Legal Research Blog
In our last post we discussed various methods you can use to search for statutes on Fastcase, but what tools are at your disposal once you find the statute section you are looking for? Ordinarily, if you are researching a particular law you are interested in how courts have interpreted that law. Fastcase knows this, which is why we provide automated annotations below each statute section. Our annotations are different because they are not restrained by the editorial conventions associated with physical documents, meaning they can rapidly be manipulated to turn up the most valuable information.
Once you pull up a statute section, simply scroll down to see a list of generated annotations. Fastcase’s annotations are not notes, summaries, or editorial claims about how courts have treated your statute. Rather, Fastcase shows you highly-relevant common law source material – what judges have actually written about a particular law.
In the picture above you can see a list of Fastcase annotations for Va. Code 8.01-361. This is located just under the language of the statute section. These computer-generated annotations consist of a list of hyperlinks to cases that cite your statute, as well as contextual preview text.
We can see this particular section on the management of juries has been cited by 19 cases in the Fastcase database, so how do we find the most important opinions as quickly as possible? Fastcase does some of the leg work automatically by pulling the most cited cases to the top of the annotations. In the example above, Smith v. Commonwealth has been cited the most (52 times), so it is located on the top of the list.
If you would prefer to look at the list of cases citing your statute section in chronological order, you can also sort by Decision Date. Simply click on the blue column header (illustrated below). One click sorts the oldest materials to the top, while clicking a second time will sort the newest cases to the top. Reading the most recent opinions in reverse chronological order is especially useful for determining the current state of a law.
Fastcase is designed to keep your research flowing on an intuitive level by providing multiple types of information on a single page. Statute annotations are a great place to start looking for case law at the beginning of a research project that is statute-based.
-The Fastcase Team
Statutes can sometimes be tricky to find, especially if you do not have an exact citation. Fastcase has several ways you can access statutes, depending on how much information you know at the beginning of your search.
If you are not sure where to start and just want to browse through the various titles and chapters of a code there is an easy way to do that in Fastcase. Just go to the Fastcase toolbar, hover over the Search menu and click Search Statutes. Above the search bar on the Search Statutes page are two tabs. Select the second tab – Browse.
From here you will see a list of jurisdictions and the U.S. Code, which is located on the top. If you want to browse Nevada law, just scroll down to that state and click the plus sign to the left. If you click the plus sign next to Nevada Revised Statutes you can select which edition of the code to view (2014-2007). You can decide to expand various titles and chapters to your heart’s desire.
If you see something that interests you, just click the name of the section to read it. Fastcase will pull up any cases that cite your section below the statute’s text. You can also see an outline view of the code to the left. This lets you view your section in the overall context of the code and click on other sections to read further.
The easiest way to find a particular statute section is to just type in a citation for that section using Fastcase’s Citation Lookup feature (more on that below), but what if you only have an act name? Or, maybe you have a general idea that a statute exists, but do not know where to look in browse mode. You can try a keyword search on the Search Statutes page, but predicting the exact language of a section is very difficult. You might try searching for a case that cited your statute on the Search Cases page, but that is also time consuming.
It is perfectly fine to turn to Google if you are struggling! In my experience this is a great way to find out where certain areas of the law have been codified when you do not have enough information to search the Fastcase databases effectively using keywords. And if you know how to search using Fastcase you know how to run a Google search since both use Boolean operators.
Great! You found that pesky citation. Next you want to enter it into Fastcase and go directly to your statute section.
From the Search Statutes page, make sure the Citation Lookup mode is selected above the search bar. Select where you want to search in the Select Statutes pane by checking off the boxes. You can click the plus signs for each jurisdiction to show different codes. If you click the blue “info>>” link you can see examples of how to cite those particular laws so the computer can find them. For example, Nevada Revised Statutes are cited with the abbreviation “Nev. Rev. Stat. [Chapter Number].[Section Number].” Use that syntax with your citation in the search bar and press enter to quickly pull up a section.
Once you have the statute basics down you can save a lot of time and frustration. Time which could be better spent watching spring training, for instance.
There is one particular flavor of nerdy ennui that haunts legal minds: you think you are done researching an issue, but you still have a nagging suspicion you are missing a key case. All of your opinions are citing each other in a circle, but how can you be more certain you are not overlooking something huge? Nightmare scenarios unfold, many of which involve a judge viciously reprimanding you for failing to bring something obvious to his attention.
Never fear, Fastcase has the cure for your late-research anxiety! It comes in the form of a few simple tools – complete results lists, smart sorting, and Forecite.
