As you already know, legal research costs aren’t insignificant. Especially if you rely on Westlaw or Lexis. This can be a huge hurdle for many newly solo practitioners who struggle to keep overhead and costs as low as possible. This may be especially true if you charge clients on a flat fee basis. Thankfully, there are many free legal research alternatives available. I previously highlighted some of my favorites in a post I did here a few months ago. Of those, Fastcase proved to be one of the best. Especially the iPad and iPhone editions of the service which were completely free of charge. Indeed, according to one ABA Technology Survey, Fastcase is used by more lawyers on their mobile device than Westlaw and Lexis’s mobile apps combined. Unfortunately for Android users, Fastcase wasn’t available on their devices. In fact, the top legal research app for Android users didn’t include any case law and only offered extremely limited access to state and federal statutes.
Thankfully, Fastcase just announced the release of their service in the Google Play Market. The app went live yesterday. Because Fastcase was kind enough to offer me a sneak peek at the service, I’ve been able to play around with it for a few days.
Like the iPhone/iPad version of the app, Fastcase from Android is free to download and provides free access to the nationwide state and federal library without a Fastcase desktop subscription. Additionally, if you are a member of their desktop version (including through a firm or bar association membership), the mobile device easily syncs with the desktop version.
In general, Fastcase offers free access to case law for all 50 states and access to statutes for most states and the federal government. There are some holes in the offerings (such as the lack of access to statutes for Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), but all things considered it’s a tremendous resource.
I took it for a test spin by checking out important resources for my entertainment law practice. For example, I was able to easily navigate and locate California Labor Code Section 1700, et al. (a.k.a. The Talent Agency Act). Once I located it, navigation buttons at the bottom of the page made it easy to flip from one section to the next. A search button at the bottom allows you to search for text within a statute. Similarly, when I searched for relevant case law related to The Talent Agency Act I was able to easily find the results I was looking for. The case law search allows you to narrow your search to specific jurisdictions, by date range of the opinion, expand the number of results and then sort by relevance, decision date, short name, whether a case is cited generally, or whether a case is cited within. Generally speaking, I was extremely pleased with the results and had no trouble locating any of the case law or statutes I searched for. If you need to go back and review your history, you only have to press the menu button on your photo and then select “Recent” to review your search history.
Of course, it’s not perfect. My biggest complaints at the moment are that when a case cites a statute, there isn’t a direct link to that statute. Additionally, I wasn’t able to copy and select text that I found within the case. Being able to copy text (such as a cited code section) would make it easier to perform a search for that statute in the “Search Statutes” section of the app. Similarly, I’d like an option in which I could perform a simultaneous search for both statutes and case law. At the moment, you have to select one or the other. With that said, considering the price tag (free), those are small complaints. Otherwise, I didn’t encounter any bugs or freezes when experimenting with the app. Everything worked smoothly and as it was meant to.
Membership to the desktop service provides online access to their database without the need of a mobile device, and runs between $65-$95 a month (or $695-$995 a year) depending on the plan you choose.