Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fastcase: an alternative legal database

Are you a law student? Is there a possibility that you will be practicing in Massachusetts after law school? If you answered yes to these questions you should start learning how to use Fastcase.

How you ask? The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) allows law school students to join for free and it is very reasonably priced for newer Massachusetts attorneys. In addition to a lot of other great member benefits, MBA membership includes full access to Fastcase.

Fastcase has many great features including:

Fastcase's Advanced Search Functions
  • Full text cases, statutes, and regulations from all U.S. jurisdictions with advanced searching features such as Boolean and proximity searching.

  • Constitutions, Court Rules, Attorney General Opinions, and Administrative Opinions from many U.S. Jurisdictions.

Bad Law Bot
  • Bad Law Bot—this is a citator which uses an algorithm to search through the body of case law to find words like overruled, superseded, or abrogated in relation to case law.*  When used correctly these words signify when a case is no longer good law as outlined in the Bluebook.** Since this algorithm focuses on finding particular words to find bad law, a case flagged by the Bad Law Bot is very likely no longer good law on some particular point. However, a case which doesn’t use these standard signals may evade Bad Law Bot’s detection, therefore it is probably a good practice to use another citator to check cases such as KeyCite or Shepard’s before relying on a case.
  • Another great feature of Fastcase is in it's partnership with HeinOnline.  This partnership enables the user to apply Fastcase’s powerful search tools to HeinOnline's collection of over two thousand legal periodicals. Additionally, HeinOnline’s coverage of these legal periodicals is exhaustive; in many cases coverage goes back to the inception of each journal whereas coverage on the major commercial legal databases usually begins in the mid-eighties.

Since all this is included with MBA membership and MBA allows law students to join for free and is very reasonably priced for newer attorneys, Fastcase can be a valuable tool for those planning to practice in Massachusetts.  

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 * By contrast KeyCite and Shepard’s use human editors.
** The Bluebook: a Uniform System of Citation 110 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 20th ed. 2015).

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