Google Literacy

One of the current objections to there even being a librarian profession nowadays is that everything is on Google. “Why do I need a librarian to show me anything? I can find what I want with a Google search. Back off, nerd!” And yet, at the same time, there’s a growing number of articles about how important content curation is. The technical definition of content curation, of course, is “I can’t find what I want with Google, can’t somebody make some kind of organizational system or something to efficiently show me where the information is that I need? Help, nerd!”

Normally, when faced with the “all I need is Google” heckling, a librarian has a swiss army knife of web site bookmarks that show how search needs can be more directly addressed with different sites. Heck, this site is all about exposing you to different tools for online legal marketing that you probably wouldn’t have found just by throwing a few keywords in Google. But I’ll even play by the heckler’s rules for a moment. Even if you just limit yourself to Google, do you even know how to use Google to the fullest without a librarian?

You can start by allowing Google to give you a little coaching on what you plan on typing in Google. By using their popularity feature called Google Trends, you can put in a phrase like “reverse mortgage” and get this result. It will show you a timeline of the number of searches made for your query, and offer links on the timeline of important stories related to your query. It will also offer you suggestions on related topics and queries that might offer better Google searches.

You probably knew that there’s an advanced search feature in Google that let’s you search specific sites and limit your searches in various ways. Because, you know, every lawyer wants to really narrow down that search of the rule against perpetuities since you forgot all about it about 3 minutes after finishing law school. But Google actually provides a blog called Inside Search to show you a lot of other things you’ve been missing about Google searches. You can tell Google that you only want a definition, or public data from the Census Bureau, or even recipes prominently displayed in your search results. And there are lot of other articles like this Lifehacker one that offers Google cheat sheets.

You can even make Googles within Google. Using Google’s Custom Search tool, you can round up a bunch of related sites and make a Google search that only looks at those sites for your search results. So you could use a custom search engine, like one on e-books or even something obscure like data visualization to look at materials on making charts from statistics. Apparently it’s possible to make money from these custom search engines too. And there are even search engines that search for custom search engines, like this one!

So the next time someone suggests that all they need to do is put a keyword in Google to replace all librarians, ask them if they can beat back one of Google’s own search challenges, presented by an official “anthropologist of search” at Google. Turns out even Google will show them that it’s not so easy to answer some questions just by using Google. They might even need one of those librarian geeks to help them out one of these days ;)

Free Stock Photos

The conventional wisdom of web design is that you shouldn’t use stock photos because they don’t help create any unique branding for your site. But yet, most law sites use them because after a couple obligatory pictures of the attorneys and perhaps their staff, and a pic of the outside of their law office building, those other iconic images of a law practice seem expected and even necessary. A picture of a gavel or the scales of justice provides an instant reference that you’re an attorney. However, a stock photo of a model playing an attorney should be avoided at all costs, because you don’t want a stranger’s face representing your law firm, even if that stranger is really really ridiculously good looking.

You’re probably aware that because of copyright restrictions you can’t just use one of the photos from those Google searches. But there are lots of places you can find legally usable free legal imagery to use (did I just make a tongue twister there?), before you shell out money to purchase images from a commercial site. A good start is usually to find a blog post where someone has already done the work in finding the good sites for you, like this post or this one.

In addition to searching the sites in those posts, let me offer a few other tips. Even though they charge for their photos, it’s worth glancing at the home pages of the pay stock sites, because some of them may give you free photos regularly just for registering. Istock and Shutterstock will give you free content every week. If the weekly free photos they offer turn out to be something you can’t use, like women laughing alone eating salad, then just come back the next week and see what you find.

There are sites that aren’t labeled as free stock photo sites but still offer lots of photos with creative commons licenses. These licenses allow the owners of the photos to keep the copyrights to their photos and still allow others like you to use those photos on your web site. You can find such photos using a broad search site like Wikimedia for this purpose. A search for “gavel” for instance brought up over 400 results on Wikimedia. Some sites like Photopin search major photo sharing sites like Flickr for open license images.

