A small patch of Silicon Valley thrives in downtown DC. I have the good fortune to work one block from the Fastcase headquarters — a modest brick building off a street book-ended by the National Archives and the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery. I spent a recent afternoon surrounded by the hipster and need I say young Fastcase editorial team. Although Fastcase pioneered visualization tools for case law research; is currently promoting an AI sandbox and recently acquired analytics start-up Docket Alarm, I was in their office to discuss PRINT. Yes –Books and Journals made of paper.
Fastcase co-Founder and CEO Ed Walters, not only runs Fastcase, but he also teaches robotics at Georgetown Law and is a regular on the the Legal Tech innovator speakers circuit. He is also what I like to call a “font geek!” He can go into a swoon over a great type font. He found a sort of soulmate in Steve Errick, the new COO of Fastcase, who is the son of a typesetter, a former legal publishing exec (Thomson Reuters, Lexis, Wolters Kluwer), who owns both a private publishing company Twelve Tables Press and a country bookstore Book and Leaf in Brandon, Vermont.
Last November, Fastcase launched a publishing arm with the imprint: Full Court Press. Walters explained that the name Full Court Press was inspired by the Malcolm Gladwell’s piece “How David Beat Goliath: When Underdogs Break the Rules.” This essay described how using a “full court press” strategy enabled a girl’s basketball team with a solid losing streak to make it to the national championships. Appropriately, Full Court Press is part of the Fastcase contrarian strategy to take on the major legal publishers by beating them at a game they have dominated.
Game Change: Fair Pricing Walters wants to “change the game.” And one of the strategies Walters highlighted was “fair pricing.” Which will be music to the ears of law librarians and knowledge managers. Print legal publishing like the dinosaurs may be retreating because the environment could not sustain them. Long before the “great financial reset of 2007” law librarians were documenting and battling the unconscionable ( 30-40%) price increases routinely demanded by legal publishers in 1980’s and 1990’s. Then Lexis and Westlaw invented the annual Library Maintenance Agreement which looks remarkably like an obfuscation strategy. It not only obscured the cost of individual treatises but it would also freed publishers from any obligation to disclose a specific updating schedule. The cost was locked in even if publisher reduced the number of updates. Unsustainable price increases driven by a profitability goal rather than increased value to customers has accelerated the demise of print legal publishing and the deterioration of customer relationships. (Greg Lambert recently documented this decline in a 3 Geeks and a Law blog post . ( Can Law Librarian/Vendor Relations Ever Be Win-Win Again?).
While the large legal publishers are creating incentives for their customers to cut back on print in favor of online resources, Fastcase is doubling down on high quality print through the launch of their own imprint and innovative publishing alliances which currently includes a large legal publisher (Wolters Kluwer), a law firm (Littler Mendelson) , Lexblog lawyer publishing platform and dozens of bar associations. According to Errick sdditional alliances are “in the pipeline.”
RAIL: The Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Law.
In January 2018 Fastcase launched RAIL: The Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Law as its first original work of authorship which is available in print, PDF, ePub and .mobi and also integrated into Fastcase. The editorial team described the design process for RAIL and pointed out at the RAIL Acronym cover design mimics the iconic New York Subway Line alphabet designators. RAIL subscribers receive a hi tech surprise a programmable “Rasberry Pi” device. The third issue of Volume 1, recently released covering block-chain and corporate ledgers. enhancing regulatory compliance with AI and American’s first AI legislation.
I spent a few hours with Walters and Errick and to key members of the the Fastcase editorial team: Nina Steinbrecker Jack and Morgan Wright.
Wright and Jack had joined Fastcase when it was a solidly positioned as an online research provider. Both are astonished and energized by the explosive growth of the company over the past three years.
Wright, who serves as Full Court Press publisherhas a journalism background which included design and layout experience at newspapers and magazines. When she joined Fastcase the company had no plan to move beyond online products. . Like Walters, Wright is “obsessed: with designing attractive high quality publications. She regards the launch of Full Court Press as an exciting pivot for Fastcase.
Jack has been responsible for developing and managing the twenty-nine plus bar association partnerships, and she is now the director of all Fastcase products. Jack noted that bar associations seeking to add their CLE materials to the Fastcase platform.
Sandbox and Big Law
Last week Fastcase announced the launch of their AI Intelligence Sandbox highlighting the adoption of the Sandbox by three ALM 100 law firms: BakerHostetler, DLA Piper and Baker Donelson. The AI sandbox is enabling each firm to use AI in a secure environment to “crunch their own data” and glean custom insights from combining internal data with public legal data or metadata from Fastcase using tools such as IBM Watson Analytics and Watson Developer Cloud.
Walters sees AI Sandbox as offering law firms a key differentiation strategy. Sandbox isn’t offering a “read only” AI tool. Walters describes it as “read-write AI” solution and those firms which leverage “read-write” tools like AI Sandbox will be able to create differentiated legal services of the 202.
Fastcase clearly has its own differentiation strategy across the entire spectrum of legal information products: print, online, analytics, workflow and AI. If they can pull it off – the market is ready for a multi-channel legal information platform which offers lower costs, transparent pricing and a focus on providing a mix of content in the formats that can be customized to the needs of each law firm or legal organization.