In a previous article, I discussed free software and legal research tools. The response has been well-received, so I wanted to dive into Fastcase a bit more.
Fastcase is a free legal research tool, like Westlaw or Lexis, often available free of charge. Many local bar associations have subscription plans with Fastcase. Access to cases for free = $ saves = happy clients.
Do I get Fastcase for free?
How do you find out if your local bar association has a Fastcase subscription? Check the Fastcase list. If you’re in New York, free Fastcase might be a reason to join NYSBA if you haven’t already. If you depend on legal research even once, the NYSBA membership will be worth it compared to what you would have spent on Lexis or Westlaw.
Getting in to Fastcase
Step 1: Log in to your bar association website…
Step 2: What was my password again?
Step 3: Wait… what login email did I sign up with?
Step 4: …Let’s try clicking on “forgot my username and password”
Step 5: Ok… now I have to reset my password
Step 6: I’m probably going to forget this password too
Step 7: I’m logged in!
Step 8: What was I doing here again?
If you login to your bar association website, go to your member benefits section, and click on Fastcase, you get to a logged-in Fastcase screen.
Fastcase lets you search through state statutes and case law. You can do a Boolean search like you would with Lexis and Westlaw, or try the natural language search. For searching through statutes and regulations, I prefer the browse method of looking through Fastcase’s table of contents for the statutes. It may point you in the right direction to know what chapter you’re looking in, rather than blindly searching and manually sifting through many results.
You’ll likely be limited in your search to your jurisdiction. Often this shouldn’t be a problem though.
Fastcase gives you a research trail, just like Lexis and Westlaw. You can save documents to your “library” and access them later.
If you need a bit more breadth in your search, Fastcase also has a newspaper search, allowing you to look through many different publications for your keywords.
Fastcase doesn’t Shepardize. It doesn’t tell you if the case you’re reading is still good law. It also isn’t the best starting point if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Fastcase doesn’t have secondary sources like Westlaw and Lexis.
These can be huge drawbacks. But, if you know what area of law you’re looking up, what statutes and what cases you’ll need, then Fastcase is great. And, you can’t beat the price.