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Akron Bar rolling out new research tool

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 3, 2014

The Akron Bar Association will be adding Fastcase, a new legal research and writing tool, to its members’ benefits package, according to bar association President Stephen W. Funk.

The new service will be available as a free benefit of membership in the Akron Bar Association beginning July 1.

The bar organization worked out the deal with Fastcase, in conjunction with other Ohio metropolitan bar associations (Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Dayton). In doing so, the Ohio bar associations join 21 other states and over 500,000 lawyers who have access to Fastcase.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to be able to provide legal research benefits to our members,” said Funk, a partner at Roetzel & Andress. It is very important, he said, for attorneys to be able to perform legal research at a high level, both for their individual practice and for the general health of the Summit County legal process.

“I see this as more than just a member benefit,” he said. “I see it as promoting professionalism among Summit County attorneys.”

Fastcase, Funk said, “is comparable to any other online legal research tool, including Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis and Casemaker (which is affiliated with the Ohio Bar Association).”

This is especially very good news for solo, small firm and younger practitioners who can rarely afford the major paid research sites like Westlaw, said Funk. Recently the bar association conducted an informal survey of members and he said, “a lot of younger lawyers were using Google and other free databases” to conduct their legal research.

“That is a problem,” he said. “In using those databases, lawyers can’t do the sort of research that we should be doing.”

While Google is trying to get into the legal research field, Funk said that Google itself is inadequate to the task of deep research. With Fastcase, users will get an interface and a level of functionality that will be appropriate to the profession.

For newer attorneys, “the search functions are exactly what people get used to in law school,” he said. Searches on Fastcase can be conducted in natural language, in Boolean keyword format and by citation.

Members will be able to access Fastcase directly through the bar association website (www.akronbar.org), by computer, tablet or smartphone.

Members will be able to access all federal and Ohio law and can expand their usage to include other states. There is also a library of secondary sources.

Fastcase says on its website that, although its search terms and functions are familiar to legal researchers, its search results look more like a Google search than a Westlaw search.

According to the Fastcase site, most legal search site results are either too narrow––which runs the risk of missing something––or too broad––which presents page after page of irrelevancies.

The Fastcase result page is, instead, ordered like a Google page, with the “most important” cases at the top “no matter how many search results there are.” According to the site, the most authoritative cases “come first.”

Fastcase also creates an interactive, timeline-oriented map of search results, and an integrated citation analysis that allows a user to “find the most cited case in your results with a single click.” The latter function does not exist on any other legal search site.

Funk said that the cost of the service was well worth adding as a member benefit. “The cost is significantly less than it would be to an individual,” he said.

Based on their negotiations with Fastcase, the service will cost the bar association about $8,000 per year. “It is paid by members, so the amount will fluctuate each year,” depending on the number of members, he said.

The money comes out of the funds generally used to fund the law library, Funk said, and the funds were approved by the law library association fund committee.

“The library is always looking to expand our abilities to fund legal research projects,” he said. “There are terminals at the law library and people can still do on-the-ground research, but people are so mobile now.”

Funk also said that adding Fastcase as a member benefit fits directly into the bar association’s strategic plan, which includes helping small firms and solo practitioners, and younger attorneys, as well as add member value and improve our use of technology.

“It is a win-win all the way down the line,” said Funk.