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ABA TECHSHOW

Five Tips for Smarter Legal Research

Surprisingly, some MSBA attorneys still have not logged into the Fastcase member benefit offered free of charge to active members through the bar association. Minnesota State Bar Association members can access Fastcase by logging in here.

Some members remain loyal to the incumbent legal research providers for a myriad of reasons — these companies have wandered quite a bit from their roots as legal publishers, now offering many tools in addition to legal research: credit reports, trial exhibition organization tools, case management services, access to treatises, and many others. 

It isn’t our intention to convince you to make do without these secondary features, but we do think that if your goal is to research case law, research statutes, or generally to research any primary law, it makes good sense for a lawyer to be aware of all available tools at his or her disposal — particularly where the tool is free (as in, paid by your state bar association). 

For example, you might be in a court hearing or mediation where someone mentions a case citation that could impact the current matter, or one of your other pending matters. Why not quickly pull the case up on your smartphone or tablet, read it, and save it so you can easily access it later or pincite to it during the hearing? Fastcase has iPhone, iPad, and Android apps designed to help you do exactly that.

The MSBA has been offering Fastcase access to its members as a freely-available member benefit for years. The service has improved and grown every year since then. Whether you’re a power researcher or simply use the service once in a blue moon to pull a few cases, here are some tips to help you work smarter with the Fastcase service:

1. Annotations
There is no faster way to get up to date annotations than through the Fastcase service. As soon as a case is added to the Fastcase database, computer-driven algorithms identify statute citations and, when found, append the case to the end of the statute. Because Fastcase is able to do this with computers, no competitor can match its speed in updating annotations. 

2. Batch Printing
Pulling up individual cases can be a hassle, even when you have the citations readily available. Fastcase lets you pull up multiple cases at once, just by separating them with a comma. You can save them all to your print queue for later, print them individually, print the entire text of all the cases as one document, or simply print a list of the cases. Simply click the printer icon in the search results to begin adding cases to your search queue. Fastcase recently increased the number of cases or statutes you can print at one time from 50 to 500. The cases can even be saved in a single zip file with filenames reflecting the party names.

3. Case Summaries
Beginning in 2011, Fastcase began including case summaries of judicial opinions in all state supreme courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, and federal court summaries from Fastcase.

4. Bad Law Bot
Need to know how courts are treating the case you’re reading? Fastcase recently added the Bad Law Bot, which reads through all those cases for you, and then alerts you whenever it detects courts are treating your case negatively. Bad Law Bot empowers you to make the call about whether your case is still good law for the proposition you want to cite it for, by pointing you right to the spot in the case it thinks you should examine. 

5. Case Alerts
Every lawyer fears showing up to court without realizing that between the time he did his initial research and showed up for court, a new, directly-relevant case was published. With Fastcase Alerts, you can have some piece of mind. Simply run a search on your legal issue, click “Add Alert,” and every morning Fastcase will see if any new cases are added to your search, and will send you an email listing the additions if they have. 

Fastcase has grown and added a plethora of useful tools and features since MSBA first introduced it as a member benefit. 

You can access this free legal research tool anytime if you log into www.mbar.org. For more information about these and more Fastcase features, visit www.fastcase.com/support for a schedule of free webinars, training videos, and user guides. You can also reach Fastcase toll free at 1-866-77-FASTCASE.