Fastcase legal research – How to Use It (getting started)
Tech Tips, Your AI In-House Editor
By Robert Klein, Los Angeles
A law practice devoted to helping personal injury victims.
Last month, I talked about Fastcase, which is a free member benefit to any member of the CLA. This month, I will walk you through the initial steps for using Fastcase. By the way, your $95 CLA membership provides you with this wonderful benefit which is worth $695 per year.
How you access Fastcase, through the CLA portal, is critical to unlocking all the paid features. There are actually 2 ways to gain access. The easier way: go to the CLA page (www.calawyers.org) and log in. Once logged in, on the upper right side of your screen, you will see a link to “my account.” Click on that link and near the bottom of that drop-down menu you will see “Fastcase.” Click on Fastcase and you will be taken to the Fastcase website. The second way to gain access is starting on Fastcase.com. On the top bar, there is a link to “Bar Associations.” If you click that, you will see California Lawyers Association. If you click that, you start at the CLA page and you follow the steps written above after “The easier way.”
Once you gain access to the Fastcase web page through the CLA link, in the second paragraph, you will see a sentence that states “To view CLA sections’ publications, click here. Or, start researching now directly on Fastcase.” By clicking on start researching now, you have unlocked a paid version of Fastcase. There is a “help” button on the top bar of Fastcase containing many tips and tricks.
My research topic for this article is an issue I have for a client who was involved in an accident. He was visiting Los Angeles from London and rented a car. He did not purchase the liability rental insurance. While stopped at a light, another car crashed into the rear of the rental car. He was taken to the emergency room and had follow up medical treatment. His vacation was ruined. He made a claim for compensation for his injuries and damages.
The insurance carrier for the at-fault driver claims my client was driving a car without insurance and pursuant to Prop 213 (§3333.4 ) they claim he is uninsured and not entitled to recover general damages. They base this argument on the “Graves Amendment”.
Once logged in Fastcase (abbreviated hereafter to FC), I started by searching a key word: Graves Amendment. In the search bar located on the top of the page, I entered “Graves w/3 Amendment.” In this quick search window, you can enter a case site or a key word. Typing a key word is supported by a predictive algorithm (like a Google search – it makes suggestions.)
There are 3 ways to search in FC: natural language, keyword, or by citation. A natural search is a search like you do on Google. A keyword search is a Boolean search and is more precise than a natural language search. While a natural language search may be recommended as a starting point, you cannot narrow your results and it may not find all the results or even the best results.
After entering “Graves Amendment,” on the left side of the screen I was able to limit the search. FC states jurisdiction in a blue banner and below that it states authority level in a green banner, I limited Jurisdiction to California and authority level to California and entered search. The search bar changed to read “((graves w/3 amendment) AND (ca)) AND (california)”. I quickly realized the search is too narrow, so I entered the actual code section, Civil Code § 3333.4. I obtained 94 results and decided to filter by date rather than relevance. I also realized that Fastcase is not as intuitive as I initially anticipated. It is time to go back and brush up on doing a Boolean search. I then narrowed the search by jurisdiction and authority level. That reduced the number of cases to 45. I then used the “document type” and eliminated 2 treatises or books.
As I looked at the cases, I realized some are from unpublished decisions. I also made use of the other tools. For example, there is a page up or down button which is a quick way to get the next document. There is an outline button showing if the case has been cited in any later decisions. A print button allows me to download a pdf of the case and the “star_outline” button allows me to add a case to one of my Favorites. Finally, the share button allows me to email the document.
Some other tools are also very useful. For example one allows me to jump to the search words; another jumps to the most relevant paragraph and another jumps to the highlighted portions of the text. These tools pinpoint the key portions of cases which can speed up an initial search. Of course we know that reading an entire case is important for an appropriate legal research.
In concluding this article, I one to point out that on any screen, there is access to help. On the top right banner, there is a drop-down menu under the word help. There is user guide, there are tutorials and there are hot keys. There is a Fastcase quick reference guide that is a one-page document showing how to locate a case by keyword, party name, citation and showing how to print, sort or filter search results and several other options. I also located and downloaded their 38-page 2018 Edition user guide. After reviewing the user guide, I learned some other interesting and very helpful tips. I will share more in next month’s article so all of us can become master users of Fastcase. Till then…