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Bar News - September 20, 2013


What We Want: NH Bar Members Weigh in on Legal Research Providers

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Earlier this summer, the NH Bar Association conducted an online survey of members to ask how often they did legal research, what they looked for, and how they liked the resources they use.

Those who responded to the survey said they most often researched case law, either for their own or to check other lawyers’ cites, closely followed by statutes and regulations, with law review articles, specific judges’ decisions or treatises sought less often.

Casemaker, the comprehensive online legal research library offered to members for the past 10 years, predictably was the source most often used by those members responding to the survey. (Caveat: While this survey was not a scientific sample, survey respondents, in terms of the size of their firms or legal employers, was representative of NH Bar membership, i.e. 31.3 percent of respondents were solos, compared to 35 percent of Bar members; 31 percent of respondents were in offices of two to 15 attorneys, and 40 percent of Bar members were in offices of two to 10 attorneys.)

The Bar Association is currently reviewing its options for offering online legal research to members as a free member benefit. Neither of the large commercial providers, Lexis or Westlaw, responded to Bar Association queries to offer their service as a member benefit. Fastcase, which provides a full-featured library of unnannotated case law and statutes, has expressed interest in being considered.

While Casemaker employs a small group of editors to provide summaries and guidance on treatment of cases for its premium product, Casecheck +, Fastcase relies on advanced software that uses the frequency with which cases are cited to provide guidance on the relevance and validity of a case.

Representatives of Casemaker and Fastcase will both be in New Hampshire in the coming weeks (see accompanying schedule) for presentations and meetings with members. Members are encouraged to attend or participate remotely in sessions for both Casemaker and Fastcase, to provide input.

A work group of Bar members has been meeting since May to closely examine both Casemaker and Fastcase, and will provide its findings to the Bar Association later this fall. The group is looking forward to receiving input from the broader membership to inform its work in the coming months.

The following are some of the findings from the recent survey:

Most Popular Sources

Nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents do legal research daily or several times a week, while 30 percent said several times per month.

According to the survey results, the legal research resources consulted most often among NH Bar members are:
1. Casemaker
1. Google Search (tie)
2. Books (case law or statutes)
A big drop off…then:
3. LexisNexis 18
4. Westlaw (Next or online)
What’s Most Important?

Among those surveyed, 45 percent cited ease in narrowing down search results as the most important feature of a legal research service. Guidance on whether a case was affirmed or overturned was cited by 27.3 percent.

Ability to use “natural” rather than Boolean search terms was also an important factor, cited by 24 percent. Specifically, regarding Casemaker, respondents’ written comments centered on the following:
• It’s great that it’s free!
• Access to legal research is a highly regarded member benefit.
• Casemaker is inferior to Westlaw and Lexis, does not provide annotations or guidance on whether a case is still good law.
• Archived statutes are a good feature.
• Concerns were expressed about the interface being “clunky” and that occasionally, there are inaccuracies or cases not being retrievable.
Few of the members surveyed had used Fastcase, the most viable alternative to Casemaker, but the survey asked about research sources “other than Casemaker” that members use as a primary source. The comments about the advantages and disadvantages of these non-Casemaker sources included:
• Their sources were reliable, easy to navigate.
• Important to have annotations, summaries, guidance on whether a case is still “good law.”
• Users of free sources such as LII said the lack of page numbers for citation and difficulties in using menus for searching were concerns.
• Users of commercial services such as Lexis or WestLaw, while praising the services, said problems were cost, “haggling” each year on price, and difficulties accessing material that is outside the plan they purchased.
While 57 percent of the survey respondents said they had never used a smartphone to conduct legal research, 42 percent said they had.

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