Legal Research Blog


Resistance is Futile

Fast evolving computer technology has been a defining feature of our lives. Right now you could be conducting legal research on our website, listening to one of thousands of songs on iTunes, while emailing a client on your phone. In a Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) talk hosted late last year Amber Case proposed that “technology is evolving us as we become a screen-staring, button-clicking new version of Homo sapiens.” The extended use of technology along with our increasing reliance on these devices, are essentially turning us into cyborgs.

In what is probably one of the greatest examples one could find for going into academia, being able to find and create your own niche in the discipline of your choice, Amber Case discusses what it is to be a cyborg anthropologist. Her studies are described as “the symbiotic interactions between humans and machines in which she considers how our values and culture are being shaped by living lives increasingly mediated by high technology.” Fieldwork involves “observing how people participate in digital networks, analyzing the various ways we project our personalities, communicate, work, play, share ideas and even form values” through the digital realm.

Working her way from the traditional definition of our understanding of what a is cyborg, she makes a terrific case of just how much of an impact our technology has on our daily lives whether it is the trauma of losing a cell phone or hard drive to the way social networking platforms has changed the way we communicate.  The incredible influence that these devices exert creates an interesting new opportunity for studying human culture and behavior. At the end of her talk she really speaks to the “oneness” people feel towards their devices: “The most successful technology gets out of the way and helps us live our lives. And really, it ends up being more human than technology.”

At Fastcase, we are proud of our ability to contribute meaningfully to the cyborganization of the human race. With Apple’s iPad 2 launching today and having just tripled our potential Fastcase iPhone app user base, we gleefully expect a dramatic rise in hunched over Homo sapiens tapping away at the little screen in front of them. Click the link below to watch the video of her talk:

Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now

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.