Legal Research Blog


Fastcase’s Hidden Gem: A Second Level of Citation Analysis

One of the most powerful (and nerdy, if we do say so ourselves) features of Fastcase is also one of the most hidden. This hidden gem is Authority Check’s second level of citation analysis which analyzes the number of citations within your search results. This feature– let’s call it “Within Search Results”– takes a little extra effort to find – you have to check the box labeled “Show Number of Citations in Search Results” at the bottom of the Advanced Case Law Search page – but the effort is well worth it.

The idea behind Within Search Results is that the more frequently a case has been cited by other cases containing the same search terms, the more likely it is that the case is authoritative on that topic. In order to appreciate the power of Within Search Results, it helps to compare it to the first level of citation analysis on Fastcase.

First Level of Citation Analysis: Entire Database

Every time you perform a search, Fastcase automatically analyzes how many times each case in your search results has been cited by other cases in the Fastcase database. This first-level citation analysis is available under the heading “Entire Database” on the results page. By clicking on the Entire Database heading, you can instantly sort your search results so that the most frequently cited case jumps to the top of your list. It is easy to see why looking at a frequently cited case is helpful. All cases are not created equal and the more important ones tend to be relied on and cited more frequently by those cases that come after them.

But – as you may already be thinking to yourself – just because a case is cited frequently does not necessarily mean that it is being cited on the topic that you are interested in. How do you find cases that are frequently cited on your research topic? Use Within Search Results.

Second Level of Citation Analysis: Within Search Results

By taking advantage of Fastcase’s second-level of citation analysis, you can fill in this missing piece of the picture. By focusing on the cases cited most frequently by cases containing the search terms in your query, Within Search Results drastically reduces the false positives that can result from the first level of citation analysis.

If this still sounds like Greek to you, take the following example:

If you search for the phrase “separate but equal,” a phrase etched into this country’s consciousness by the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, you will get several hundred results. Buried somewhere in the results list is Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) – a case that few would disagree is the seminal case on the topic of race-based segregation, the concept embodied by the phrase “separate but equal.”

With one click, you can sort these results by the number of citations in the entire Fastcase database – just click the heading “Entire Database” on the results page. Your search results will be reshuffled so that the Supreme Court’s decision in Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737 (1984) because Allen has been cited over 1900 times.Allen, a case that considers the I.R.S. policy of denying tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory schools, is certainly on point — but it is not the seminal case on race based segregation

If instead, you sort your results by the number of citations within your search results – do this by clicking on the “These Results” heading on the results page – Brown v. Board of Education rises swiftly to the top spot on the list!

So next time you perform a search on Fastcase, give our “Within Search Results” citation analysis a try and see for yourself.

Fastcase Tips: Constructing a Broad Keyword Search

Get your week started off right with a Fastcase Research Tip. Today, we have tips for creating a broad search query. When you are getting started on a new research project, it is usually a good idea to start with a broad search query and then narrow your query until you get an acceptable number of results. Use these tips to make sure you are not inadvertently excluding decisions that address your topic.

  1. Use synonyms. Try including common synonyms for the keywords in your query. For example, if one of your search terms is car, include automobile and vehicle in your search as well.

Instead of: “fourth amendment” & car

Try: “fourth amendment” & car or “fourth amendment” & vehicle or “fourth amendment” & automobile

  1. Use the wildcard operator. By truncating a search term down to the root of the word and adding an asterisk at the end, your search with automatically pick-up multiple forms of the word including plurals. For example, a search for contract* will pick-up all of the following terms:

Contractor, contracting, contracts, contracting, contracted, etc.

  1. Avoid quotation marks. Rather than putting a phrase in quotation marks, try constructing a query using keywords in the phrase connected with the within operator. This will reduce the chances that you are excluding cases that use slightly different words.

Instead of: breach of contract

Try: breach w/3 contract because this picks up phrases like breached its contract, breach of the contract, etc.

Facebook: The Perfect Alibi

In the past, we have blogged about how social-networking can get lawyers and defendants in to hot water. Well, there are two-sides to every coin, and today The New York Times reports how 19 year-old Rodney Bradford’s Facebook status updates kept him out of jail. Bradford’s defense lawyer persuaded a prosecutor to drop robbery charges against his client for a robbery in Brooklyn by demonstrating that Bradford had an alibi — he had updated his status in Manhattan at the time of the incident proving that he couldn’t have been in Brooklyn at the time.

Free Wi-Fi for the Holidays Courtesy of Google!

Traveling during the holidays is always a harrowing, but Google is taking the edge off this year by providing free wi-fi at 47 participating airports (and on Virgin America flights). The program (which honestly sounds a little too good to be true) starts next Monday November 16, 2009 and runs through January 15, 2010. Check out whether your local airport is participating: here.

Can You Patent a Method for Speed Dating?

We’ve been on sort of an intellectual-property law roll here on the Fastcase blog, and today we have another IP news flash for you — and this one is a doozie. The amicus count (70!) on this one blows McDonald v. Chicago out of the water.

On Monday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Bilski v. Kappos, No. 08-964. The issue at bar was two-fold:

1) Did the Federal Circuit err by using the machine-or-transformation test in determining patentable subject matter?

2) Does the machine-or-transformation test prevent patent protection for many business methods and thus contradict congressional intent that patents protect “methods of doing or conducting business.”

At the center of Bilski is a business-method patent application — a patent for a method for trading commodities — that was denied by the PTO. Business-method patents have been viewed with skepticism by many practioners and it is starting to look like the high court shares this view. According to media coverage of the oral argument, here, here, and here, the Justices were in rare form, each suggesting ludicrous patents that might also be enforceable if the Bilski patent could pass muster:

Justice Sotomayor reportedly suggested “method of speed dating” while Justice Breyer drew laughs by “great, wonderful, really original method of teaching antitrust law”. Which ever way this one goes, you have to love a case that turns Supreme Court Justices into comedians.

Sources: Oyez; The New York Times; Am Law Daily