Legal Research Blog


What is Relevance? The Fastcase Algorithm.

Last week, Google announced that it was making major changes to its formula for ranking Web sites. One of the most interesting articles we read about this was less about Google and more about algorithms generally.

Computers are only as smart as their algorithms — man-made software recipes for calculation, the basic building blocks of computerized thought.
Google Schools Its Algorithm – New York Times, March 5, 2011

Fastcase uses its own sophisticated legal research algorithm to determine the relevance of every case when you do a search on Fastcase. The Fastcase relevance score is represented as a percentage. The most “relevant” case is 100% relevant and the subsequent cases receive percentage scores based on how relevant they are as compared to the most relevant case.

How does Fastcase know which cases are most relevant? The relevance score is calculated by measuring four properties of each document within the search results:

Calendar Science: Increasing Efficiency

Many of us at Fastcase are followers of David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” (referred to as “GTD” in some of the geeky circles we travel in) – a 259 page paperback about how to organize work flow and personal efficiency.

We highly recommend the book – and, if you’re looking for some tips that you can read in a few seconds, Peter Bregman, a guest contributor at the Harvard Business Review makes a couple good suggestions for items on that have been sitting on your todo list:

1. Do it immediately.
2. Schedule it on your calendar – commit to an appointment with your self.
3. Let it go.
4. Put it on your someday/maybe list.

Read the whole post here.

Music to Our Ears

Photo by Theoddnote

Breaking the long established order is not only happening within the bounds of legal research. Through the Internet, the music publishing industry is once again feeling the pressure provided by entrepreneurs who are changing the way we view and obtain information. The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) created by Edward Guo, a composer and lawyer, is providing competition by using the Internet to host and distribute musical scores for the public and is currently celebrating its Five Year Anniversary.

Highlighted by The New York Times in a recent article, the site is open source, reminiscent of Wikipedia in both look and feel. Users can upload the scores onto the site and edit them for mistakes and missing pages. According to Mr. Guo quality and content management are “completely crowd sourced.” Printing is available for a fraction of the cost traditional publishers ask. The vision is similar to Fastcase’s efforts to democratize the law by allowing sheet music to reach as many musicians as possible at a reasonable price. According to the article the site “claims to have 85,000 scores, or parts for nearly 35,000 works, with several thousand being added every month.”

While publishers claim that they offer products that generate value (and copyright protection) by adding information obtained by the latest scholarship, many feel that they are taking advantage of the fact that many of these composers have long been deceased. According to one blogger that was interviewed Gregory Beaver, who is also the cellist of the Chiara String Quartet, the site “has the potential to democratize printed classical music much as open source has democratized the programming world.”

Go ahead and visit the site- browse the works or listen to the recordings. We guarantee that you will start wishing you had paid attention when your parents tried pushing you to practice the piano. We cannot wait to see what the IMSLP will offer for its Ten Year Anniversary.

Bigger than the Big Game: NFL faces off with the NFLPA

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Anderson Mancini

With the NFL mediation talks happening just blocks from Fastcase headquarters at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, we couldn’t help but take a few minutes from our day to look into the issue ourselves. In case you haven’t caught the sports page in the last few months, the NFL and the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) have had some serious disagreements in regard to revenue sharing, retirement benefits, schedules and more. According to Forbes, professional football brought in $8 billion last year, the disagreements are heavily focused on how that money has and will continue to be divided among the players and owners. Our atypical, but reliable source, ESPN reports that the current agreement has been extended through Friday at midnight. Although there are many possible outcomes we may see by Friday, to the dismay of football fans everywhere, it could be much later that we finally see a solution.

The History:
Just last May, the NFL came before the Supreme Court in the case of American Needle v. National Football League, et al. to defend its immunity against anti-trust lawsuits. The league’s high hopes for future protection were slightly thwarted when the high court determined that the 32 teams making up the league do not qualify as a single entity and therefore under most circumstances are not exempt from anti-trust litigation.

The Facts:
The previous collective bargaining agreement reached by the NFL and the NFLPA in 2006 allowed for owners to pocket $1 billion from revenue before anyone else could claim it, now a point of serious contention. Just five years later, the owners would like to increase their share to $2 billion to support the cost of stadium upkeep and marketing. Players are clearly opposed to this suggestion particularly when owners are also proposing a longer season. The NFLPA has also raised concerns about benefits offered to retired and injured players, without much response from the league.