If you’re not limiting yourself to images that are traditionally associated with lawyers, there are really interesting places to find creative commons licenses. If you’d just like some nice classically artistic pieces to decorate your site, in the same way you’d hang some nice artwork on your office walls, check out the Walters Art Museum, which offers free licenses on its images.

Similarly, some sites also have photos that are historical and in the public domain, so again if you are creative you can use these elegant images in your site. Examples of this include New Old Stock and Getty’s Open Content site.

With a bit of caution I also feel compelled to let you know that Getty, which is the 800-pound gorilla of the pay stock site world, recent began another initiative. It will let you use many of its expensive images on your site, but you simply can’t download and use its images any way you want. You have to embed the images on your site in a strict way by using the exact code that Getty makes you put on your site. Some other web sites have written interesting critiques of this approach, mainly focusing on worries about what Getty’s code will do once its unleashed on your site.

If you want to really go old school, remember that you can always go back to the early days of the net and dredge up some classic clip art. Although Microsoft doesn’t prominently display it in their commercials, you can still search their pretty line drawings to find the cute legal imagery.

So now with all these options, I suppose I have to revisit this post sometime and add some nice free photos myself!

Organizational Apps

What they used to call resolutions or goals are now referred to in hipster terms as bucket lists. Maybe you can still look somewhat cool saying to-do lists, but I’m just not sure. Whatever you call it, I realized that I had a lot of different aspirational tasks floating around in my head that I wanted get down in some digital format. When you consider all the methods of content marketing I’ve put forth in this site, you might be longing to get some sort of plan or schedule together for the strategies you want to take on. So in this post I’m going to look at some tools for at least making a baby bucket list to stay organized.

The most popular free tool for keeping your list in the cloud seems to be Evernote. When I tried it out the positives were that it was easy to use the note editor to dump my little bucket list, format it quickly, and return to it easily on future visits to the site. I liked that you could easily make the note into a separate web page, like one of the note-style web page generators I discussed in another post. However, the web page URL that Evernote created for me was really really long, in that my whole bucket list is easier to write on a sticky note than the web site address for it that Evernote gave me.

There were a few downsides to Evernote. It didn’t let me choose a username as virtually every other web app does, but instead just took my last name and attached a bunch of numbers to it. In my personal settings I learned that by default Evernote subscribed me to a dozen different types of e-mail notifications, so I had to uncheck all those, especially the surveys and notifications about Evernote apps that I’m not even using. And I would have liked a print button right there in the main app, so that I could just print my bucket list in a pinch if I wanted to. But for just getting my list in the cloud, the service seems to work fine.

Evernote mainly relies on the creation of virtual notebooks that contain your notes, like the way windows folders contain files. But other startups, always looking to be “disruptive” of any software genre, add twists to this concept. Workflowy is one such example. Rather than just using a basic word processing editor to make notes, Workflowy lets you drag and drop bullet points all over the document. You can easily make nested tree menus and call-out information bubbles out of single lines in your documents, and so a list in Workflowy becomes much more of an interactive exploratory experience.

One of the most perplexing efforts in this space is Little Outliner. At first I was thrilled to find a completely minimal list-making tool. You just go to the site and start making your list. No registration needed or complex features to get in the way of building your bucket list. But once you make a list, you’ll find there’s apparently no way of saving the list somewhere, and no way to make it into a web page URL that you can bookmark and go back to days later. The site admits that it uses a type of mystery local storage to store the lists, and this storage area varies in location depending on the user’s browser and computer. So the site creates the easiest way to make lists, and the hardest way to find them. But there’s a happy ending – the people who made this site also made Fargo, which has the look and feel of Little Outliner, but puts your files in Dropbox, so you know where they are.

