First of all, I need to apologize for the technical difficulties. I attempted to live stream the Houston Area Law Libraries panel on Alternatives to Westlaw and Lexis, but the results were horrible. The audio from one of the speakers was too garbled to understand, and I was too busy moving back and forth from the computer to the podium that I didn’t see the stream of complaints coming in about the audio. Chalk it up as “lesson learned.” Next time, I think I’ll just record the presentations on a real camera and then transfer it over to the web for later viewing. Again, my apologies! Now, for what you missed.

The idea behind the panel discussion was to get an overview of a few legal research products that are outside the large Westlaw and Lexis wings of the industry. We had Sharon Kube and Karen Ditsch from Loislaw (Wolters Kluwer), Ed Walters from Fastcase, and Dave Harriman from Casemaker. It wasn’t set up as a bash Wexis session, but rather to highlight what’s good about the alternatives, and what factors may exists that would encourage law firms, law schools, and court law libraries to use these products. The format was pretty straight forward; five-minutes each on discussing the products, followed by a scenario, then field questions from the crowd.

Product Intros
Sharon and Karen discussed the value of Loislaw as a flat-rate subscription with a wealth of primary law material, but also highlighted the ability to add in up to 200 treatises from the Wolters Kluwer collection, that integrates the Loislaw collection through hyperlinking of caselaw and statutes. Loislaw has a citation system that allows you to see the cases cited and any cases that cite to this case. There is also a find and print type option in Loislaw that allows you to pull all the citations out of a brief or document and then read or print any of those cases or statutes.

Ed Walters of Fastcase took a broader method with his five-minutes of discussion of his product. He discussed the issues of having large conglomerates of Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier controlling such a large percentage of the legal publishing market. Walters says one of the biggest problems is that law firms and law librarians are not speaking the “corporate” language of the big vendors. If you complain about the service and products, but re-up your subscriptions at a 12% increase, the message that the vendors hear is “they are willing to re-up at 12%.” A combined tweet from Carl Malumud and David Curle, may have said it best on what Walters was doing:

RT @davidcurle: @EJWalters is holding up a mirror to the audience. #alt2wexis [they have met the enemy and they are them!]

The answer, according to Walters, was that if the community wanted to really change the way things are with Wexis, then “you got to build it… you got to invest in it.… Complaining on the [law library] listservs is not going to do it.” Walters did go on to talk about Fastcase and the way they are building the interface to be “easy, powerful, compelling, beautiful.” They are building iPad and iPhone apps; building free access to limited portions of the collection through the Public Library of Law; and, the Forecite tool built in to Fastcase to point out cases that might be overlooked through traditional search methods.

Dave Harriman from Casemaker took a much more traditional approach of explaining his product by talking about his background of 40 years of legal editing while he was at Michie, and was the President of Michie Publishing when he left after Lexis acquired Michie. Harriman pointed out that when it comes to primary law, Casemaker compares very well to products like Lexis. Harriman’s biggest point of why Casemaker is a great product is that they are focused on the editorial process. Casemaker also has a citator system, called CaseCheck+, for some states that works like a Shepards or Keycite. They also have a case summary resource that produces summaries for newly released cases in some states. Of course, the biggest draw is that Casemaker is free for those states where the bar has purchased licenses for the members of those bars.

I had given each of the panelist the scenario I was going to ask previous to them appearing on the panel. The scenario was this:

My boss came to me and said that they were looking to reduce our current Westlaw and Lexis subscriptions down to one vendor only. I was given the names of the three vendors (Fastcase, Casemaker and Loislaw) and was told to investigate if any of these would be a good alternative to the product we are dropping. The panelists’ should give me some good talking points to take back to my boss on why we should bring in their product as an alternative to the product we are dropping.

Loislaw’s panelists went first and explained that Loislaw is a flat-fee product, so you pay one price, and no surprises. One benefit of Loislaw, over some of the other non-Wexis products, is that all the materials are housed within the Loislaw databases. This means that their citation system, Global Cite, (which is not a Shepards or KeyCite replacement) works extremely well because all the material is there. If portions of the state statues are not housed within the system, then a citator system like this is basically useless. Sharon Kube also mentioned the ability to pull all of the cites out of a brief or document, and the ability to add in treatise materials that integrate into Loislaw (at an additional fee.) The biggest pitch was that Loislaw is affordable when compared to Wexis.

Once again, Ed Walters took a unique approach to answering the scenario. I think Jason Wilson may have said it best in his tweet about Walter’s opening remarks:

Smart approach by @ejwalters. It’s the ol’ Macy’s/Gimbles approach. “Hey, we may not be right for you.” #alt2wexis

Walters started discussing the user experience that Fastcase brings, more than how it battles head-to-head with the Wexis products. Fastcase is designed to get researchers focused on the tools, and not attempting to get bogged down in the different databases. This is done, according to Walters, through smart sorting tools, research options, data visualization tools, and through new search results options that Fastcase’s “ForeCite” brings to the final results. The pitch for Fastcase was what Walters mentioned in his introduction; Fastcase is “easy, powerful, compelling, beautiful.”

