At the 2019 AALL Annual Meeting & Convention, host Bob Ambrogi welcomes Ed Walters and Phil Rosenthal for this special episode celebrating the 20th anniversary of Fastcase. Ed and Phil reminisce about the beginnings of their company and highlight how the expertise and vision of law librarians was instrumental in their initial stages of development. They share some of their most memorable high points from the last 20 years, and talk about Fastcase’s future goals and ongoing efforts to empower users with data-driven law.
Ed Walters is CEO and co-founder of Fastcase.
Phil Rosenthal is president, chairman, and co-founder of Fastcase.
Special thanks to Fastcase for sponsoring this episode.
On The Road
AALL 2019: Fastcase 20th Anniversary
Intro: This episode is brought to you by Fastcase and its comprehensive suite of legal intelligence tools. Fastcase offers the full suite from legal research to analytics, document tracking to secondary treatises, AI tools, legal news, and more. Fastcase is the smarter way to run your law library; and now, onto the show.
Robert Ambrogi: Hello and welcome to another edition of On The Road with Legal Talk Network. This is Bob Ambrogi and I’m the host for today’s show, which is being recorded on location at the American Association of Law Libraries’ Annual Meeting & Conference from Washington, DC.
We are right here on the Exhibit Floor so if you hear a little background noise that is why, and I’m really happy today to be having an opportunity to talk to the founders of Fastcase on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Fastcase, the founding of Fastcase.
Ed Walters: 20th anniversary.
Robert Ambrogi: I know I feel old but I felt old already, but now I feel even older.
Phil Rosenthal: Us too.
Robert Ambrogi: And so I have here Ed Walters, the CEO. Say hi, Ed.
Ed Walters: Hello.
Robert Ambrogi: And Phil Rosenthal, the President of Fastcase.
Phil Rosenthal: Hello.
Robert Ambrogi: And I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to ask you about Fastcase, but I have to take a little bit of it aside and say that before either of you were lawyers, before either of you founded Fastcase, you both did some really interesting things in your lives before that. So just real quick and tell us what you did before you were a lawyer?
Ed Walters: Like a million times growing up in Louisiana, I almost blew myself up with fireworks and car cases.
Robert Ambrogi: Not bad. Not bad.
Ed Walters: I moved to Washington to go to college and really like truly flew to my way into a job working in the White House as a summer intern and then in the Office of Presidential Speechwriting, where at 21, I mean I was just bounding up the steps every day. It was like the coolest, luckiest, awesomest experience.
Robert Ambrogi: So you were a speechwriter for George H.W. Bush?
Ed Walters: Yeah, I was one of two Democrats politically appointed to the George Herbert Walker Bush administration. The other was Bobby Strauss, the founder of Akin Gump, who was the ambassador to Russia. I was not exactly the ambassador for Russia. I was like the lowest-ranking most, most junior person in the Bush administration. But luckily at 21, I still thought that I knew it all. I got in a ton of awesome arguments and fights.
One of my favorite days working at the White House — as a political centrist Democrat working in that administration was hiding under my desk when the White House Chief of Staff, John Sununu, came storming down the halls of the old executive office building with a copy of a speech that I edited — his edit out of, yelling who is Ed Walters and what is his agenda?
Robert Ambrogi: A lot of people are still asking that question?
Ed Walters: Yes.
Robert Ambrogi: They tend to work at the other companies now. And Phil, just real quick, what did you had a whole life before you became a lawyer?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, I started out in Physics actually and ended up doing String Theory and Cosmology out at Caltech, trying to figure out why the universe is four-dimensional, like most pre-law activities, and then fell in love with space actually. And so, I was also involved at JPL in the early stages of the mission that went to Pluto a couple years ago.
Ed Walters: So you were at New Horizons then, Fire and Ice, the Pluto Fast Flyby?
Phil Rosenthal: Pluto Fast Flyby in the beginning, this was around 1991.
Robert Ambrogi: So you work quite literally a rocket scientist, which makes me want to ask, is legal research rocket science?
Phil Rosenthal: It’s harder in a lot of ways. It’s not as clean.