As an attorney, you might want to create bucket lists that apply to goals and tasks in your professional practice. An app like IdeaSparked gives you the simple text editor you were familiar with in Evernote. But it also lets you designate stages of completion of your ideas, and provides stats and pie charts to give your goals some corporate-looking girth. Germ.io is even more useful if you want to get your staff involved in your office goals. Like a start-up team management tool, it lets others in your office comment and contribute to brainstorming ideas and the progress of the tasks.

Finally, don’t forget that the heavy hitter, the safe software you can recommend to even the lawyers that want a familiar brand name, is now free – Microsoft’s OneNote. OneNote is especially useful if you want to tie your ideas and notes to information you’ve found on web pages, using a web clipping extension that works with your browser. If you don’t mind working entirely in the cloud, and are comfortable using OneNote solely as a web app, you can use online versions of OneNote, Word, Powerpoint, and Excel in the free Office Online suite.

Whatever your goals and ideas require, enjoy your bucket list journey and keep adding to your marketing campaign!

Choosing the Right Colors

Although using lots of white space and minimalism is favored in web site design today, you’ll still want a few well-placed splashes of color on your law site. You’ve most likely seen a few pop-up color pickers on the content generator sites I’ve gone through in my guide. Let’s look at some tools that go beyond just choosing random colors from those color pickers.

Even if used sparingly, you first want to consider what colors are appropriate for a law firm site. You probably want a limited palette of conservative colors so your visitors trust that you’re an authoritative and trusted legal expert. At first a site like Adobe’s Kuler can be very confusing with all its dials and sliders and number fields. But thankfully there are lots of color themes that others have already created for you. If you hit the “explore” button at the top of the site and enter some keywords like “attorney” or “law firm“, you’ll see what the most commonly-accepted colors are for law firm sites.

From using those theme searches, you’ve noticed that the standard colors for a law site seem to be mostly blues, black/gray, copper/brown/tan, and maybe some green or maroon. The colors in whatever palette you choose will probably be darker versions of the color with one or two brighter versions. If you don’t trust the Kuler community, you can do the same kind of search entering “law firm” at the ColourLovers search box, and you’ll see the same colors popping up over and over again. ColourLovers has a lot more community features than Kuler, so you even ask questions about law firm colors to the group like this person or this person did.

You may have other inspirations for the colors you want to use in your theme. Maybe you want to use the colors from a logo or brochure that’s already been designed for the firm. Or maybe you want to prominently use a picture of your building or office interior on your home page, and you’d like the overall color theme for your site to mesh with that image. There are tools that let you upload an image and give you great ideas for colors based on that image. Pictaculous will take a pic of your choosing and do several neat things with it. It will offer a suggested color palette but also give you suggested themes from Kuler and ColourLovers. It will even put its suggested colors in an Adobe swatch file for you. With this file, if you use Photoshop or Illustrator, you can import the colors and use them easily in any digital artwork you might create, or give them to a graphic designer to work with.

If you are really intent on using colors from the real world, there are tools that can help you with that also. For example, you can go to the Benjamin Moore paint site, get the name of a real paint, and then use the EasyRGB site to find out it’s hex number (the color’s “computer name”). What does this mean? If you like the “smoke” or “storm cloud gray” colors shown on the home office photo on the Benjamin Moore site, you can go to a conversion page on the EasyRGB site, enter the color name (like smoke or storm cloud gray) and select “Benjamin Moore color preview” from the drop-down menu, and you get a hex number for that real-world paint. Once you have the computer hex number for that smoke paint, which is #BAC6C6, or the storm cloud gray paint, which is #919183, you can use those hex numbers in any of the color-picking sites or web design software. And of course then any web programmer you know can then use that smoke color when he/she is coding your site.

Speaking of web programmers, they’ve come up with lots of fun free tools you can explore to be really whimsical about finding colors. At Colorrrs, everytime you press the spacebar you get a new fun color and of course its hex number. At color.hailpixel.com, you simply move your cursor all over the screen to find changing colors, and simply click when you have a color you like. Click a few times and you have an instant custom theme of colors. Maybe you want to choose colors by looking at big boxy swatches for easy comparison. At Paletton you move around a wheel to pick your poison. At Paletton, I noticed that I could enter a hex number by clicking on the RGB selector, and then by clicking the “examples” feature at the bottom of the screen, it generated a demo web page using a theme of colors based on my hex number. Which meant I could instantly see what a web page would look like using variations of the smoke paint color we just found a few minutes ago on the Benjamin Moore site. So next time you have a room painted, save that paint name!