Dave Harriman from Casemaker finished up the scenario by focusing on Casemaker’s content, and editorial production team. Casemaker uses a combination of editorial staffers based in Mumbai, India (Indian based lawyers) and Charlottesville, Virginia (former Michie editors.) Whereas, Fastcase discussed its interface, Harriman talked about Casemaker’s content, and the ability to keep things like state and federal statutes updated as soon as laws are signed. Since Casemaker is only available through the state bar, if your state bar has an agreement (the Texas Bar does, by the way) then members of the bar can have access for free. So, if cost is a factor, and your bar has an agreement, then that may be the big selling point to take back to your boss.

Are the non-Wexis products viewed by Courts as a “trusted source?”
This question actually came in from an academic law librarian, but it really had a Court librarian angle. The vendors talked about how they work very hard to make their products dependable and trustworthy. Loislaw pointed out that they include pagination on all of their resources; Fastcase talked about the fact that over 500K lawyers had access to Fastcase; and, Casemaker said that they are a trusted sources because they supply the material to the state bar associations.

What about proprietary citations that Westlaw and Lexis use when citing to new decisions? Will an increase in non-Wexis provider usage break the court’s reliance upon these? 
This was an interesting question on the issue of those ____ WL ____ or ___ LEXIS ____ cites that go up on new cases until a print version of that case appears in the National Reporter System (sometimes months later.) This question got Ed Walters back up on his soapbox about how there is a need for libraries, librarians, researchers, lawyers, and the associations that represent them to stand up and demand a neutral citation system. No one said that the “WL” or “LEXIS” cites were going away anytime soon, however.

The conversation did expand to include the issue of the copyrighting of the “catchlines” (titles) of state statues. In some states, the actual title of a statute is copyrighted by the vendor that prints the official state statutes. I ran into this problem in Oklahoma when it came to Westlaw claiming copyright. Ed Walters discussed this about Lexis owning the copyright to the Georgia state codes. Walters said he was stunned that when he asked Lexis to license the catchlines to the statutes, he was told that they would never do that… at any price. Casemaker’s Harriman added that when Michie was publisher of the state codes, they gave the copyright of those catchlines back to the 26 states that they covered. Harriman explained that publishers had to create those catchlines, and thus claimed copyright on them, but in Michie’s case, they wanted to give that back to the states to build goodwill. Walters said that the copyright should be viewed as a “work for hire” and should never go to the publisher. I think that everyone in the room agreed that the issue of catchline copyrighting is one that no one (except the vendors that hold that right) view favorably.

How about mobile versions of your products?
I think this question may have made Ed Walters squeak out a little cheer of joy. Walters jumped in and discussed the free iPad and iPhone versions of Fastcase (both the app and the content are free.) Harriman was not sure of the mobile apps that Casemaker offers, but since I had written about this before on this blog, I mentioned that Casemaker’s approach was to build a mobile web version of their product that would work on any mobile device, not just the iPad or iPhone. Kube from Loislaw said that they were about to beta-test a new mobile version in the next few months and something should be out later this year.

What about court briefs? Are you going to offer those?
Casemaker works with specific attorneys to put their briefs on their system, but is not working directly with the courts to pull that information. Ed Walters mentioned that Fastcase is working with the folks on the 9th Circuit briefs. Loislaw (from what I remember) didn’t have any plans to put those on because of the issue of trying to obtain them from the courts. The issue of copyright was brought up again by Walters about the use of these briefs without getting permission from the lawyers that actually wrote the briefs. Harriman said that all of the copyrights of the briefs on Casemaker were cleared by the authors directly. There was also some murmuring about the coziness that courts have with the Wexis vendors on briefs, especially from courts where you cannot get access to the briefs online from the court themselves, but you can through the paid services of Wexis. We left it an open issue.

Any chance for International Materials?
Kube and Deitch from Loislaw said that international materials are part of the overall Wolters Kluwer collection, but currently not available directly from Loislaw. Casemaker is currently discussing the idea of adding international and foreign materials, but does not have any at the moment. My notes actually fail me on what Fastcase’s answer was to this. I don’t believe they currently have foreign or international materials, but Ed Walters may clarify that with me if I am mistaken.

End of Panel
It was a great panel discussion, and I was glad that Ed, Dave, Karen and Sharon took the time to talk with us. I wished that the audio on the livestreaming wasn’t garbled… but hopefully, this round-up of what was discussed makes up a little for that technical difficulty.

I’d love to see something like this as a discussion at AALL or at other local events. In fact, discussions like this shouldn’t be limited to the law library world. Legal research, its costs and contents, are issues that effect everyone that faces a legal issue. That includes lawyers, paralegals, legal administrators, corporate counsel, clients, all the way down to the Pro Se client. I’d really love to see this discussion happening outside the law librarian world. If you’re a member of an organization that has to deal with the cost and effectiveness of legal research, then I think having a panel discussion like this would be of value to the members you serve.