Ed Walters: Yeah 00:04:06.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, physics has nice clear answers.
Robert Ambrogi: So the two of you were associates at Covington & Burling here in Washington, DC. The day comes when you decide you’re going to quit your day job and go off and start a legal research company. Had you just been like working sleepless nights on a big M&A deal and lost your minds or what did you think?
Phil Rosenthal: Well, we didn’t lose our minds but it turned out Ed and I serendipitously just happened to share the same suite at Covington & Burling. I walk in late one night, this is early 99 and there’s Ed fuming over the printer and I thought Ed, did the printer jam, everything okay? It turns out the printer is fine but he’s doing research for a Fortune 5 client that it said back in early 99 don’t use West or Lexus, find something else.
And we realized there really wasn’t much of anything else and started talking about it and just how incredibly expensive legal research was and how hard it was. We had this crazy idea that lawyers should be able to afford access to the law and really everyone should have access to the law, and that was the genesis of thinking about the company.
Robert Ambrogi: I mean, did it strike you at all as audacious? I mean neither of you had a background I don’t think in starting a company or especially a legal research company, right?
Ed Walters: Yeah, I think we had a healthy appreciation for how hard it would be, but I think we also had this conviction that in a web-enabled world which was brand-new in 1999, you really couldn’t maintain a duopoly in public domain, public law. There would have to be some big alternative, and our conceit about it really was that if you took the editorial part out, the head notes or the annotations and really published nothing more than the public law with brilliant awesome tools, the citation analysis tools, data visualization tools that, you could do it and pennies on the dollars of the cost but really pick up like 90-95% of the utility of legal research. And so I think we knew that we were onto a good idea just in the macro, there was going to be a big gatecrasher.
Somebody was going to break up that duopoly and there’s no reason why that couldn’t be us.
Robert Ambrogi: I mean there were some others who had come along but I don’t know that there were others that had sort of your idea about, I mean you talked a lot of over the years, I’ve talked to a lot over the years about sort of democratizing the law.
Ed Walters: Right.
Robert Ambrogi: And that was a kind of a unique approach at that point, I think.
Ed Walters: Yeah, it certainly wasn’t the approach in 1999 legal publishers. Well, I think viewed the law as the product.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: Right, I mean, the approach in 1999 was if you want access to Supreme Court opinions like that is the product and Phil and I always said, democratizing the law was important and a byproduct of that or an important feature of that was that the law itself wasn’t the product, right?
The law is kind of a raw material that everyone should have access to and what we were selling was brilliant tools that empowered people to do better research, that allowed people to create smarter illegal research. The tool is not the data, and even today, you see companies that are trying to pay wall off public law and trying to maintain an exclusive stranglehold on access to the law where we’ve always said that the real product should be innovative tools that sit on top of the law, and the law should be available to everybody.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: That night then the next we spend hours just starting to think of ideas on how could we make legal research smarter and why is it as hard as it is and just start making lists of all the things we wanted to do.
Robert Ambrogi: That’s what I was going to add, how did you like literally go about getting this started? I mean what did you — after you left your firm, what did you do? How did you get the raw material to work with? How did you start hiring people?
Ed Walters: Something we did before we left the firm. Phil, you have to tell the story about how one night he comes running like frantically into my office, you got to tell this story.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, so I run and I discovered that the library of Covington & Burling was going to throw out a set of the reporters which eventually became a very common thing for libraries to do of course. And so I run —
Ed Walters: So for like maybe six months, Phil and I are cooking this idea while we’re working. So we’re spending nights and weekends trying to do a prototype of Fastcase, trying to create the business model and the idea but we’re still working full-time as lawyers, right? And so during this time, Phil comes running into my office.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, and it’s like they are throwing out the reporters. We have a chance to get all these thousands and thousands of reporters, and of course, no one at the firm knows we’re leaving.
Ed Walters: And I said, Phil, that’s preposterous. I mean of course they’re not throwing away like the National Reporter System and he said, no, they are, come quickly.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, so we went to the library to tell them, oh don’t — give us the weekend, don’t throw them out, we’ll take them and they are like, what — thousands of book, what are you going to do with them? Oh, we just like books, we are taking them.