Few are aware of this, but the way Fastcase brings you cases (as in the sheer number of results you see at once) is unprecedented. On traditional legal research platforms you can only see about the top 10,000 results. With Fastcase you can pull up everything that matches your search terms at the same time.
I just ran a keyword search for “judge” in all jurisdictions. In literally 2 seconds Fastcase returned over 4 million results.
You may think you don’t need (or want) four million results because that amount of data is simply unmanageable, but with Fastcase’s Big Data analysis tools you can find the needle in the haystack.
You can’t sort a case into Slytherin, but you can sort pretty much every other way that is useful. The blue categories at the top of your results list are clickable. Pick to sort by Relevance, Case (alphabetical), Decision Date (newest first), or Authority Check (which cases have been cited the most within your results or the entire Fastcase database). Clicking a blue category link again will sort in reverse order, such as Z-A, oldest first, etc.
Forecite is a little tool that finds the cases you didn’t know you wanted, where you didn’t think to look. It has two main functions: 1) Forecite shows cases that are probably relevant to your search, but do not contain your search terms, and 2) it checks other jurisdictions for related material. To see Forecite cases, simply click the orange “View Results” button to the right of the Forecite bar that appears above your results.
For example, maybe you are searching for North Carolina cases that discuss double jeopardy. Obviously this is a constitutional issue so there are also going to be several federal cases relevant to your inquiry that are cited by N.C. courts. With Forecite you can quickly access those federal cases that were frequently cited by your N.C. results, and read through them to gain a background understanding of the issue.
Peace of mind, brought to you by the team at Fastcase.
Organizing legal research can be daunting, especially at the beginning of your project. Often you will find portions of cases that are relevant to your issue, but the majority of the opinion is unimportant for your purposes. Long fact sections, discussion of unrelated principles, judges waxing poetic on Shakespeare . . . you typically do not need the full text of an opinion to write your brief.
Fastcase can streamline your research project with one simple tool – “Copy With Citation.” This allows you to save small portions of cases and easily return to the source material at a later time if you need more context.
To copy text with a citation simply click and drag to highlight the portion that interests you. Fastcase will automatically open a menu with two options: “Copy Text” and “Copy With Citation.” Select “Copy With Citation.”
Paste the portion of the case you want to remember into a Word doc. The citation will automatically be generated following the text you pasted. When writing more complicated briefs and motions I often like to outline specific elements of my argument (and anticipatory counter-arguments). I then paste helpful quotes that back up my argument within the appropriate section of the outline.
Tip: To save even more time, type the reporter page numbers that you will need to cite later next to your quote (if they are not included within the body of the quote itself.)
Super Pro Tip: Fastcase links are static. This means you can create hyperlinks back to your cases and save them within your outline for easy access later.
After you paste a quote with a citation into Word, go back to your Internet browser and Fastcase. Copy the URL at the top of your case. Then return to Word, highlight the citation, right click, and select hyperlink. Paste the URL into the box labeled “Address” at the bottom. Now, if you want to easily pull up a case you quoted, you can just login to Fastcase and click the link within your outline.
“Copy With Citation” means less time in the office, well-organized briefs, and smarter legal research.
The wait is over — Fastcase Version 3.0 for iOS 8 is now available in the app store! You don’t need to do anything new — just download the update when you see it in the iTunes store.
Apple’s iOS 7 release interfered with the Fastcase iPad app login, and iOS 8 broke Fastcase’s app altogether. This update makes Fastcase for iPhone and iPad compatible with iOS 7 and 8. Additionally, it squashes some known bugs.
Here’s the changelog for Version 3.0:
Compatible with iOS 8 (100% less crashy!)
Do you like entering your username and password each time you log in? We don’t. We’ve fixed this by enabling keychain access.
Added retina display graphics and icons – more pixels, same low price.
Fixed iPad login crash bug – now clicking “Login” logs you in!
Time-outs are great for sports, but terrible for apps. We’ve optimized network responsiveness issues — results should time-out much less frequently now.
Thanks, but no thanks. We turned off auto-correct so it doesn’t interfere with Boolean searches.
Fixed logout bug. Clicking “Logout” now logs you out! (We’ve also changed the logout button color to a less offensive shade of red)
Fixed scrolling to most relevant paragraph.
Footnotes are now clickable, although still sometimes inscrutable, but that’s not really our fault.
You can update the app on your iPhone or iPad through the App Store, or you can update in the iTunes store today.
The Fastcase Team