I took a look at the state case law coverage from four of the low-cost legal research providers (Fastcase, Loislaw, Casemaker and Google Scholar) to see who has the most coverage.  When I started this project, I assumed that Loislaw would be the hands down winner.  After all, they have the huge backing of Wolters Kluwer for a few years now, and you’d hope that they’d want to compete with Westlaw, LexisNexis and now Bloomberglaw.  However, I quickly learned that I was wrong in my assumption.  Turns out that the low-cost legal research provider that has the most state case law coverage, based on years of coverage, is Casemaker.

Here’s how I broke down the research:

  • Looked at coverage for all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia
  • Established the year that the each state published its first official state court decision (highest court)
  • Reviewed the scope of coverage for each research provider
  • Graphed who had the best pre-1950, pre-1920 and pre-1899 coverage
  • Graphed who had the most states where there was complete coverage of all decisions
  • Finally graphed the overall percentage of state case law decisions for all 50 states and the District of Columbia
In all categories but one, Casemaker had more coverage than Fastcase, Loislaw or Google Scholar.  Loislaw had five more states with pre-1950 coverage than Casemaker, but the further back you go the better Casemaker starts to look.  Casemaker had over twice as many pre-1920 states than Loislaw (28 vs. 13); Casemaker had four times as many states with pre-1899 coverage than Loislaw (28 vs. 7); and Casemaker had over twice as many states with complete case law coverage (11 vs. 5).  Fastcase and Google Scholar ran a distant third and fourth place with Fastcase only having 10 states with pre-1950 coverage, and Google Scholar having zero.  The overall percentage of case law coverage for all states and the District of Columbia also went to Casemaker (68%).  
In a market where content is king, this study suggests that of the low-cost providers, Casemaker is the king.  

  • I have to questin the implicit assumption that there is value in pre-1920 and pre-1899 coverage. But I know librarians want it all.

  • Richard Maseles

    What Jim said. I can't think of a time in the last five years when I actually searched a case law database and felt like I needed something that was older than, say, 1940. If opposing counsel or a secondary resource cites a really old case (for my purposes, pre-1970), I'll read it, of course, and Shepardize it, but I feel comfortable in concluding that the real law almost never resides in really old cases.

  • My thoughts are that complete coverage of a state shows the dedication of those providers to have complete coverage, regardless of if an attorney thinks they would ever need to use a case that far back. I'm a big believer in "it is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it."

    When I managed the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network legal research site (OSCN), it was very important for us to build legitimacy for our product by making sure we had every case that the court published, not just picking a random starting date. If someone like us running on a shoe-string budget can do it, then I expect vendors to also do it.

    The other issue is the fact that many of these providers use a citation system based on automatically pulling all the cases that cite to a case. Again, something we built in Oklahoma. The more complete your database coverage is, the better a system like this works.

    So, yes, call me a law-librarian that wants it all, because I think the more coverage you have, the more legitimate your product is.

  • With respect to the issue of pre-1920s cases, etc., I have found it to be particularly important while writing on California civil procedure, simply because so many statutes (rules of procedure and evidence are enacted by the California Legislature) to this day predate the 1900s. It's crazy, but the old law is still relevant. Well, at least the cases that don't involve paying court fees with gold dust anyway.

  • Is there any way you could provide access to your methodology and research in producing these estimates?

  • sdanna,

    My methodology was pretty straight forward. I compiled a state-by-state list of coverage (either through the cite's "scope" page, or through the lists provided by the individual vendors. I then built a list of all 50 states (plus Washington DC) and compared each provider's coverage to determine who had the most per state. If you go to the ManyEyes map, there is a link to see the data behind results.