Legal Research Blog

 

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, www.dcbar.org. 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 www.fastcase.com.

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 www.dcbar.org.

Support Resources for MLK Jr. Day

In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Fastcase Customer Support will be closed on Monday, January 17th.

The following resources are available here should you need research assistance:

Video Tutorials

Comprehensive User Guide

Quick Reference guide

We will return to our regular hours on Tuesday, January 18th. Have a great weekend!

Holiday Customer Support Hours

From our whole team in Washington D.C., we’d like to wish you and your family a warm season’s greeting. If you find yourself doing some research over the next couple weeks, please note our holiday customer support hours:

Wednesday December 22nd: 8am-5pm Eastern

Thursday December 23rd:  8am-5pm Eastern (email support only)

Friday December 24th:  Closed

Monday December 27th: 9am-6pm Eastern

Tuesday December 28th: 8am-8pm Eastern

Wednesday December 29th: 8am-8pm Eastern

Thursday December 30th: 8am-8pm Eastern

Friday December 31st: Closed

Have a wonderful holiday, and happy new year!

Discovery Without Search: Law Librarian Conversations Backgrounder

Data Finds Data
Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase

The past year has seen a lot of innovation in the design of legal research.  In the blink of an eye (in this market anyway), we’ve seen the launch of WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, data visualization and Forecite from Fastcase, and new mobile apps for all three systems, to name just a few.  It’s been a long time since there’s been that much innovation in legal research, and all at the same time.  Sometimes it feels like we’re living in a fast-moving future, with very advanced and modern technology to address our work.

But it just isn’t true. One day not far from now, we’ll look back and laugh at how cool we thought these systems were. This is the Mesozoic Era of research, especially in user interface and design, which has really changed very little from its original search-results-document heterodoxy from 40 years ago.  Our research systems (even the best ones) are dinosaur-primitive, and we’re really just beginning to see what the future might look like.

A Conversation About the Future

On Friday, Dec. 10 at 3 p.m. EDT, I’ll be participating in a discussion about that future with Rich Leiter and Roger Skalbeck, who are hosting a Law Librarians Conversation podcast about the future of user experience in legal research, with Jason Wilson, Vice President of Jones McClure Publishing; and Tom Boone, Reference Librarian at Loyola Law School.  [For more information or to register, click here.]

In an effort to hit the ground running in our conversation, we’ve each agreed to write some initial thoughts in blog form.  You can find the group’s thoughts here (and if you care about information systems or software design, these should be required reading — some terrific thinking in these posts):

Rich Leiter: Reflections on the End of the World Wide Web and the Future of the Internet as an Information/Service Resource
Roger Skalbeck: Mobile Legal Research: Do we NEED an app for that?
Jason Wilson: Law Librarian Conversations: The Future of Interface Design
Tom Boone: From interface to extinction: law school librarians beyond Thunderdome

During the live discussion, co-hosts Richard Leiter and Roger Skalbeck will consider three broad topics relating to interface for legal research tools:

1. Native App vs. Browser-based tools
2. What interface innovations can we borrow from other applications?
3. Modularity & Interoperability: Will we ever have modular legal research tools? (I’m thinking APIs, a plug-in architecture or interoperable products)

For some background on this conversation, I’d like to discuss some assumptions that make legal research needlessly simplistic, in the hopes that we can challenge them and make research and discovery more interesting.

Discovery Beyond Search

Inherent in the traditional notion of legal research is “search” — the idea that we will type keywords or phrases into a box and get back a list of results.  And this works today in roughly the same way that it always has — keyword or natural language search, bound by Boolean operators (a syntax so counterintuitive that we have to train law students to forget everything they know about more intuitive search), producing a long list of text results with highlighted keywords that we sift through, one by one.

The process has been busted for years, and we’re just not doing enough to fix it.

Traditional legal research really only does two things: filter once (or twice, if you “focus” and search within results) and sort once.  They filter the entire universe of legal precedent with Boolean keyword parameters, then they sort the result (for caselaw, traditionally the highest court first, most recent case to the oldest).  The poor researcher then sweeps the Augean stables by reading documents one by one.  This is true not just for legal research, but for Web search as well.

Starting in 2003, we did some things at Fastcase to change up the order a bit — allowing users to customize how results are sorted to bring the best ones to the top, to reduce the search costs for finding the most germane documents — but at core this is really little more than a filter and a sort. (We’re flattered that you can now find some of these sorting innovations in the new versions of Westlaw and Lexis – for a great discussion of design principles of all three products, check out Amy Eaton’s great summary (CRIV Sheet Nov. 2010 at p.6) of our panel last summer at AALL in Denver.)

To really innovate in legal research, we’ve got to move beyond simply filtering and sorting, and we’re just starting to see some really inspiring innovations that might show us the way.

Linked Data

The law isn’t a series of flat documents — law cites to law, and these citations create a beautiful information architecture that is woefully underutilized. We’ve done a little work here, integrating citation analysis into results on Fastcase (akin to a Shepards column in search results that allows users to sort most cited documents to the top).

But we’ve got to move beyond hyperlinked citations.  There is so much more to do here — including topical (semantic, if you must) links, geographic links, linked entities (judges, parties, corporations), or even procedural connections between documents (linking, for example, denials of motions for summary judgment, or final orders).

Data Visualization

Text search results can be very powerful, but they’re far from the only way to find germane documents from a filtered subset of a database. Charts, graphs, clusters, histograms — there are hundreds of ways to display results that tell the story better than search results.  We’ve done a little work here, creating interactive timeline maps of search results. Here, too, there is so much work to be done.

The guys at Computational Legal Studies, IBM’s Many Eyes Team, and Wolfram Research have done some gorgeous work, and there are well-established leaders like Hans Rosling and Edward Tufte in the field. Data visualization tells us so much truth that text obscures, and as Jeff Jonas has pointed out, when you enable linked data and data visualization, you don’t need the old search paradigm. Data finds data.

Contextual Discovery

Finally, there is contextual discovery — finding things by reference to nearby navigation elements.  This has lots of promise, in part because we already do this some today. When browsing through hierarchical texts such as an outline of statutes, we’re really just relying on context (the outline provides the context).  Google reports that it’s working on contextual discovery — search without searching — that proactively will suggest things based on context (such as a restaurant’s menu on your mobile browser when you walk in).

Forecite on Fastcase is a similar, non-search contextual discovery feature.  When a Fastcase user is looking at search results, we treat the set of search results as a context, then review all of the cases cited by docs in the search result.  If that turns up a frequently-cited opinion that isn’t in the search result, Forecite proactively suggests it to the user.

The network knows more than the researcher or any individual document — we can use novel user interface tools to expose knowledge just waiting to surface. David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful, has an elegant way to describe this new frontier of discovery beyond search:

“Data is the new soil. For me it feels like a fertile creative medium, and data visualizations and infographics are flowers blooming from this medium. If you look [at data sets] directly, they’re just a bunch of numbers and disconnected facts. But if you start working with them and looking at them in a certain way, interesting things can be revealed.”

If data is the new soil, my team is working in the garden. We’re working on about three dozen UI innovations right now to improve the transparency, customization, visualization, consistency, and elegance of Fastcase. These are still early times in search, but there is innovation everywhere around us — it’s a really exciting time to be working on these issues. Should be a fun podcast conversation, too — Rich, Roger, Jason, and Tom are some of the best thinkers about design, and it’s always fun to see the future through their eyes.