Today’s guest post was written by Lisa Solomon, a lawyer who provides legal research and writing services for solo and small law firms. You can learn more about her at the end of the post.
At the dawn of online legal research and for many years thereafter, there were two choices: Lexis or Westlaw. Later, low-cost and free options appeared. One of the newest free options is Casetext, which aims to combine a budget-friendly free price tag with the value of human-generated annotations.
The catch is that the annotations are created not by cadres of cubicle-bound lawyers in Eagan, Minnesota, but by legal scholars and practitioners interested in contributing to open online dialogue about the law. This means that, at least for now, the vast majority of cases are not annotated.
Casetext supports both natural language and Boolean searching (wildcard characters were not available as of last month but will be available in the future), as well as citation lookup, via a universal search box. You can narrow your search (but only by adding one word at a time); sort search results by relevance, date or cite count (i.e., how frequently a case has been cited); and filter by jurisdiction. The search results pages and case display pages are visually pleasing.
Search terms are not highlighted in the case display; the only way find your search terms is to use your browser’s “find” command. A section on the right side of the case display offers options to view “summary,” “context” and “WeCite.” Summary “Context” displays blog posts by Casetext users about the case (if any exist). “WeCite” is Casetext’s stab at a citator.
As you scroll through the text of the case, WeCite displays cases citing the page you’re viewing. You can filter WeCite results by jurisdiction. A feature exists that theoretically allows filtering by treatment, but that feature is not currently useful due to the dearth of lawyers who want to spend their free time characterizing how one case cites another.
Casetext’s federal and state caselaw coverage is fairly robust, as is its coverage of federal statutes, rules and regulations. However, it includes statutes from only five states (California, New York, Delaware, Florida and New Jersey), and no state rules or regulations. And, while the blog posts that appear on Casetext (some posted directly on the site, others republished from users’ blogs) are one type of secondary source, they’re a far cry from the treatises available on WestlawNext and Lexis Advance or even the law review articles accessible via Google Scholar or the Law Review Commons.
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Lisa Solomon is a freelance attorney who assists solos and small firms with all their legal research and writing needs. Lisa is also a nationally-known author and speaker about persuasive legal writing and contract (a/k/a freelance) lawyering. You can find out more about Lisa’s practice at http://QuestionOfLaw.net.