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Fastcase Leads the Pack Again – Android App to be Released Tomorrow

June 4, 2012

By now, all of you probably know that I have just as much love for my Android phone as for my iPad.  I even posted in January about all of the things that I could do with my Motorola Atrix (with Android OS) phone.  I told you about how I used my camera, how the phone kept me organized, and how I could do a lot of fun things with it.  The one thing that I did not post about was doing legal research on my phone because, really, besides having a few legal ebooks on it, there really was not much that I could do with it.

Until now.

Last Friday, I did a little happy dance (the one time I regretted having windows in my office) as I received my nice, shiny pre-release version of the Fastcase App for Android (v. 0.9).  The official v. 1.0 app will release to the public tomorrow, and I highly encourage you to download it.

For those of you who have used the iPad or iPhone version, you will see a very similar app.  Also like the iPad/iPhone app, the Android app will be free.  If you already have an account with Fastcase, you can sign in with that, and it will sync across platforms.  If you are a new user, sign up for a free account (check to see if you have access through your local bar to get access to the advanced features on their website).

The Research Features:

The Android app provides the basic search functions:  federal and all 50 states caselaw and statutes.  You can also browse the statutes.

Authority Check is available for caselaw searches, which will tell you how many times the case has been cited by any other case in the Fastcase database and by any case within your search results.  This is not the equivalent of Shepard’s or Keycite, but it is a way to help you locate other relevant cases and to see which cases are the most cited to.  Side note:  I asked Phil Rosenthal once why Fastcase did not develop a fully functional citator, and he told me that Fastcase would have to hire an army of attorneys to read cases and make decisions as to whether they were good or bad law.  Since they would have to pay the attorneys, this would drive up the price of Fastcase, which was contrary to the whole point of why he and Ed Walters started Fastcase in the first place.

Search results can be customized to display:

  • Title + Most Relevant Paragraph
  • Title + First Paragraph
  • Title

When you run a search, your search terms will be highlighted.  My favorite feature, however, is that you can search within your own document for any word, the equivalent of CTRL+F.  There are then up and down arrows which will allow you to navigate between the search terms.  I must admit that it took me a bit to figure out that the arrows were only for the “search within the document” function.  I kept trying to get them to move between the original search terms, and for a while, I thought that the buttons just didn’t work.

For those of you who may have short term memory issues, there is a “recent searches” feature.  And you can take proactive steps by saving your documents.  As mentioned earlier, if you use Fastcase on multiple platforms, your information will sync, so both the “recent searches” and the saved documents will show up on whichever system you log into next.

The Aesthetic Features

All of the Fastcase apps have a clean look to them, and the Android app does not disappoint in this area.  There is no extra clutter to distract you.

There are two minor issues that I do have with the aesthetics:

1)      The font size has to be changed through the preferences.  While it is easy to do, I am used to being able to swipe my fingers open and shut to resize text, which I kept trying to do it with this app.

2)      The app only seems to work in portrait mode on my phone.  I like to read in landscape mode because I get 3.5” of screen instead of 2” of screen that way.

Neither issue, however, is big enough to stop me from using the app.

Overall Review

I tested the app with a couple different scenarios that I use in my Advanced Legal Research class.  While I am not convinced that I would want to do a complete research project on my phone, mainly because I do not want to spend the time typing on that tiny keyboard, it was quite easy to do the research.  I have no doubts that any attorney or librarian who needs to do research on the fly would consider this app to be an important part of their research arsenal.  Hopefully Ed doesn’t expect the pre-release version back because I am already doing ALR class research triage on the app.

In my  opinion, Ed and Phil better make room on their shelves for another award. I foresee a three year winning streak for Fastcase apps.

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