We’re not sure exactly how much money is spent each year on legal research materials, but we are confident that the number is substantial. When we entered law school, doing legal research was, quite literally, “hitting the books.” Decades later, although law books are still being published, an ever-increasing percentage of the legal research budget is being spent on electronic research, with an ever-increasing percentage of the electronic legal research budget being spent online for Web-based services rather than CD-ROMs. (As far as we know, exactly zero percent of the electronic legal research budget is being spent on DVDs because the usual publishing suspects have not moved to the higher capacity disks, something we don’t understand at all.)
Cost: $70.00 per user per month, unlimited service
Company: Quicklaw America Inc., 1055 Stewart Avenue, Bethpage, NY 11714
Phone: (888) 346-7384 or (516) 396-7480
Fax: (516) 396-7496
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Company: Loislaw.Com Inc.,105 N. 28th St, Van Buren, AR. 72956
Phone: (800) 364-2512 or (501) 471-5581
Fax: (501) 471-7145
This week we’ll take a look at the newly announced Web-based interface for QuicklawAmerica, the latest Web-based legal publisher to provide CALR (Computer Assisted Legal Research) through the World Wide Web.
In this age of foreign publishers buying up domestic legal publishers, it is refreshing to see a foreign company entering the domestic legal research market, with only a relatively small, but significant, purchase of a domestic company. Quicklaw is a Canadian company, apparently well regarded in Canada for its Canadian legal research databases. Last year, Quicklaw purchased CurrrentLegal, a new publisher comprised, in part, of very experienced legal editors who learned their art at West Publishing.
CurrentLegal specialized in electronic versions of CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) and the USC (United States Code). We’re told that Quicklaw has been building its U.S. caselaw and statutory libraries, used by its Canadian subscribers for several years, but is now fully committed to servicing U.S. lawyers, as well.
We first wrote about Quicklaw several months ago, when the service required a researcher’s computer to run proprietary software for Internet access. At the time the company’s U.S. collection was rather weak. We’re pleased to report that Quicklaw users can now access the service through a standard Web Browser — Microsoft Internet Explorer, Version 5.0 is preferred — but, sad to say, the Quicklaw collection of U.S. caselaw is still weak.
We took a fast look on what appears to be extensive foreign law material from Canada, the U.K., Australia, Africa and the Caribbean, and found most of the material seems to date back five to 10 years. If you are particularly interested in material from these jurisdictions, the Quicklaw collection may be quite valuable.
The federal Circuit Court material mostly goes back to the early 20th century, but we were surprised to find that the U.S. Supreme Court cases begin only in 1900. (Better coverage is available free of charge from various Web sites.) Quicklaw has federal regulations and statutes, but neither District Court or Bankruptcy Court cases, nor case material from federal administrative agencies.
Quicklaw highlights its coverage of Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York, which includes caselaw back from 50 to 100 years, and current court rules, statutes and administrative material. Other states seem to have cases, only, some with a reasonably deep collection. North Dakota, for example, goes back to 1930 and North Carolina to 1943 — and some amazingly small cases from the Ohio Supreme Court go back only to 1992 (the Ohio Court of Appeals cases begin only in 1999).
We liked Quicklaw’s more than 40 “topical collections” from “admiralty, maritime and shipping” to “workers’ compensation.” The federal pensions and retirement benefits topic, for example, constitute excerpts from “the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, federal court rules and other federal materials that have been identified by Quicklaw America editors as being relevant to the particular topic. The topical collections don’t add to the available research material, but do conveniently group topics that require research in various parts of the statutes or administrative regulations.
Each of the topics has collections from appropriate federal databases and, as of this writing, similar material from Illinois. We assume that material from other states will be added in the future.
Whether in a particular library or topical collection, the user can search using a search template, or a use a plain Boolean search. The template lets the user enter a search request within one or more fields, customized for the type of database. One template, for example, had fields for title/heading, section and any field. The user can tell Quicklaw to search, with respect to entry in a specific field, for “any of these words,” (an OR search), “all of these words,” (an AND search), “all words in same paragraph,” “all words near each other,” “exact phrase,” or “Quicklaw query syntax.” A link to “help on Quicklaw query syntax” didn’t work, but toll-free and free telephone support told us this meant nothing more than Boolean syntax.
Once we entered a search request and clicked to conduct the search, the hit list was displayed in a narrow frame on the left of the screen, with the text of the hit in the main part of the screen. Clicking on the various citations on the hit list changes the item displayed in the main part of the screen.
Quicklaw has no citator service, and the databases are generally not sufficient to support the global citation search that Loislaw uses as a citator substitute.
We’re told that Quicklaw provides toll-free technical and search assistance weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Central time and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Central time, Saturday and Sunday.
QuicklawAmerica charges $70 per month for unlimited use by a single user.
Each person using the Quicklaw database requires his or her own logon, although a company representative told us that the company won’t complain about reasonable password sharing within the firm. The $70 fee is not unreasonable for a source for USC, CFR and federal circuit and Supreme Court cases, or for lawyers who concentrate on federal matters, although we assume most such matters will require additional regulatory material not available on Quicklaw. The $70 also seems reasonable for lawyers engaged in typical state law practices if ac
companied by extensive state material.
Unfortunately, state material outside of Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York is spotty; Quicklaw apparently is concentrating its current marketing in those four states. If you need Canadian libraries as well, QuicklawAmerica may become a genuine bargain. If you practice in Ohio, however, the free Lexisone databases offers better coverage than Quicklaw.
By comparison, Loislaw.com asks for from $60 to $140 per month depending on the breadth of the material the user wishes to access. (That fee, by policy, is for one concurrent user; Loislaw has no problem in permitting everyone in the firm using the same login, as long as only one person uses it at any given time.) Both Lexis and Westlaw have single-state materials in the $100 range, and all of these firms offer deals, some advertised and some not.
(Lexis, for example, is currently offering Illinois lawyers access to Illinois libraries at $30 per month.) We always suggest that you ask what current deal is available, and this sometimes even works for printed and bound law books.
Even in this day when cases and statutes are clearly in the public domain, putting together a database large enough to serve a typical lawyer’s research needs is a massive undertaking. We have no doubt that Quicklaw will be adding legal material. (Back issues of these columns, currently available on Westlaw and Lexis, should be searchable on Quicklaw soon.) If the service has the precise material you need for your practice and if you don’t mind Boolean searching, Quicklaw, at $70 per month, may be a viable alternative to the others. With the current state of the Quicklaw databases, however, most U.S. lawyers will probably opt for one of the other CALR services for the present.
QuicklawAmerica is making a good beginning doing a lot of things right.
The $70 per month per lawyer fee is not unreasonable, but we think that most U.S. lawyers will probably find the depth of the Quicklaw legal databases insufficient to rely on as a sole source of legal research at this time.
Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his law office in Homewood, IL. To contact him, write to P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, IL 60430, or send an e-mail to [email protected]