Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2006

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MSBA Offers Free Online Legal Research to Members

~Fastcase on fast track as latest MSBA membership service~

Free online legal research is now available to all members of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) as an exclusive membership service. The Association has partnered with Fastcase to offer members free electronic access to its full national law library, which includes state and federal cases. Free online legal research for all MSBA members was one of MSBA President Michael Conroy's initiatives this year. This new member service will benefit all members, giving them an excellent tool to enhance their law practice and better serve their clients at no cost.

"The landscape for online legal research changed dramatically for our members when MSBA signed the contract with Fastcase," reports Paul V. Carlin, MSBA Executive Director. "Quite possibly, the MSBA has never provided such a valuable practice tool to its members as a membership benefit. Some in other states say that your dues are returned tenfold through this service alone."

Fastcase's Legal Research will give MSBA members free electronic access to the primary law they need in the everyday practice of law. This service will benefit all members who take advantage of it. In particular, solo and small firm practitioners, many of whom have limited means, will find this free service quite valuable in representing their clients.

"Fastcase levels the playing field for 60-70 percent of our members who are solos or in firms of five or fewer lawyers," asserts Carlin, "but [it] is of great benefit to large firms and government lawyers, too, since it has been estimated that Fastcase can solve 90 percent of most lawyers' research needs 90 percent of the time. Access to a free alternative for legal research can facilitate work on pro bono matters, can improve cost recovery and reduce the total cost on fixed-rate contracts with Westlaw and Lexis."

MSBA's free online legal research service offers an impressive case law database through Fastcase that is highly structured to facilitate advanced searching. The database, updated daily, publishes appellate opinions generally 24 to 48 hours after they are released by the court. Updates include unpublished as well as published cases. In addition, cases are hyperlinked among each other, so that cited cases are only one click away.

"Providing quality benefits to our members remains a core function of MSBA," declares Conroy. "Legal research remains an important asset for practicing lawyers, which benefits members and the public, so much so, that some courts have pushed other bar associations to provide those services. Economics remain an important factor for the legal profession. Quality research ranks with other important factors, too."

Fastcase reports that its servers and data research facilities' uptime is 99 percent, and the response time for the return of data for customers is generally between five and 10 seconds, contingent on the connection speed and citation analysis options. At the present time the Virginia State Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the Louisiana State Bar Association and the Iowa State Bar Association, as well as the Cincinnati Law Library Association and Boston's Social Law Library offer Fastcase to their members.

"Over the past two years, I have done much research and have had many conversations with my national counterparts about various online programs," Carlin continues. "I confidently recommended Fastcase to our Technology Committee and to the Board of Governors. They say "Content is King", so our first consideration was the comprehensiveness and quality of any online service."

"Fastcase offers immediately a full national library of state appellate opinions from all 50 states since 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court back 1 U.S. 1, and federal courts of appeal back to 1 F.2d 1, the U.S. District Courts in Maryland, the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in Maryland, all federal Courts of Appeals plus statutes and administrative codes framed from all 50 states," adds MSBA's Executive Director. "Another key advantage of Fastcase is the ability to do multiple state and federal searches simultaneously and to sort your searches by six different criteria: Relevance, Case Name, Decision Date, Case Cited Within, Case Cited Generally and Court Hierarchy."

"The Fastcase search engine is powerful and allows you to formulate your search using natural language or Boolean searching," Carlin notes. "Searches for regional and national matters involving many states and federal jurisdictions can also be expedited. Since the service is so intuitive, very little training is necessary, according to Fastcase, although a five-minute tutorial is available."

Although the MSBA has contracted for Fastcase's National Appellate level of service, members will be able to upgrade to the Premium Database Level of Service for just $195 a year. (That's a year, not a month!) The Premium Level provides opinions from all other US District Courts (1 Fed Supp 1 to present) and all other US Bankruptcy Courts (1B.R. to present).

"The MSBA fulfills a core function when it provides our members with quality legal research at a reasonable cost," adds Conroy. "We have done that by making available to all of our members, at no additional cost to them, Fastcase legal research."

MSBA members will only be able to access Fastcase through the MSBA website, www.msba.org. To take advantage of this exclusive member service, members should go to MSBA's website under the "Members Only" menu, click on "Fastcase", then enter their bar number and password to gain access. 
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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May 2006

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