Q&A With Fastcase CEO Ed Walters

By Catherine Sanders Reach
NCBA members have access to Fastcase, a robust 50-state legal research database, as a membership benefit. Soon Fastcase will be rolling out a new default version to all members. Fastcase 7 brings all sorts of new features and upgrades. We sat down with Ed Walters, CEO and co-founder of Fastcase, to talk about what’s new and the ever-expanding offerings from the platform.

Q: Ed, tell us a little about yourself
A: I’m a storytelling lawyer from Louisiana. After law school, I was a patent litigator in Washington, D.C., but my job really was to tell stories about science for judges with liberal arts backgrounds. My next-door neighbor at the firm (Phil Rosenthal) and I left Covington & Burling in DC almost exactly 20 years ago (!) to start Fastcase.

Up until last year, I got to be a soccer coach for my son, which was a delight!  I’ve also been teaching a class called The Law of Robots at the Georgetown University Law Center in the fall, and at Cornell Law School’s new campus in New York City in the spring. This fall I’m teaching The Law of Autonomous Vehicles at Georgetown Law.

Q: What are the enhancements to Fastcase in version 7 you are most excited about?
A: I like being able to search across cases and statutes at the same time, or across everything in a state. Type-ahead search is great, too, especially when you’re trying to look up a case by its name or citation, and the search engine just autocompletes it. We’re pretty excited about the hundreds of new expert treatises we’ve just launched. And we’re just about to roll out our gigantic briefs, pleadings, and motions database – a great place to find templates for state and federal litigation.

I also like the Cloud Linking feature – you drag a Word or PDF document into Fastcase, and we automagically find all the caselaw citations and link them to a public version of the case, then return the document back in the same format, but with all the citations hyperlinked. It’s great when sending a brief to a court, or a marketing e-mail to clients, and they don’t need to be Fastcase subscribers to view the linked cases.

Q: How can Fastcase be used beyond legal research?
A: We’re rolling out some new alert services that can be used for business intelligence or marketing. So you can pull all the briefs filed by your firm in state or federal courts; see what kinds of litigation prospective clients have been engaged in, or what firms typically represent them. Or you can set alerts to find out immediately when clients have been sued.

Fastcase is launching a legal news service this fall called Law Street Media, focused on the business of law. And now we’re publishing original books like Joshua Walker’s On Legal AI, as well as deskbooks from bar associations such as the North Carolina Bar Association. And now, with our recently announced acquisition of bankruptcy forms tool NextChapter, we’re looking forward to expanding into more forms and workflow tools. We’re growing all the time, and there’s a lot more to Fastcase than just legal research.

Q: How is artificial intelligence impacting legal research? In Fastcase?
A: AI is great at bulk data operations and in finding patterns in large libraries of documents, as we’ve seen in e-discovery. Now you can see companies using AI to find answers to research questions or to run smarter natural language searches, or to understand the arguments in briefs.

We’re using AI on a lot of projects at Fastcase and Docket Alarm. In our Docket Alarm group, we’re pulling hundreds of millions of documents from PACER and state courts, converting them to text so that they’re searchable, and then extracting things like the judges, lawyers, and parties. Now you can full-text search documents from multiple PACER courts at once, or search by law firm, party, lawyer, or judge, because of information we’ve extracted using AI.

We’re also using AI at Fastcase to upgrade Authority Check and its negative history service, Bad Law Bot. We’re using AI to identify cases that have been reversed or overturned, using the language that courts use in those opinions. Independent research benchmarks the incumbent citators at about 67% accuracy – it will be interesting to see if AI can achieve higher accuracy than our current gold standard in citators.

Q: What is next on the horizon for Fastcase for NCBA members?
A: Our team is really into analytics right now – we’ve been building out analytics in our new Docket Alarm service as a way of understanding judges, law firms, and parties in a case. We’re looking forward to making these analytics available to everyone. We’re also excited about the briefs, pleadings, and motions database. At large firms, lawyers will search their document management system for sample motions before a certain court – we’re working on a similar system for small firms. Watch for some innovations in Fastcase online forms soon, too! I suppose after that, it’s time for Fastcase 8!

Join Fastcase expert Erin Page on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at noon to find out how you can take advantage of AI enhanced searching, saved searches and jurisdiction defaults, and even tweaking the algorithm to get the best search results for you. Lots to learn and more to love with the new enhancements of Fastcase 7. Click here to register.

Catherine Sanders Reach serves as director of the NCBA Center for Practice Management.