/ November 25, 2009

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.

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