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Casemaker vs Fastcase: Closed vs “Open” Source

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Bob Ambrogi recently posted this to his website: Casemaker Fights Back Over Loss in Oregon (posted Thursday, October 01, 2009):

“… I described the two as “in a head-to-head competition to win the loyalty of America’s lawyers.” That competition reached a critical juncture last month when the Oregon State Bar Association announced it was switching from Casemaker to Fastcase. That switch took effect today.

Today, Casemaker shot back, doing something it has never done before….”
(read full post)

The Law Librarian and Non-Attorney Legal Researcher Perspective:

In Oregon, only attorneys were (are) able to subscribe to Casemaker. Anyone can subscribe to Fastcase (and Westlaw, Lexis, etc.).

In fact, from the non-attorney side of legal research, it’s important to note just how many people cannot subscribe to Casemaker: law librarians, legal researchers, paralegals, and anyone not a member of the bar association that subscribes to Casemaker (or Oregon attorneys getting free offers).

Some state bar associations do allow their state’s law librarians to subscribe, but not all (and not Oregon). And individuals still cannot subscribe directly to Casemaker.

This is a real liability in the legal world, where non-attorneys in large and small law firms are the very people who not only do a lot of database searching but are also the very people who can offer hands-on, real-time database training to attorneys, on the spot. We can show attorneys the added value of a database (content and searching tips), the same way we do with all our other legal research databases anyone can subscribe to, from Lexis, to Westlaw, LoisLaw, Fastcase, etc.

The bottom line is, at least in Oregon, the law firm and public law librarians could not contractually get their own Casemaker passwords. This seriously hindered the research support we were able to offer to our attorneys and paralegals (who also could only piggyback on their attorneys’ Casemaker passwords, not really quite kosher since it meant using the attorney bar number to access the database).

None of this should be read out of context from the quickly changing role (and place) of legal research databases. Most legal research database CEO’s know, and say openly, that the primary data will be available online, free in the near future (see also It’s Time for Law.Gov). It’s already happening, though selectively (and we still need lawyers, so don’t get all “it’s all online” on me).

Last, what I say here is not earth-shattering or reason to change a business model, but choosing to run the legal research database equivalent to “closed source” does have a ripple effect. (And I’m not advocating “free” either, just “open subscription.”)

Other recent blog posts about Casemaker and Fastcase in Oregon and beyond:

1) Legal Writing Professors Blog
2) Oregon Law Practice Management blog
3) Google Mobile App: What Might It Mean for Legal Research?
4) Northwest Small Business Law Blog

Full Disclosure: I was invited, and agreed, to serve on the Oregon State Bar’s Fastcase-Casemaker database evaluation team earlier this year. I was impressed with the care that attorney members of the team took to evaluate both databases. I did not participate in the segment of the evaluation when team made their recommendation to the OSB leadership since I was not able to evaluate Casemaker (due to no password access) on the same basis as I was able to evaluate Fastcase.