The Bar News

The Fastcase app

"Have you found yourself wishing you could easily pull up a statute or case on your iPhone or iPad?" asks IBJ legal research columnist Tom Gaylord in his forthcoming (September) column. Good news -- ISBA partner Fastcase has a "free-to-download application that provides free case law and statutory research via Apple’s mobile devices." As a special treat for Illinois Lawyer Now readers, here's Tom's column a month ahead of schedule. Need a Case or Statute on the Run? There’s an App for That! Have you found yourself wishing you could easily pull up a statute or case on your iPhone or iPad? You’re in luck. Fastcase1 has beaten some of the bigger players out of the gate with a free-to-download application that provides free case law and statutory research via Apple’s mobile devices. Did I mention it was free?2 What you can do The Fastcase app allows the user to search case law and statutes, and also to browse statutes. Searching is by keyword or by citation. For Illinois, they provide three “editions” of the Illinois Compiled Statutes: 2008, 2009, and 2010. On the general settings page, results can be limited to 10, 25, or 50 results per page, the user can choose how much of the results to be displayed (e.g., title only), font size, and how many megabytes are stored on the device (including the ability to clear the cache). Within cases, citations to other cases are hyperlinked, allowing the user to freely move from case to case as in a Web environment. However, at least in the testing I performed, citations to statutes were not hyperlinked in case opinions. For case law searching, user settings include jurisdiction, date range, Authority Check (see below), number of results (100, 500, or 1000) and “sort by” (relevance, decision date, short name, or by times cited). Also, Fastcase’s Authority Check feature is included. This feature shows the user how many times the case they’re looking at was cited in other cases in Fastcase, as well as how many times the case was cited in the current batch of results. Finally, users can select particular documents for saving on their device. Users can also see recent search history (however, when a user selects an item from their recent history, it appears again in the list of recent history; thus repeatedly going back to view an earlier search can cause that same search to appear in the search history multiple times, even if nothing has otherwise changed). What you cannot do In addition to not having links to statutes in the case law, some links do not work. For instance when the Illinois Supreme Court cites to one of its Supreme Court Rules, it usually includes the citation to the rule in Illinois Reports (e.g., 210 Ill. 2d R. 315). Fastcase shows a link here, because it recognizes “Ill. 2d” as a case reporter, but the link will not work (presumably because it doesn’t recognize “R. 315” as a page, which it is not). One thing you also do not see is the scope of the universe in which you are searching.  For instance, there’s nothing I could find that told me how far back the database of Illinois case law reached (though I did find unpublished cases within my search results). For the U.S. Code, the current (2006) edition is available, but it’s unclear whether the annual supplements are included. Other parts of non-mobile Fastcase are also not available via the app. A user cannot print or e-mail results from the app search, though according to Fastcase’s website, this feature, as well as the ability to sync iPhone research with desktop research, are forthcoming. The verdict Fastcase has recognized a need for mobile retrieval of cases and statutes and put out a free product; this is a pretty nice tool to have. Searching in a couple of my areas of expertise, I mostly found the cases I expected to see. Due to the inherent limitations of a mobile phone, even one as versatile as an iPhone, this is still something that’ll be most effective when a specific case is needed when standing outside (or inside) the courtroom. It can’t, and won’t, replace full-blown research. But other law-based apps currently available tend to be limited to the Federal Rules and the U.S. Constitution, so this app changes the game at least with regard to what is freely available in a mobile environment. Attorneys will probably find it more useful, however, once they can, for instance, download a case or statute and e-mail to a client directly from their phone. Tom Gaylord is a law librarian at Chicago-Kent College of Law. ___ 1. Fastcase’s full-blown product is also freely available to members of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) through an agreement between Fastcase and ISBA. 2. Lexis also has a free-to-download app that allows users the ability to a) get a case and b) Shepardize it; however, it is not a free service (just a free app) and a current Lexis username and password is required.  Westlaw does not yet have a mobile app at the time of writing.
Posted on July 21, 2010 by Mark S. Mathewson
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