If you think all this is a lot of fuss over just picking colors, remember that there are trade associations just made up of people who pick colors for companies for a living, and choose new hip colors of the season the same way that fashion designers bring out their clothing lines. I bet you didn’t realize you were trying out a new professional vocation by using the virtual color wheel, did you?

As always, there are lots more tools for picking colors, and I’ve hand-picked a few other posts of people who’ve picked tools that help you pick colors. Without further alliterative phrasing, feel free to browse this page or this page for more ideas on finding great colors for your lawyer site.

Legal Assistance on Your Site

Most people come to an attorney’s site simply to get more information about the attorney. But some find their way to the attorney’s site by looking for forms, or legal guides, or even online services. An attorney who sets his/her site up as a resource rather than just a resume may find extra opportunities to turn visitors into clients.

As a public law librarian, I can attest that a lot of people in need of legal services think that they just need to submit a form somewhere as a solution. Naturally when they hit Google, they plug in the name of that form or motion, hoping they will find it for free. They may often find non-attorneys providing forms or sample pleadings. Many sites either charge money for forms or, like this site, make the user navigate carefully to find the free forms amidst the requests to buy other forms. Some sites even offer sample contract clauses or corporate agreements. If you are an attorney offering forms on your site, you will have more credibility on the forms you supply, but of course you must also state proper disclaimers on their usage.

Many sites also provide legal guides, just as this site is mainly a guide on free legal marketing tools. They can vary in presentation from the eclectic and eccentric ‘lectric law library to the more scholarly Cornell Legal Information Institute to the more commercially-driven Nolo site. The tone you present can certainly vary, but for an attorney’s purposes, normally legal guides give broad overviews of topics but assume that most readers will eventually still want to hire a lawyer to help them apply the law to their particular case. With sites like lawyers.com, freeadvice.com, and findlaw.com, you can easily see that the idea is to give information but encourage the hiring of an attorney.

Guides to the law don’t have to take the format of short articles that you see on most of the sites mentioned above. If you practice criminal law, you might get some inspiration from the comic book approach of The Illustrated Guide to the Law or the practitioner textbook approach of The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook. Some sites even hone in on a specific topic and provide extensive annotations. See how this lawyer takes on an interpretation of the Constitution, as opposed to how its done in The Founders Constitution site, or the Legal Information Institute. If you want case law annotations written by professors and attorneys that you can actually use on your own site, check out the web app casetext.com.

Some lawyers go even further than just presenting the kinds of materials that are useful for research and litigation in actual cases. A new trend that has been slowly creeping up over the years is virtual lawyering, in which the lawyer actually provides some type of direct service to a client online. The Florida Bar Journal recently published an article about the pros and cons of having a virtual law practice. As an attorney I had looked into opening a virtual law firm a few years ago. In my research at the time, I found that the biggest drawback was not knowing how accepting clients would really be of the limitations of exclusively online representation. Despite any written disclaimers or limitations stated in the attorney/client representation agreement, the client could still believe that he/she was entitled to all the services provided in a traditional arrangement. Then a bar complaint could ensue, and normally the client’s perception of the whole arrangement carries a great deal of weight. Because so many clients still will want in-person interaction with their attorney at certain points, some scoff at how technology advocates want to disrupt the legal profession with their start-up efforts.

If you are willing to try and make clear to a potential client the limits of a virtual law practice, there are certainly a great deal of savings that come with leaving a physical office behind. A blog which covers this field nicely is Elawyering. There are surely many advantages in allowing clients to access documents and calendars in the cloud at their convenience. It will be up to the attorney to have a good vetting process at client intake to ascertain if the potential client has enough tech savviness to be satisfied with what can be provided online.

