Fastcase has released its new legal research application for the iPad. Their iPhone version of the application has been available for some time now. However, I was looking forward to their release of the iPad version because I think the iPad is a much more suitable platform for conducting legal research.
The iPad version of Fastcase is the first native application of its kind for the device. If you are a WestlawNext subscriber, they had the foresight to create an iPad-formatted version of their new web-based service. WestlawNext is amazing, and is what I normally use for my day-to-day legal research needs. But the Westlaw service can be pricey and, for the sole practitioner or small firm that cannot afford the service, a free legal research service is a life saver. The fact that Fastcase for the iPad is a fully-functional and very well executed application makes it a must-have for the mobile lawyer.
The Fastcase user interface is clean and uncluttered, yet takes full advantage of the iPad's best features. The initial view presents the user with the option of searching caselaw, searching statutes, or browsing statutes. Selecting "search caselaw," for example, will take you to a screen where you can, among other things, select the jurisdiction(s) to be searched and limit the results by date. Cases can be searched by both citation and keyword/search phrase. The statute browser (shown below) allows you to drill down through various titles and chapters until you get to the section you are looking for.
Search results first appear in a table with a short summary (optional) under each citation. Upon selecting a citation, a new split-view window appears which, if the iPad is in landscape orientation, shows a list of the search results in a table on the left and the selected document on the right. If the iPad is in portrait orientation, the main view shows the selected document and the search results list is accessible from a pop-out button in the upper lefthand corner. The search terms are also highlighted in the document. Another great design feature is a slider that allows the user to resize the text of the selected document.
Aside from a well-designed screen layout, Fastcase also provides some great legal research tools. One such feature is the ability to save documents at the push of a button. The saved documents can be retrieved anytime from a tab bar at the bottom of the main screen. Pressing the "Most Relevant" button on the search results page will scroll to the point in the document that contains the text most relevant to the search parameters. The application also keeps track of your recent searches, so that you can always go back to them at a later date. By tapping the orange numbers at the top of the search results page, Fastcase takes you to its "Authority Check Report," which lists other cases that cite to your current document. Unlike Westlaw's KeyCite service, Fastcase does not discuss the treatment of the cited case but, nevertheless, it is a useful tool so long as you don't mind doing a little extra reading.
All-in-all, Fastcase did a good job in creating a very usable mobile legal research application. It does not contain all of the features available in WestlawNext's full-service web-based application, but again, Fastcase is free. If you own an iPad, Fastcase is definitely worth a look.