff of editors overseeing the process, Casemaker is ready to step in and fill that void and let attorneys know that you do not have to go to the high-cost services in order to see if the case you are citing is still good law.
The common arguments that attorneys use for why they are not using low-cost legal research tools are that there is not enough coverage in the jurisdictions in which they practice, that they are unsure of the accuracy of the information, and that there is not a true citator service that will let them know if the case is good law or not. The only product that we found that stands up to these arguments is Casemaker. With Casemaker, you get the largest overall case law, statute and primary law coverage for state and federal sources. In addition, Casemaker has top-notch legal editors on staff that review new content, add editorial comments and historical information, create digests, and most importantly provide a true citator system that all legal researchers need. Casemaker proves that you don’t have to be a high-cost legal research provider in order to provide a quality product. Attorneys that have access to Casemaker through their state bar associations should take advantage of this resource and evaluate whether it could replace some of the high-cost resources they are currently buying.
3 Geeks and a Law Blog - A law blog addressing the foci of 3 intrepid law geeks, specializing in their respective fields of knowledge management, internet marketing and library sciences, melding together to form the Dynamic Trio.