Team Management Apps

One of the easiest jokes to make for teenage characters in a sit-com is some variation of “a newspaper, what’s that?!” while the kid whips his fingers across some kind of tablet device. And yet, yesterday’s news are still being printed and distributed for lots of people on paper. In the same way, at one point a couple years ago I was working part-time for a law firm, and part-time for an e-commerce start-up. The law firm I worked with used an old-school project management suite by LexisNexis called Time Matters. It was full of all these boxy form fields and tabs that looked like something from the Windows 3.0 era. Yet it’s still out there being sold, and apparently it costs over 1000 dollars for the program and one year of maintenance!

When I would go to work with the e-commerce startup, I would use a web app called Asana. Instead of imposing a bland interface, Asana lets you create a much more pleasant environment to navigate through. Instead of everything seeming like a bunch of tabbed database records, Asana made work efforts seem like a friendly conversation piece with commenting features and breezy lists everywhere. And there’s a free plan for up to 15 people. It’s hard to believe that these are both team management apps, in the same way that it’s hard to believe that news still comes both from newspapers and iPad apps.

Now certainly there are many data types that are particular to legal case files which aren’t included in default templates in a web app like Asana. Is that customization for the legal field really worth 1000 dollars versus paying nothing? Especially if you’re a small firm that doesn’t need to fill out a dozen separate fields of information for each task, or works mostly on a flat-fee basis so that extreme documentation of all your work isn’t necessary, it makes more sense to look at the options the start-ups are producing.

The middle ground, as I’ll mention in the below interview, are web apps like goclio.com and mycase.com, which carry costs that are typically 30-100 dollars per user per month. These web apps are oriented for small law firms. However, there are also an abundance of other web apps like Asana that are generally free for small teams. They concentrate heavily on making communication between workers a priority, and there are lot of them that you can try out.

Edit:  The site discussed below, yunite.co, no longer exists, but I thought I’d leave the text for insights on this software category.

I found one in development called yunite.co (screenshot below) particularly intriguing because it is also focusing on integrating communications with people and organizations outside your office. As you can see in the interview below with it’s CEO Bryn Jones, start-ups in the team management sector look to be way beyond clunky virtual file cabinets.

yunite screenshot

Frank:  It looks like you’re just launching yunite.co.  The home page describes it as an app to manage workers, tasks, and events.  Looking at all the similar competition, what do you think will put you ahead of the pack?

Bryn (yunite.co): People aren’t searching for another web tool; they’re looking for a way to manage all of their commitments with one tool. Yunite consolidates your life; it lets you manage your teams, professional associations, and contacts from one platform with task management, contact management, and scheduling and communication tools.

Frank: As this site is geared to weaning attorneys over to start-up tools, let me bring up a few of their needs.  Attorneys, especially old-school ones, like portability of information, or easy conversion, in that they like software that allows them to print out or make pdf’s of information they have stored in an app, or ways to easily send data in an app to other people that don’t have access to the app.  How would you address the concern that with a new start-up’s app, information might be locked or trapped in the app’s particular interface or platform?

Bryn: The reason project management tools have not replaced e-mail is because most of these tools restrict communication to inside teams. Yunite provides organizational tools for teams looking to improve communication internally and externally. Our contact management system allows you to share information stored on our platform with external contacts and ad hoc teams via e-mail, or with other Yunite groups.

Frank: I come across many attorneys that still have aol and hotmail addresses for their e-mail, or try to manage projects through a long excel spreadsheet from a very old version of Office.  They’re not the typical early adopters of technology, so even if there is an enterprise option for your app with advanced customer service, how could you quickly convince a law firm that integration and usage of your app will be an easy transition and easy to learn?

Bryn: People are busy, so we’ve made integration is easy. Users can automatically import all of your excel files and contact information onto our platform using .CSV files.

