Bar Journal - December 1, 2002
CASEMAKER IS HERE! Free On-Line Legal Research for Members
By: Dan Wise
Free On-Line Legal Research for Members
Free. Immediate access. Comprehensive coverage. New Hampshire-specific. How come you haven't tried Casemaker yet?
Starting Dec. 2, New Hampshire Bar members began having access to the NHBA Casemaker Web Library through www.nhbar.org. Based on announcements in Bar News and through the Bar's email newsletter, the NHBA E-Bulletin, hundreds of Bar members quickly began trying out the Casemaker Web Library containing New Hampshire case law going back to 1874, RSAs, and rules for the courts and most state agencies. Initial reports are that members are finding the service is easy to use, a real time- and money-saver, dependable and definitely useful to the broad majority of NH Bar members, whether they are in general practice or concentrate in a particular area of New Hampshire law. Judges will find Casemaker an important tool for their work as well, and New Hampshire Bar members in other states will soon come to view Casemaker as their most frequently used source of research for New Hampshire law, as well as for legal materials from the other states in the Casemaker Consortium (more on that later).
If you are new to online legal research, Casemaker Web Library is a great way to stick your toe in the water. It costs nothing to experiment with, is easy to use, and it contains the bread-and-butter of research on New Hampshire law, as well as complementary materials from federal case law and neighboring states.
For Bar members who want portable convenience, a CD-ROM version of Casemaker New Hampshire (updated quarterly) will also be available for a modest subscription. "We believe members wishing to use the CD-ROM version for 'off-line' access will be amazed at the low subscription price," said NHBA Executive Director Jeannine McCoy.
At www.nhbar.org, users will find a variety of means to get introduced to Casemaker. If you are not the sort who just wades right in (we encourage you to do just that, however), you can try one of the following options:
• If you think you have a good idea of how a legal research database works but you want some reassurance... Visit the Frequently Asked Questions section where you'll find out the bottom line with no unnecessary details, then go directly to Casemaker and start searching.
• If you are exceedingly thorough before trying new things, download or read the Users Manual - it provides details on exactly how Casemaker's search engine works, including various options for more advanced searching, and answers to questions regarding nearly every contingency.
• If you really aren't sure about any of this... Click on the Casemaker Tutorial, an automatic, guided-tour type of presentation that explains what Casemaker is, what it can do for you, and how to use it.
The Casemaker library is offered by the Bar to its membership through a consortium arrangement with Lawriter, Inc., a subsidiary of the Ohio State Bar Association. It provides an easily searchable library of New Hampshire case law dating back to 1874, updated statutes, court rules, and administrative agency rules and regulations. Planned additions to the library include Bar Journal articles and Ethics Opinions. The case law database will be updated on a weekly basis, and RSAs and other databases will be updated regularly.
Practitioners with regional practices will be interested to note that all of the New England states are in the Casemaker Consortium, with the libraries of Massachusetts and Connecticut already online, and those of Vermont and Rhode Island due in the next couple of months. Maine has also joined the Consortium and will be online in the second half of 2003.
If a search of New Hampshire law isn't enough, Casemaker users also can conduct searches of the case law (and other materials posted) in the law libraries for the other members of the Casemaker Consortium. There is also federal case law from most of the circuits, with more to be added.
Attorneys in other areas where Casemaker has been introduced have immediately embraced this research tool. One of the indirect benefits of its introduction in New Hampshire is that it provides added leverage to all consumers of commercial law library services. For those firms that need the editorial comment and premium services of a commercial law library provider such as WestLaw or Lexis-Nexis, Casemaker offers two opportunities- first, the ability to perform no-cost initial searches that will reduce the amount of time they spend on the pay services, and, second, Casemaker's presence in the market may lead these providers to moderate price increases and offer additional discounts to subscribers. This rapidly spreading service appears likely to shake up the legal research market for some time to come.
That's the expectation of one prominent observer of the legal research market, Kendall F. Svengalis, a former law librarian for the Rhode Island Supreme Court, who now edits The Legal information Buyers' Guide & Reference Manual, a highly regarded sourcebook for legal materials.
In the 2002 edition of the Buyers' Guide, Svengalis wrote (excerpt reprinted with permission):
"Of all the alternative computer-assisted legal research (CALR) services on the market, Casemaker has the greatest potential to fundamentally transform the world of online legal research in the United States ... Casemaker began as a highly popular CD-ROM product marketed to Ohio attorneys in 1988. Joining forces with the Ohio State Bar Association, Casemaker moved to the Internet in 1998, offering Ohio State Bar members access to a complete library of Ohio legal materials. Since that time, additional state bar associations have approached Casemaker to request that a similar service be made available to their own membership ... It has already made a significant impact marked by a sophisticated array of search features, and the depth and breadth of its database coverage.
"Content for each [state] includes the full range of primary law, including case law, applicable federal court decisions, state codes and constitutions, session laws, regulations, rules of professional conduct, attorney general opinions, workers' compensation opinions, bar journals, and more. Moreover, case law is not limited only to the highest appellate courts and local federal courts, but also extends to the courts of appeals, and some trial courts.
"Content is selected in consultation with each state bar association and, as such, it reflects the specific needs and desires of the practitioners in those states. The Casemaker search engine employs an intuitive technology that includes both Boolean and natural language protocols, a Thesaurus function, and a case history citator. It is simple to navigate and allows users to conduct searches or browse through the documents in each database, a feature not found in most online services.
"Casemaker's success is a striking indication of the need for low-cost CALR by attorneys across the country. Ohio State Bar Association surveys have revealed that utilization of Casemaker's now exceeds that of any other computer-assisted legal research service. And it is not difficult to understand why. Casemaker is rapidly becoming one of the most popular benefits of state bar association membership. In states with a unified bar, Casemaker is being made available to every bar member. In states with a voluntary bar, Casemaker has become the single greatest factor driving the enrollment of new members.
"... As it develops a national database of primary law, Casemaker will satisfy the needs of most attorneys for a low-cost online legal research service. In fact, Casemaker may very well become the dominant influence in the market for online legal research."
Dan Wise is Communications Director of the New Hampshire Bar Association.