There are two things that surprised me about the Fastcase release of advance sheets which was announced last week.

1. Faster to the ebook market. Once again  Fastcase has leapfrogged over many well established legal publishers by jumping into the eBook market. Last year at AALL, only the two largest  legal publishers LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters, were demo-ing products or prototypes. I understand the appeal of eBooks as opposed to  a digital caselaw display. eBooks provide a more appealing and book like display and user experience and also include the ability to search and highlight. 

2. But why would they pick advance sheets? Young lawyers can’t  tell an “advance sheet” from a “racing sheet.” Older  lawyers who still read them  are likely on the verge of retirement. There are more efficient and targeted ways to monitor emerging caselaw. It is estimated that US state and federal courts release 60,000 reported opinions  and another 100,000 orders and unpublished opinions each year. No one can read everything.

The Fastcase US Supreme Court Advance Sheet  does make sense because it is by definition a highly specialized publication for a court which releases the very readable 70-80 opinions a year.

My reaction to the jurisdictional advance sheets was “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…” Online topical monitoring of newly released caselaw is  vastly more efficient than paging through an advance sheet. But if you are going to publish advance sheets as eBooks, I had to ask “why can’t we have the best of both worlds?”

So I contacted Fastcase CEO, Ed Walters to get some answers.

 Why Not Personalized Advance Sheets? I realize that in the 19th century advance sheets represented a revolution in access to caselaw, but now that courts are releasing a tidal wave of opinions and orders, lawyers can’t read all the caselaw in a single jurisdiction.  Since most online services have the capacity to monitor and filter caselaw as it is released I asked Ed Walters if he planned to develop a more customized and personalized delivery system for advance sheets. Fastcase has already added case highlights and annotations, so why not take it to the next level of personalization?

Topical Advance Sheets  In response to my inquiry, Ed disclosed that in fact Fastcase is  planning to release several other eBook series this summer, which will include nationwide federal topical compilations – the Antitrust Reporter,  Securities Reporter, FCC Reporter, and Copyright Reporter. While topical isn’t truly personalized it is a big leap in the direction of providing filtering and focus which are so badly needed as lawyers struggle against “caselaw overload.”  The topical advance sheets  will be paid eBooks. Ed expects these to be even more popular that the free general advance sheets which were released last week..

Still Walter’s believes that introducing the advance sheet as an eBook is the first step towards revolution. “One of the exciting things about designing out at the frontier is that nobody knows how people will use the products. Henry Ford famously quipped that if you asked people in the 19th Century what they wanted, they would say they wanted a faster horse. Nobody thinks we’ll be working primarily in print books and advance sheets 20 years from now, especially for primary law. So we’re going to build smarter advance sheets, smarter reporters, and begin to stock the library shelves of tomorrow. I imagine that this is what John B. West felt like in the late 1800s. It’s pretty exciting!”