ABA Journal: Did Fastcase beat Westlaw and Lexis to the punch on new platforms? 1/25/2010

The February issue of the ABA Journal previews what should be a very interesting year in the legal research industry, with both Westlaw and LexisNexis launching the first major new re-designs of their research software in more than a decade, and new entrant Bloomberg Law porting its research service from terminals to the Web.

All three services are moving to more intuitive interfaces, customized jurisdiction lists, simpler search boxes, relevance-ranked results, and visualizations of results.  But the ABA Journal quietly raises the question: Isn’t Fastcase already doing all of these things?

Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, a 10-year-old legal research and information provider in Washington, D.C., says his company has thrived because it already addressed the problems that LexisNexis and West are now trying to correct. “In the old way of doing legal research you get this long list of results and the results are undifferentiated. It’s one-size-fits-all,” he says. “That’s a huge problem.”

Fastcase sorts results from best to worst and citation analysis is built into the results. The results also can be sorted with a “four-dimensional graphical map” that helps users see the answers to the search.

Beyond innovations in legal research technology, the ABA Journal also points out Fastcase’s innovative business model as well.

In addition to selling its services to individual lawyers and firms, Fastcase counts 17 state bar associations and a variety of local bars as clients. In some instances, bar members receive access to all of Fastcase’s databases for free; in others, they are given access to their state’s case law and federal case law for free. Fastcase then upsells members on access to the cases of the other 49 states. More than 380,000 lawyers nationwide have some free access through their bar associations, according to the company.

At Fastcase, we’re passionate about innovation.  We’re trying to change what David Curle of Outsell calls a “fat and happy” culture of complacency and high prices in legal research.  Whether it’s innovation in research software, industry-leading reference support, or simply disruptive pricing, we’re proud to be leaders.  If that shakes up the industry, and makes everyone innovate — all the better!  Isn’t that what market disruption is about?