As a lawyer or law firm, you could spend thousands of dollars per year (or even each month) for online legal research. But members of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) needn’t spend a penny, thanks to the benefit of free online legal research that comes by dint of simply being an MSBA member.
Since May 2006, MSBA has partnered with Fastcase to bring each and every Association member free electronic access to Fastcase’s full national law library, which includes state and federal cases. Updated daily, Fastcase usually publishes appellate opinions between 24 and 48 hours following their release by the court, with updates including both published and unpublished cases. Moreover, cited cases can be accessed quickly thanks to cross-referencing hyperlinks. Members need only visit the MSBA website at www.msba.org/members/fastcase.asp, activate their accounts and log in to take advantage of this benefit.
Recognizing the value of providing free online legal research to its members early on, MSBA was in the vanguard of state bar associations to do so. “When we began with Fastcase in 2006, only four other state bars had subscribed to offer Fastcase to their members,” reports MSBA Executive Director Paul V. Carlin. “That number has now grown to 14 states.”
According to Carlin, Fastcase is capable of solving an estimated “90 percent of most lawyers’ research needs 90 percent of the time,” making it beneficial to the vast majority of the legal community. “Having access to a free alternative for legal research can facilitate work on pro bono matters, improve cost-recovery and reduce the total cost on fixed-rate contracts” with other service providers, he adds. As such, Carlin notes, Fastcase also helps to “level the playing field” for the “60 to 70 percent of our members who are solos or in firms of five or fewer lawyers.”
Beverly D. Ross agrees. As a busy Bethesda-based sole practitioner, Ross emphasizes her “need to be able to do research quickly, in many different jurisdictions, and on many different subjects.”
"Fastcase is... a really nice perk
of my Maryland State Bar membership."
Beverly D. Ross
“When I went completely on my own a couple of years ago, I needed to watch expenditures carefully, at least at first,” Ross explains. “I thought it would be hard to go ‘cold turkey’ and not have the use of Westlaw or Lexis Nexis. It turned out there was no withdrawal period whatsoever: Fastcase is every bit as good – a really nice perk of my Maryland State Bar membership.”
Rockville-based attorney Neil Tyra concurs, and then some. “I think the interface is a lot more intuitive and easier to work with than the other major research tools,” he admits. Moreover, “downloading the resulting cases is easier and more efficient than the other tools I have used.”
Though his is not a “research-oriented practice,” Bel Air sole practitioner (and MSBA Past President) Neal Helfrich has likewise found benefit in Fastcase. “When I have a question, I check out the Rules and any applicable statutes,” explains Helfrich, noting that he often follows suit with cases. “Generally, I print them out and put them in the file for further reference. That has been handy in court on occasion.”
For MSBA members, the functionality of Fastcase is further underscored by its cost – or lack thereof.
“The Fastcase online legal research service is free to all MSBA members,” Carlin says, emphasizing that, in 2008 alone, the service to MSBA members was valued at $644,800, according to the company’s estimates. Still, for $195 per year, members wishing to expand their research scope can upgrade from Fastcase’s National Appellate level of service to its Premium Database level. The Premium Level service, Carlin notes, “provides opinions from all other U.S. District Courts and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts.”