Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Meet Fastcase 7: The (not so) Little (search) Engine That Could and Did! Powertools To Empower Lawyers

After 13 years Fastcase is getting a makeover. Over the past few weeks  Fastcase has been rolling out Fastcase 7 to the 27 bar associations which provide Fastcase  to their members.  Tomorrow they are launching Fastcase 7 for law firm subscribers.  I have watched Fastcase grow from a beta platform to a serious legal research platform with more than 800,000 subscribers. The new Fastcase 7 interface will start out as a new option  which customers can  choose to access from the  "classic" home screen. 

The Fastcase 7 Home Screen

Ed Walters, the CEO of Fastcase  provided this rationale for the phase in of Fastcase 7. "We’re moving people’s cheese, and we know that can be a difficult transition, so we’re doing it slowly.  The plan is to have people log into the classic Fastcase interface by default, with the ability to toggle to Fastcase 7, as a start.  After about 6 months, when we know that people like Fastcase 7, we’ll flip the default.  Users will log in to Fastcase 7 by default, with a toggle to go back to the classic Fastcase interface.  After about a year’s transition, we’ll phase out the toggle to the classic version. " But Walters isn't tied to any specific timeline. " These aren’t hard and fast deadlines for the roll out...  If people need longer to feel comfortable, we can extend; if everyone loves Fastcase 7, we can accelerate." Both Fastcase classic and Fastcase 7 are built on the same search platform - even though the look and feel are very different.

Walter's expects it to be a smooth transition. Fastcase 7 includes all of the most popular Fastcase classic features: copy with citation, dual-column printing, integration with HeinOnline and Clio, batch printing, Bad Law Bot, annotated statutes. He also outlined for me some of the highlights of the new Fastcase 7 platform. 

Training Resources. The first time a subscriber logs in to Fastcase 7, there’s an animated, guided tour which can be re-run it at any time by selecting Guided Tour from the orange Help and Support resource center on the Fastcase 7 home page. There is in fact, a whole suite of training materials – user guides, how-to videos, lesson plans for teachers, problem sets, even crossword puzzles for training people on the new Fastcase 7.   All of this can be found at Some of these are designed for self-guided instruction, but many are designed for law librarians and legal research professors to use as teaching aids.  There is also a free Fastcase 7 webinar series (more info here:
The New Look  The original Fastcase was designed to be used on the low-resolution, square 4:3 CRT monitors of the 2000s era. Fastcase 7 is designed for high-resolution 16:9 wide-screen displays. Walters who is a bit of a  "typography nerd"  took great care in selecting the colors, fonts, and sizes  to assure that  everything  is very easy to read.   The Kepler font was chosen for case displays so that they look like they’re printed on a page.  According to Walters, Kepler originated in legal publishing, and "tests showed that it was very easy on the eyes, which is especially welcome when doing legal research for hours on end."

The Fasecase 7 Plaform in Action

 Highlighting the Interactive Timeline. I have always been baffled that interactive timeline  feature was not front and center on Fastcase. Fastcase 7 finally moves   The Interactive Timeline to the front of the results page,  to assure that more  people can see the  data visualization tools.  Walters acknowledged the misstep of having  "invented data visualization for legal research in 2008, and cleverly hid it on a tab behind search results, where nobody would ever find one of our coolest features."


Global Search. Fastcase started out as a caselaw service, but over the years they have expanded to include almost 40 million documents which  include statues from all 50 states, the U.S. Code, current regulations for most of the 50 states, the CFR and every law review article ever published in America from  their partnership with HeinOnline and much more.  On Fastcase 7, subscribers  can search across all data types with a single search, and filter down with facets on the results page.

 Advanced Search  The advanced search page  is full of "power tools for power users." Walters is trying to empower researchers:"So many people are going to the Google model for legal research – one box and a billion results.  That’s awesome for the Web, when you’re looking for one thing, but terrible for legal research , where you’re searching for lots of things, or to see that nothing of a certain type exists.  Google-like legal research runs the risk of infantilizing legal researchers — we’re trying to empower great legal researchers."

 Source Selection.  On Fastcase 7,  users can choose from recently searched libraries, or a fixed list of libraries from a state of  their choosing or select from a big type-ahead list of all possible jurisdictions.    

"Goof-proofing your research."  Fastcase has offered the Forecite features for years. Forecite uses deep citation analysis to identify caselaw which is relevant but not explicitly linked  through specific citations or keywords.  This feature has been expanded to search all the libraries and data types  and suggests additional resources that might be useful.  

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 The Quantum Interface. Walters describes Fastcase 7 is a single-page app. The page does not reload every time a link is clicked.  Search results are “bottomless” and all on the same page which Walters describes this way;" Fastcase 7 has a quantum interface: instead of switching pages on the app, all of the pages exist on every page, behind the scenes – they pop in or resize themselves, so you don’t need to keep reloading the pages."   It’s elegant, fast, and  according to Walters it’s the only single-page app in legal research.

The Walters Doctrine of Pricing and Innovation:  "Innovation isn’t a new product that law firms should pay more for.  It’s table stakes for legal tech companies.  We innovate as a part of doing business, and it should be included in the price, not serve as a justification for a price increase.  Firms love putting Fastcase in the budget, because they always know what it will cost, with no exceptions, ever."  There is no price increase for Fastcase 7!

The Public Beta.  Walters regards Fastcase 7 as a public beta. Users are encouraged to report any issues  using the Feedback link on the bottom right of every page.  Fastcase will continue their product development efforts on Fastcase 7, and  subscribers should continue to see improvements during calendar 2017. " We’re an agile software development shop, which means there’s a new release of Fastcase every month.  Tell us what you like, or what you hate, and we’ll make improvements."

 OK Walters sounds a bit like a new father handing out cigars: " We work hard to build beautiful, innovative software, and we’re thrilled with Fastcase 7.  It’s the most powerful, most intuitive, most elegant legal research software ever built, and it will only get better from here.  I hope people love it as much as we do!" ... But who can blame him for having a passion for excellence in a product he and his co-founder Phil Rosenthal have  been building  for more than a decade Congratulations  to Walters and his Fastcase team on the launch of Fastcase 7!

1 comment:

  1. I love this quote from your conversation with Mr. Walters. "Innovation isn’t a new product that law firms should pay more for. It’s table stakes for legal tech companies. We innovate as a part of doing business, and it should be included in the price, not serve as a justification for a price increase." So many of our other vendors need to adapt this philosophy!.