Haven't used Fastcase lately? If not, it's time you looked at some of the new features, including an algorithmic device that flags negative treatment of a case.
As I hope the readers of this column know by now, one of the benefits of being a member of the ISBA is having free access to Fastcase, a low-cost competitor to the likes of Lexis and Westlaw. Back in 2010, I discussed Fastcase's mobile applications, which are freely usable, but do not allow the full functionality of the subscription-based website.1
Since then, Fastcase has rolled out some new searchability and content, and because ISBA members need not be limited to the free apps due to their ISBA membership, this time around we'll take a look at "full-blown" Fastcase and what it has to offer.
Checking authority in Fastcase
First and foremost, as its name suggests, Fastcase has caselaw, and lots of it. This includes all 50 states as well as the usual (and some more specialized) federal courts. For Illinois, the Supreme Court cases go back to 1832, and back to 1877 (inception) for the appellate court. While Fastcase does not offer a full-blown, human-edited, case citator like Lexis's Shepard's or Westlaw's KeyCite, it does provide three avenues for checking the current authority of your case.
Authority check. The first, and oldest, is "authority check." When you run a caselaw search in Fastcase, the results come with two columns of numbers on the right. For each case in your results, these columns show you 1) the number of cases that cite that case among the cases in the results, and 2) the number of cases that cite that case throughout all of Fastcase. The higher the number, likely the more important the case (however, if number two is much higher than number one, it might indicate that that case is more important for a different point of law than that associated with your chosen keywords).
Interactive timeline. A case's "interactive timeline" is accessible by clicking on one of the authority check numbers. The timeline is a graphical portrayal of the authority check, which the citing court level is shown along the y-axis and the year along the x-axis. Each case citing to your timeline case is plotted on the graph, with larger circles indicating more heavily cited cases. For a case with a really long timeline, the graph can be expanded to maximize a certain date range and get a clearer view of an otherwise crowded timeline.
Bad Law Bot. The third, and latest, citation feature is the "Bad Law Bot." The Bad Law Bot is still in beta testing. As "bot" suggests, this is an algorithmic device that tries to identify negative treatment of a case, rather than through the use of subjective human analysis, such as with KeyCite and Shepard's.
Fastcase attaches a disclaimer to emphasize that it is relying on an algorithm rather than human editors to identify negative treatment. That said, any seasoned researcher has by now come across numerous errors with (or just disagreements with) the treatment assigned to a case by a Lexis or West editor. Regardless of the ultimate merits of algorithmic identification versus human analysis, both of which lead to both sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect results, the Bad Law Bot introduces a newer and more powerful analytical tool to research than Fastcase had before.
Statutes, regs, rules, and secondary sources
In addition to caselaw, Fastcase provides other primary law. For Illinois, the Illinois statutes are searchable and browsable. However, to browse the statutes, you must somewhat counterintuitively go to "search statutes" and then, once on the search screen, click the "browse" tab. Fastcase currently provides the Illinois Compiled Statutes back to 2008 and Illinois session laws back to 1997.
For Illinois regulations, Fastcase provides the current Illinois administrative codes, as well as the Illinois Register back to 2002. For some states that assert a copyright interest in their state statutes and/or regulations (not Illinois), Fastcase provides an outside link to that state's codes, rather than providing for searchability within Fastcase.
Finally, Fastcase also provides Illinois court rules, including some local circuit court rules, both in current and, in some cases, archived formats. The current Illinois Constitution is also available, as well as Illinois Attorney General Opinions back to 1971.
For secondary sources, Fastcase has partnered with outside providers. Searching this content is free, but accessing full-text will cost. Thus, for forms and other draft legal documents, Fastcase has partnered with U.S. Legal Forms, allowing users to search by type of form or particular jurisdiction. Most sample forms are $9.95.
For newspaper searching, Fastcase has teamed up with Newsbank, which has over 300 Illinois newspapers. Article access begins at $2.95 for a single article up to $199.95 for an annual membership (or up to 500 articles). For many newspapers, online and blog content are also available.
Finally, for federal filings, Fastcase links out to Justia.com, which allows for searching of federal dockets, including across multiple jurisdictions or limited to a particular one, back to 2004. Once a case is identified, the user will have to rely on a PACER account to access any available filings.
It's come a long way
So, there you have it. Fastcase has come a long way from its inception as a database with just caselaw and little else (no authority check, no secondary source access, and virtually all other primary law, like state statutes, linked out to state websites).
If you're an ISBA member and haven't taken advantage of Fastcase, be sure to give it a whirl. Even if it doesn't give you everything you need, it can be a much cheaper alternative to starting your research than Lexis or Westlaw.
Tom Gaylord is a law librarian at Chicago-Kent College of Law.