Ed Walters: They had an industrial dumpster there linked in the library like pulling with hands off the shelves on both sides like a single copy of the entire National Reporter System. All the regional reporters, all the federal reporters into a dumpster, the size of a box truck.
Robert Ambrogi: So what you thought, you’re going to go home and put them in a garage and slice the pages and scan it or what was that?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, well, we knew would have to convert them to get the data. One of the biggest challenges is how do you get the data it’s public domain, but to get in a good electronic copy is so high hard, so that’s step one, books we thought.
Robert Ambrogi: On this particular Friday, the hardest part was convincing the firm to let us have them. So I’m sorry I keep interrupting your story but go ahead.
Phil Rosenthal: No, it’s fine. And so finally the library is bewildered but though I will find if you can get them out by Monday, they’re yours. So we run and rent a u-haul and a storage unit and we spend the weekend carting books, which any good associate should do for the —
Robert Ambrogi: Not just books like 3,000 books, right, like a giant collection of books. Anybody looking askance at you as you did this or —
Phil Rosenthal: Oh, not just anybody there was this classic moment where I’m wheeling one of those library book carts down the hallway towards the freight elevator and I run into the managing partner of the firm, and it’s the only time I ever saw him with a deer in the headlights moment. He didn’t say a word, it’s wheeling books, but he probably did many Supreme Court arguments but had nothing to say to that.
Ed Walters: I should say the two librarians at the time at Covington & Burling were quite famous then and more famous now, Roberta Shaffer and David Mao each of whom did turn as the law librarian of Congress. They said, Ed, Phil, you can have the books but what are you going to do with 4,000 books? Do you have any idea what this entails, and why on earth do you want them?
And we weren’t ready to announce yet, so we said, we’re bibliophiles, and they of course didn’t believe us at all, they said just take — get them out of here by Monday, but when it came time to tell the firm —
Robert Ambrogi: Big great bonfires for the holidays.
Ed Walters: We told our law librarians first. So it was Roberta and David were the first people we told that we were leaving and what we were doing.
Phil Rosenthal: Roberta is our first advisor and first person we told and of course she gave amazing advice.
Ed Walters: Yeah.
Robert Ambrogi: So when did you become a company? When did you hire people, how did that all start?
Ed Walters: Well, it started with the name, and Fastcase was not the original name for the company. So Phil and I had built a prototype, while we were at our law firm, and we had like one of our first meetings with an outside investor and so we needed to move this prototype off of a laptop and onto the web and part of that is having a domain name.
And I think we realized the name would be important, whatever domain name we pick would be the name of the company and would likely be our forever name. And so we spent hours, I mean even in 1999 a lot of the good domain names were taken.
Phil Rosenthal: 00:12:27 is everywhere.
Ed Walters: Yeah, we’re looking at E Law; E Law Library, it’s hours we are trying to find something, and finally we come across like a really good name. I think we both really liked it. Phil and I are different people, we have very different taste, so finding a name that we both like was not trivial.
And so we thought this was a big decision and said, look, let’s just sleep on it, all right? Let’s not make a rash impulse by, we well sleep on it, we’ll buy the domain in the morning before our presentation that afternoon.
So it was a pretty short night. I think I slept like three hours. I got back into the office the next morning and I saw Phil and I said, hey, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, it’s time to buy the domain name but I’m so tired I kind of forgot what it was, so what was it now buy it, and Phil said, well, you remember what it was, I can’t remember what the good name was.
And we racked our brains that we couldn’t remember what the name, we’d gone through so many domain names the night before and so we said, well, look, let’s just park it somewhere, let’s get like a placeholder domain name, we’ll park it on the placeholder domain name, we’ll show it to these outside investors and then when we remember what the good name is we’ll move it back to that one.
So we were searching really quickly to try to find a name, Fast Law no, E Law no, Fast Law Library no, Fastcase yes; oh Fastcase, all right. We will just park it on Fastcase and when we remember what the good name is we’ll move it back to that one.
