Legal Research Blog


Social Media Collaboration in the Office

By ethority

The Wall Street Journal has a great article on its website about the role of  social media in the workplace. While not a great fit for all organizations, the collaborative nature of the system can make the potential gains of shared knowledge worthwhile. The guidelines the article sets out are a great starting point for an internal social media framework.

The best part of the article is its overall theme. The reality of social media involvement whether inside or outside of the organization is investment in the platform. Facebook and Twitter succeed not only because of the rapid dissemination of data, but also because of the personal investment of its users. An organization’s leadership needs to motivate  and fuel ownership of the project by fostering contribution, actually implementing the good ideas, and show support for the platform. Otherwise your social media experiment may end up being another statistic.

Earth-friendly Innovation: Perennial Grains

Our Washington D.C. office is only two blocks away from the National Geographic Society Headquarters. This Earth Day got us thinking about an entry in their April magazine issue. The article by Robert Kunzig highlights the potential of perennial grains for global agriculture.

The 10,000 year history of human agriculture has focused almost exclusively on staple crops of annual grains. But there are also perennial varieties of wheat, rice, and other grains. Scientists are now trying to breed better strains of these perennials, to achieve what would be a major agricultural revolution.

The advantages of perennials are significant: they don’t die every year, they don’t require replanting, their long roots use water and nutrients more efficiently, and they prevent erosion. The current system of farming annuals requires churning up the soil year after year, and spreading tons of chemical fertilizers and pesticides over new crops to induce their growth each season. Annuals require much more water too. Agriculture depletes our precious resources of soil and water, while contributing pollutants to the natural environment. There are more efficient ways of growing our food.

We salute the innovators who are thinking of agriculture in a completely new way: humans can harvest grains that don’t need replanting every year. For now, perennial varieties yield much less grain than their annual counterparts – which have been selectively bred over millennia. But with modern tools like DNA sequencing, scientists can make rapid progress towards increasing grain yields. A flour-producing, perennial wheat-wheatgrass hybrid has already been developed at the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, where scientists like Jerry Glover and Wes Jackson have spent years promoting this new technology. Their efforts were covered in Science Daily this past June.

We love to see researchers challenge the way an industry traditionally operates, and focus on saving our resources. It sounds much smarter to us.

Earth Day Edition

Photo by NASA

This month we’ve survived Skynet (for the fourth time) and are hopefully all little more aware of the dangers that Velociraptors pose. There is one other major reminder coming up that also involves our survival on this planet.

Today is Earth Day, so take a moment and reflect on the incredible blue marble we live on. Regardless of your stance on any number of environmental issues, we can all agree that it couldn’t hurt to take better care of our Earth. Spare some time to try and do something good for the planet. It could be something as simple as taking mass transit during your commute, recycling that aluminum can, turning on fewer lights, or running the water less.

As a reward for your good deed, Starbucks is offering free coffee on April 22. You should try to check them out, we hear there are a few of those shops around.

Kaizen and the Art of Software Development

AgileWe’re launching a small upgrade this week to citation lookup. From any search page, you can search for a citation by simply entering the volume, reporter, and first page of a case (for example, 158 F.3d 693). You can also search for a bunch of cases by entering the citations separated by commas.

Until today, the citation lookup was very literal, looking only for cases that start on the page quoted. But that also means that if you searched using an internal pincite, such as 158 F.3d 694, or just got the first page wrong, you’d get no results.

So we’ve upgraded Fastcase’s famously forgiving search box by allowing pincite search as well. If you search for a case using the citation to any page in the case, now you’ll get the case you’re looking for, instead of a message saying that no cases start on that page. (You’ll also get a short message saying, “There is no exact match for this citation – nearest match shown.”)

This is a small upgrade – but it reflects something important about Fastcase and agile software development.

Fastcase is an agile development shop. So instead of releasing huge software updates every couple of years (think Windows 7 or WestlawNext), we roll out new software every couple of weeks. In agile development, we break up revolutionary change into two or three-week sprints of software development. We complete a project, test it, then roll it out – continuously, all year long.

kaizenThis allows us to stay nimble, and to build a culture of innovation. The Japanese call this process Kaizen, roughly translated as “continuous improvement through small changes.” The five main elements of Kaizen are teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles, and suggestions for improvement, and that really captures our ethic for continual improvement at Fastcase.

Because Fastcase is web-based, we can do this seamlessly, without an additional purchase or download, or any interruption at all. Fastcase is just better every time you log in.

That means that every few weeks, you’ll see new features, content, and data types on Fastcase. We’re scanning about 100 books a day right now to build the world’s most extensive caselaw library. We’re investing in infrastructure to ensure that the world’s smartest legal research system is also the fastest and most responsive. And we’re innovating to make Fastcase powerful, elegant, and smarter than any other legal research system in the world.

Fun Facts: Post-Tax Day Edition

One of our favorite blogs, TaxProf Blog has been chronicling this year’s stories in tax bringing us facts like how tax fraud is increasing by 181% this year and that the IRS is allowing kidnappers to take a dependent deduction for victims.

Our favorite story was about professional athletes. Did you know that twenty states require visiting athletes to pay state income tax for games played within the state? Reported in the L.A. Times and picked up by TaxProf Blog, it comes as no surprise that this is controversial as, in most cases, other highly paid professionals are not taxed for payments resulting from duties performed outside the home state. Imagine being Ichiro Suzuki, the highest paid player on the Seattle Mariners:

Athletes are taxed based on “duty days” they spend in each state. In baseball, there are approximately 181 “duty days,” meaning a player earning $1.81 million would make $10,000 each duty day. Therefore, if that player’s team had three games in California, he would be responsible for taxes on $30,000 of income.

At that point, all the tax collectors have left is a math problem to figure out that Ichiro Suzuki, the highest-paid baseball player in Washington, a tax-free state, will have to pay more than $218,000 in California taxes for the 25 games the Mariners will play there this summer.

L.A Times and TaxProf Blog

Finally, if you haven’t already seen it, here’s a fun tool: plug in amounts you paid for social security tax, medicare tax, and income tax and learn how much you contributed to national projects. For example, if you paid $20,000 in taxes this year, you contributed $140 to NASA. Check out your tax day receipt here.