A Law Student’s Experience Using Casetext - Part 1: Introduction to Casetext

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Calling all law students! Have you heard of the newest legal research database Casetext? If not, listen up! Dedicated to “eliminating inefficiencies in legal research,” Casetext was developed with litigators in mind, but it is intended for use by all types of legal researchers, including law students.

This week, I blocked some time out in my schedule to learn more about this low-cost legal research alternative to Lexis or Westlaw. I have to say that I was not disappointed! The sign-up process was simple, and after glancing at a few of the 1-3 minute tutorials, I started exploring.

Casetext, as the name might suggest, primarily focuses on case law research, but it has the complete statutes of all 50 states, the United States Code, and the Code of Federal Regulations. While the statutes and regulations are not annotated, Casetext does have a nice feature where it provides a list of cases that have cited the statute or regulation. As a law student, I can easily see myself using this as a good way to expand my search to case law if I am focused on an issue regarding a particular statute.

Case Searching

The setup of this database naturally encourages you to start by researching case law. The keyword search function allows for advanced searching by showing a drop-down menu of the different terms and connectors you can include in your search, and the “Typeahead” function automatically suggests terms that you might want use based on what you are typing. I was frustrated that Casetext does not allow segment searching pre-keyword search, unlike Westlaw or LexisAdvance. If you’re looking for cases written by a particular judge or want to filter your results, you can only do so after you’ve entered your keyword search. Although this feature was different than what I am accustomed to and did take away from the efficiency of a quick search, I found that it did not disrupt my search process as much as I had thought it would.

Case Result Comparisons

I decided to investigate how the results for a case search in Casetext compare to results of the same search in Westlaw Edge and LexisAdvance. I conducted an advanced search for “restrictive covenant* /p (geographic OR temporal),” and it yielded over 1,000 results on Casetext. I compared the top ten results from Casetext to the top ten results on Westlaw and Lexis Advance. The results were very different. Casetext and Westlaw had two cases in common in the top ten results; there was no overlap between the search results in Casetext and Lexis Advance.

I also compared search results for a filtered search. The search string “noncompete clause /p ‘geographic scope’” for the 4th Circuit and North Carolina courts yielded 67 results. After applying filters that hid unpublished cases (a feature as simple as turning on and off the button) and narrowing the date range to cases after 2015, I was able to get 27 cases in the results. This was more cases than comparison searches on Westlaw (17 cases) and Lexis Advance (4 cases) yielded, but I did notice that there was more overlap between cases across databases after narrowing the search.

Other Features

Casetext includes two unique organizational features that are different from what you find on either Westlaw or LexisAdvance: holdings and black letter law. The holdings feature pulls out a sentence of the opinion that directly speaks to the issue that you’re researching, while the black letter law feature succinctly summarizes the key points you’re trying to understand. A lot of the work I do as a graduate assistant in the law library requires me to delve into areas of law that I only know a basic amount about, so having these features seemed a particularly useful way for me to quickly pick out relevant cases.

Although I recognize that this is a low-cost database, I was disappointed in the limited scope of secondary sources available. Access to these secondary sources is only available after you’ve done a keyword search. The secondary sources are limited to blog posts written by practicing attorneys at firms. As a law student who is interested in a wider variety of secondary sources, this lack of sources did not particularly impress me. However, I can see this feature being something that practicing attorneys, particularly litigators, would be interested in because of the insight it provides into how other attorneys have interpreted certain legal issues.


Overall, I have to say that I was impressed with Casetext’s offerings. While it is more limited than what a larger commercial database might offer and directed primarily to litigators rather than law students, it really does make case law research, one of my most dreaded research tasks, more efficient and enjoyable.

If you’re a law student who doesn’t have a Casetext account, go ahead and sign up for an academic subscription here.

Be sure to stay tuned for my next post where I give you my thoughts on CARA, the artificial intelligence tool that is the heart of Casetext.

Posted by Jasmine Plott on Tue. April 9, 2019 1:00 PM
Categories: Uncategorized

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