The Worst-Case Scenario:
With so many issues dividing the league and the NFLPA, there are a few drastic measures that either side could take, creating a serious imposition to pro football next season. Football fans have been abuzz for months now about whether the owners would really consider a lockout if all else fails. By issuing a lockout, the NFL would be disobeying the conditions set forth in the 2006 CBA and would open themselves up to a lawsuit. Although the NFLPA cannot sue the league as a union, they would be free to decertify and pursue an antitrust case in court where some believe they would have a better chance of seeing results. Of course a lawsuit would likely mean years more of the disagreements, whether or not pro-football comes back to life.

With five more days of mediation before the NFL and the NFLPA there are high hopes that the worst-case scenario will become a distant memory of when the nation’s favorite sport almost fell to pieces. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as the action unfolds in the weeks ahead.

D.C. Bar Partners With Fastcase to Provide Free Legal Research

Members Gain Free Access to Nation’s Smartest Legal Research Tools

Washington, DC (February 1, 2011) — Legal publisher Fastcase and the D.C. Bar today announced a partnership that will provide all active and judicial members of the D.C. Bar with free access to the Washington, D.C. libraries in Fastcase’s comprehensive online legal research system.

Beginning February 1, 2011, more than 70,000 attorneys will receive free and unlimited access to one of the nation’s largest law libraries through the D.C. Bar website, The service is unrestricted by time or number of transactions, and unlimited printing, reference assistance, and customer service are included for free.

The D.C. Bar is one of the nation’s largest bar associations, representing almost 10 percent of all attorneys in the United States. Its partnership with Fastcase reflects the Bar’s commitment to providing its members with outstanding services that enhance their practice.

“The D.C. Bar is excited to announce this new benefit and free resource for our members,” said Katherine Mazzaferri, Chief Executive Officer of the D.C. Bar. “Our members range from local solo and small firm attorneys to global law firm leaders, so offering free access to Fastcase is a valuable benefit that our entire membership can appreciate.”

Members will get free access to Fastcase’s D.C. law libraries, as well as the ability to subscribe individually to the Fastcase nationwide Premium subscription for $195 per member per year (the service normally costs $1,140 per year). Law firms can get even larger discounts by subscribing to Fastcase’s Enterprise Edition.

“A member benefit like this is difficult to value, but comparable services cost at least $2,000 per attorney per year, making Fastcase worth more than $140 million per year to members of the D.C. Bar,” said Ed Walters, Fastcase CEO. “Fastcase’s approach to research harnesses the power of smarter research tools. We can provide better service at high volumes, which makes partnerships like the D.C. Bar such an effective win-win proposition.”

With the addition of the D.C. Bar partnership, Fastcase now provides free premium legal research to more than 500,000 subscribers, in dozens of AmLaw 200 law firms, 20 state bar associations and dozens of voluntary bar associations and law schools.

“That makes Fastcase by far the largest legal research service outside of Westlaw and LexisNexis,” said Phil Rosenthal, Fastcase President. “Fastcase is larger than Loislaw and Bloomberg Law combined. And those numbers are paid subscribers only — they don’t include users of Fastcase’s award-winning, free mobile apps.”

Fastcase was founded 11 years ago by two attorneys seeking to democratize the law and build smarter tools for legal research. Fastcase has gained overwhelming support from state bar associations, many of which have upgraded to Fastcase from LexisNexis, Casemaker, and Versuslaw in the last year.

“We’re excited to work with the D.C. Bar,” said Rosenthal. “We are a D.C.-based company, and have spent countless hours practicing law on the same side of the desk as many of the D.C. Bar members, so we understand the importance of saving time, keeping costs competitive, and using the right tool for the job.”

Fastcase has gained very strong momentum in the legal research market in 2010. Fastcase was voted #1 in Law Technology News’s inaugural Customer Satisfaction Survey, finishing first in 7 out of 10 categories over traditional research providers Westlaw and LexisNexis. Fastcase’s free apps for iPhone and iPad have dominated the category, winning the prestigious New Product of the Year award from the American Association of Law Libraries. And Fastcase joined Apple, Google, Twitter, and others in the prestigious EContent 100 listing of companies that matter most in the digital economy.

About Fastcase

As the smarter alternative for legal research, Fastcase democratizes the law, making it more accessible to more people. Using patented software that combines the best of legal research with the best of Web search, Fastcase helps busy users sift through the clutter, ranking the best cases first and enabling the re-sorting of results to find answers fast. Founded in 1999, Fastcase has more than 500,000 subscribers from around the world. Fastcase is an American company based in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit

About The D.C. Bar

Created by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 1972, the D.C. Bar is the second largest unified bar association in the United States. The D.C. Bar’s core functions, supported by member dues, are the registration of lawyers, operation of a lawyer disciplinary system, maintenance of a Clients’ Security Fund, and certain other administrative operations. The D.C. Bar serves over 95,000 member attorneys, which represents nearly 10 percent of all attorneys in the United States. For more information, visit