Frank: A selling point to lawyers might be that there are different levels of access, so that clients could have limited accounts to see certain information about the law firm or their own case.  This would give the app more of the features of a virtual law firm platform, where clients can see their own files and so on. Would the user management features of your app be able to accommodate allowing limited access for clients?

Bryn: The ‘virtual office’ is exactly what we’re aiming to building! Exactly as you said, we understand that you may need to work with a client or even an external ad hoc team, so group administrators have the ability to assign and control permission settings within their group.

Frank: On a lighter note, the law firm’s staff that would have to look at this software all day might want ways to make it look nicer.  How can you customize the look and feel of the app?  Any plans to integrate social media like a feed of the firm’s Facebook posts, or communication widgets like chat?

Bryn: Our newsfeed works like an internal social network, so it allows staff to stay up to date on what’s happening inside their group. Users can communicate with a team or an individual about projects and deadlines. For users that depend on e-mails, reminders can be sent via e-mail and users can respond to discussions or tasks directly from their inbox.

yunite screenshot
Users can also login to Yunite with Gmail, Linkedin, and Facebook, because who needs another login!

Frank: It seems that very few team management tools meant for start-ups are marketed to lawyers, even though most of these tools are relatively inexpensive and usually offer a great deal of functionality.   There are some solutions for law firms, like goclio.com or mycase.com, but there certainly seems to room for a budget alternative, like a Google Apps for Lawyers.  As the mantra of startups is to find a “pain point” or a “problem to solve”, why do think this problem is only attracting limited attempts at solutions?

Bryn: This is a great question. There are actually a lot of solutions that solve specific solutions for different verticals and the reason you haven’t heard of them is purely economic.

For the last few years it’s been more profitable for software companies to sell ‘customized solutions’ to large enterprise. I use the term ‘customized solutions,’ lightly because software companies have been repackaging old solutions, calling it custom, and charging enterprise customers a premium. The result is that a lot of organizations use ‘legacy software,’ which over the next 10 years will become very expensive to maintain.

So to answer your question, I believe you’ll begin seeing more specialized solutions when enterprise consumers realize that the opportunity-cost to adopt new cloud software is less than the cost of maintaining expensive legacy software.

Frank: Finally, do you have any general online marketing tips or content creation tools you particular recommend as you made and promote your app?  What types of groups or organizations are you focusing your marketing efforts on and why?

Bryn: Our team is big on track tools – it’s our belief that if you can’t measure it’s not real. The three tools we use are: Buffer, a social media publishing tool; Reeder, a RSS newsfeed that help consume content; and Hubspot a platform that helps track and analyze web traffic.

We focus our marketing efforts on professional associations; companies that have strong commitments to their communities, and other active social groups. These types of organizations work in clusters and require a platform that allows them to work together. Additionally, this helps us grow because in an effort to consolidate their team management tools users invite the other groups that they contribute towards onto our platform – thereby creating a network.

Frank: Looking forward to your launch. Thanks for your time!

Sites for Sure Cite-Checking

Even for traditional researchers that like to depend on print resources, tracking a case through the Shepard’s books is like utilizing the legal Rosetta Stone. Very few want to brave the paper decoding process for case citators, especially when online resources have reduced everything to a simple system of flags and icons. Non-lawyers especially are easily intimidated by all the symbols and abbreviations found in the paper version of Shepard’s. The necessity of being able to rely on a web service’s judgment, therefore, is crucial, and so this article takes a look at how several research services handle the “good law or bad law” question.

As a test case to compare in the major online citation-checkers, I chose Allen v. Scholastic Inc., 739 F.Supp.2d 642, (S.D.N.Y., 2011). It has been cited and mentioned by a manageable amount of other cases, and there is one case that explicitly discusses the principle that Allen was decided on. So the results in the online services should be fairly similar. Also, it’s just a really fun case to read, as the court has to decide if a Harry Potter book was so similar to a book called The Adventures of Willy the Wizard that copyright infringement took place. The court painstakingly compares the opening scenes of the two books and becomes more harshly critical as the opinion goes on due to the court’s obvious dislike of the Willy book. The court writes, “Beyond the background fact of the wizards’ contest, the book lacks any cohesive narrative elements that can unify or make sense of its disparate anecdotes—a generous reading may infer that its purpose is to engage a child’s attention for a few moments at a time, much like a mobile or cartoon. Indeed, the text is enlivened only by the illustrations that accompany it.” Ouch.