So it’s still our interim name.
Robert Ambrogi: So did you ever remember what the —
Ed Walters: No, we didn’t know. We can’t remember what the good name was. It’s still out there. We need to be taking, maybe on our 40th anniversary we’ll switch it to the other.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: Here’s my epilogue to this story.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: That afternoon we moved everything to the Fastcase domain, that afternoon I thought it’d be interesting to look at the archive.org Wayback Machine to see a Fastcase ever been everything and anything before, it turns out that a German open-source publishing company had had the domain name, fastcase.com and it had expired the night before.
Robert Ambrogi: Wow.
Ed Walters: And so they went to bed with Fastcase on their website, woke up the next morning with our stuff on their website.
Robert Ambrogi: Wow. Wow.
Ed Walters: So we thought for a while we’re going to get sued by a German open source software company, but they moved to somewhere else.
Robert Ambrogi: I mean, you still had to be a little bit nervous about this whole undertaking, starting out, when was the point that you started to feel like, yeah, maybe we’ve got something here, we’ve got some tractions.
Ed Walters: Well, we all have different points.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, we always believed in it, but I think that the traction really came when we found the Nar market which — where these partners had shared our mission, and we started to win state bars and local bars as partners.
Now we say, okay, this is really working. We believed in it long before that.
Ed Walters: Yeah.
Robert Ambrogi: That’s really been important to your growth right, that Bar market. How did you start — how did that happen, how did you start to discover that market or did they discover you?
Phil Rosenthal: Probably a little of each, but I think just when we were a regular retail company, which we still do, we would go to this State Bar annual meetings to just mark it, and then realize we could do more than just sell individual subscriptions here and there, why not really have an impact by making sure that every lawyer in the State has legal research and so we started talking to the bars about that and it made — it’s just been wonderful partners.
Ed Walters: It’s kind of a natural, I mean, the idea is to democratize the law, making sure that every lawyer in the State has access to it, has a part of their license really helps to advance the cause of justice. It means that people don’t win or lose cases because they don’t have access to the full law library.
And so it was really — it was a great fit with our mission, Bar Associations have a wonderful answer to the question, what do I get when I pay you these $250 in dues. The answer is you get a legal research service that would cost you $1,145 a year.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah, that’s a great answer.
Ed Walters: And you get it for free.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: We get — I mean the Bar Associations pay us and they pay us well enough to do this at a very high level and continue to innovate, which is great, and then we of course get to really fulfill our mission to democratize the law. 900 lawyers at Fastcase for free through their State Bar Association.
Robert Ambrogi: We’re here at the American Association of Law Libraries, what has been the role of law librarians in your company over the last 20 years? I mean, how did they — was it a tough sell to get them to think about you to start to have a relationship with you?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, I have to talk about, really the law librarians have been the key to our success that because we knew they were the experts at legal research, and so right from the beginning, starting with Roberta Shaffer, they were always the ones who told us how to do it right, and in fact, gosh, the first time we went to AALL was Minnesota I think in 2001, and I ran around there with little business cards that said Register for our beta testing program, and we didn’t even have any beta test yet, and so what we were just trying to get as many law librarians involved so they could tell us to how they always dreamed it would be and so they’ve been such a key to our success and that’s why this is — we always consider this our home.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah, so did they get it or was there a pushback?
Phil Rosenthal: Oh, they got it instantly. They were waiting for this, they were dreaming that someone would come along and give them more control and create the features they always wanted, and basically — so this is an opportunity to work with someone to partner with someone to really get legal research to be the way they wanted it.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: I’ll give you one good example of why law librarians are such a good like kind of fit with us and such a natural ally, so for the last like maybe I don’t know six or seven years, the kind of incumbent legal research publishers have been on a mission to make their services more Google-like, and I think we at Fastcase have been saying like there’s a really good legal research that’s already Google-like, it’s called Google Scholar. We don’t need to be more Google-like we should be less Google-like. We should empower better research. We should make people smarter in the way they’re able to do their research, that doesn’t mean more complicated, it can be really easy to use but the tools should be more powerful, more precise.
