Mississippi attorneys have a new research tool. It’s free, easy to use and speeds up legal research.
Last May, The Mississippi Bar launched Casemaker Web library, which provides bar association members with online legal research as part of their membership. Twenty-five states already have the service.
“Not only was it the best thing that The Bar had ever done for me, it was the only thing The Bar had ever done for me,” said Forrest Allgood, district attorney for the 16th district (Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties). “I read the cases as they come down, but you can’t remember it all. Casemaker is, unfortunately, exacting, requiring every little jot and tittle to get it right; but in the main, it’s easy to use. You have access to the whole federal system, as well as about 25 states. And, at the risk of sounding like the Gieco gecko on his ‘pie and chips’ commercial, it’s free.
“We use it a lot and it’s saved us money that we don’t have.”
Even though Casemaker doesn’t have the whistles and bells of the giant commercial research sites — LexisNexis and Westlaw — that some lawyers may need, those sites charge users $100 to $500 or more per month, pointed out Larry Houchins, executive director of The Mississippi Bar.
“If you’re in a specialized practice, then you’re subscribed to a specialized service,” he said. “This service is geared to help 90% of the lawyers, 90% of the time. That’s why it’s more of a benefit to the solo and small practitioner who needs access to the code or a recent decision.”
The cost of the service to The Mississippi Bar is $15 to $20 per member. The association doesn’t receive kickbacks for the number of clicks or for any other reason, said Houchins. Nationwide, 375,000 lawyers who are bar association members have access to Casemaker.
“Large and small firms are using the service, but it’s used much more by small firms and sole practitioners that don’t have the resources of the larger firms,” he said. “Smaller firms can benefit by either cutting back on other services they are currently paying or by dropping them all together. It varies by type of practice, personal preference, etc.”
Tommy Shepherd, CEO of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, PLLC, one of the state’s largest and oldest law firms, said the firm’s attorneys use Casemaker for basic research.
“I personally use it and find it very helpful for quickly locating a case or statute,” he said. “The best reason for using it? It’s already included in the cost of my membership in The Mississippi Bar! Using other online search resources may cost additional fees and expenses to the client or to the firm.”
The Ohio State Bar Association launched Casemaker in 1998 to combine historic and current state and federal cases, statutes and regulations. “It levels the playing field,” said Denny Ramey, executive director of the Ohio State Bar Association.
In Mississippi, the Casemaker library includes Mississippi Supreme Court from 1919; Mississippi Court of Appeals Decisions (published and unpublished) from 1995; Mississippi Constitution; Mississippi Code of 1972; Mississippi Session Laws, as enacted; Mississippi Code Conversion Table; Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure; Mississippi Rules of Evidence; Mississippi Appellate Rules; Mississippi State Administrative Regulations; Mississippi Attorney General Opinions from 1979; Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Opinions from 2005; Mississippi Public Services Opinions from 2005; Mississippi Ethics Opinions from 2005; Mississippi Local Court Rules; Federal Supplement from 2005 (Mississippi cases only); Local Federal Bankruptcy Rules for all Districts in Mississippi; Federal Bankruptcy Decisions; (Mississippi cases only) from 2001; Federal Bankruptcy Rules Decisions (Mississippi cases only from 2005); Mississippi Code (versions prior to 1972); Mississippi Bar CLE Materials; Mississippi Lawyer Magazine Articles and Mississippi Ethics Opinions Pre-2005.
‘East and straightforward’
Casemaker is simple to use. All an attorney needs is a computer and Internet access.
“There’s no real technology to it,” said Houchins. “If you can go to a Web site and type in a user name and password, you’re there. As far as the end user, it’s about as easy and straightforward as it can be.”
Because the service is user-friendly, training seminars aren’t necessary. “On the other hand, we could always learn more information to make us more efficient,” said Houchins.
“We all know how to use search engines, but we might not all know how to use them in the best, most efficient way.”
To keep Casemaker up-to-date, the full-time staff of its managing company, Lawriter, maintains online information.
“They have a timeline for going out and downloading new opinions and editing and indexing,” said Houchins. “It’s updated in a matter of a few days.”
Setting priorities for service
Casemaker is participation-driven, said Houchins.
“We dictate through meetings once or twice a year, either through conference calls or in person, what the priorities are for us concerning how the service works,” he said. “We get feedback from attorneys all the time, and we work with the company to keep Casemaker a constantly evolving product.”
Because almost all research is done electronically now, the service is appropriate to the practice of law, said Houchins.
“We get calls almost weekly from lawyers wanting to donate their law libraries because they’re basically extinct,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.