A baseline start to checking citations would be Google Scholar, since it’s free and everyone can access it. Putting the Allen citation in Google Scholar retrieves the full text of the case, and clicking on the “How cited” link retrieves Google’s version of Shepardizing. It found the major case that follows Allen’s ruling, DiTocco v. Riordan, 815 F.Supp.2d 655 (S.D.N.Y., 2011). Google assigned DiTocco a special symbol that looks like 3 horizontal lines on top of each other. When hovering over the symbol, the words “discusses cited case at length” appears. DiTocco has a very similar fact pattern in which 2 similar books were compared for copyright infringement purposes in the context of a motion to dismiss. In its citation list, Google also found, among others, the 3 other cases that were all listed by Westlaw, Lexis, and Fastcase when a similar search for Allen was done: Hallford v. Fox Entm’t. Grp., Inc. (S.D.N.Y., 2013), Alexander v. Murdoch (S.D.N.Y., 2011), and Muller v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 794 F.Supp.2d 429 (S.D.N.Y., 2011). Google, however, does not provide easy colored flags to tell you if the Allen case has been negatively treated by other courts. You must either read the selected quotes from other cases that Google provides in order to decide for yourself, or you can read the entire cases that Google has linked to. Because Google gave the DiTocco top listing in its results, though, it certainly leads the researcher in the right direction.

I next put the Allen case in Fastcase, since many state bar members have access to a free level of the Fastcase service. Fastcase listed Hallford, Alexander, and Muller as its only case references for Allen, did not offer any flagging, and the text of the cases were not available through the free level. It even states that its “authority check” service “is not a citator, and does not include editorial information telling you whether your case is still good law.” I was very surprised that Google’s offerings easily surpassed what Fastcase provides.

Westlaw decided that 3 cases discussed the Allen case with a high level of depth. These cases were the DiTocco & Alexander cases, plus a case that did not make the Federal Supplement, Mena v. Fox Entertainment Group, Inc., 2012 WL 4741389. Westlaw labeled these high-depth discussion cases with a symbol that looks like 3 bars of 4. Whether you think this is a better graphics system than Google’s 3-lines symbol is a matter of personal preference. Westlaw also lists the Hallford & Muller cases by assigning them 2 bars out of 4 as merely cited cases. When printing out the Keycite list of references, all the cited cases are listed as positive, so Westlaw leaves no doubt that it feels the Allen case has no negative history. It’s this small but crucial bit of editorial that one pays for with the Westlaw and Lexis systems.

Lexis owns the brand name Shepard’s and so it is the default report that attorneys know carries the most credibility when presented to a judge. With our Allen case, Lexis gave the case only positive treatment, and found that DiTocco was the only case to explicitly follow Allen. Lexis also provided an interesting feature of dividing its cited cases by district, which of course is helpful in looking for cases within your own district that would carry more weight with your local judge. To this effect, the cases Lexis cited were DiTocco, Alexander, Mena, Muller, Hallford, and Angela Adams Licensing LLC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131697.

All the services thankfully brought up the same core of cited cases when I entered my Allen test case. I was pleased to find that Google is making more of an editorial effort as it flagged the major case DiTocco which discusses my test case. This means that the general public can use Google a little more easily and reliably to research the citation history of a case, even more so than the free attorney access that Fastcase provides! The most immediate convenience of a positive/negative flagging system still is only available through the Westlaw and Lexis services, however. Remember, your local law library most likely provides free Westlaw and Lexis access so you can go in and take your own sample case for a test spin with those services.