And this is the mission of law librarians for years, they’ve always been trying to empower their colleagues, other peoples in the library, the lawyers at the firm to do better research, to do smarter research, not to dumb down the process.
Robert Ambrogi: Right.
Ed Walters: And that’s — it’s just a very shared mission that we have. I think they’ve always gotten it.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: And we really want to empower the law librarians more who should be leading the way in anything having to do with data or knowledge and they really are and so we especially as we move into data-driven law and beyond just our core flagship or Fastcase things like Docket Alarm, we are trying to give the librarians control to build the tools, to build their own analytics, to build tools that go beyond legal research, because we really know that the law librarians here are the experts in all of these areas and if you just help them to do more of this, they can take the lead and really do amazing things.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah. So over the 20 years was there anything that the two of you disagreed on vehemently in terms of how the direction or course of the company —
Phil Rosenthal: Anything we didn’t.
Ed Walters: Phil, I always say that if we ever agree on something, it’s almost a guarantee that we’re wrong.
Robert Ambrogi: Well, somebody’s got to be right in that disagreement. How do you figure that?
Phil Rosenthal: I’ll give you one that on our wonderful apps 00:20:18 —
Robert Ambrogi: The first version of the mobile app.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, right.
Robert Ambrogi: Let’s market it fully.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah.
Robert Ambrogi: The very first legal research app for iOS, the very first legal research app for iPad, the very first legal research app for android, part of our branding.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, and I’d say true to our mission of make it free, make it something to democratize the law. I had this brief flirtation with should we charge, but Ed was completely right on that one.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: Well, it was a huge —
Robert Ambrogi: Which one were you right on that Ed gave it?
Phil Rosenthal: Oh, I don’t know. I hope this one, I don’t know.
Ed Walters: Phil is right all the time. Let me say one thing about this. So I consider myself so lucky, after 20 years of working with Phil, we’ve disagreed like a million times. I mean a million people I could have started this company with 999,999 of them would have argued for the wrong thing, would have had their compass not point true north, would have quit out of frustration, would have given up because it’s such a hard thing to do.
And Phil for all of our disagreements over the years, I just never doubt that his compass points true north. As a co-founder or as a friend, like we have gone through so much together and I just feel so lucky to start this company with him.
Ed Walters: Yeah, same here. There’s no one else I could have or would have done this company with, and to think what we’ve gone through together and here we are two decades later, that doesn’t happen. I mean, there’s supposed to be movies made about things like this where there’s battles and you’re fighting with each other and all this horrible stuff, and we’re doing great and getting closer and just have this amazing partnership.
Robert Ambrogi: That is great.
Ed Walters: That is so rare in the startup world and so we’re very — we’re both blessed.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: I would like one more thing too. One thing that really allows us to have the liberty to be wrong is we work with an awesome spectacular team. I think it’s always been like a really good crew of people working around us, but there’s really something extraordinary going on at Fastcase right now and about our 20th anniversary, there is an amazing crew of professionals around us.
Robert Ambrogi: Not just amazing but a bigger and bigger crew. I mean we were just talking before we started recording, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was pretty much you and Phil running like you’re still running the show, but I mean not just running the show but cleaning the dishes and did whatever else.
Ed Walters: We still do it.
Phil Rosenthal: It still happens.
Ed Walters: Yes, but I mean I will say there’s a 120 people who work at Fastcase now and it is the — like smartest, kindest, just best group of people you could possibly work with, and I don’t mean this is a platitude. I mean we really have recruited and cultivated a culture of excellence, really great people around Phil and me and I would say of all the things we’re proud of I think this team is something that we’re very, very proud of right now.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, I am so glad you mentioned because we’re known on the outside world I’m sure for our software, our data, the team outshines at all. I mean — and this is the dream team that we have now that we’ve waited for, and there’s so much happening now, this is really — I always wanted to start a company. This is the moment where it’s just so exciting and top to bottom we love everybody we got and they’re wonderful and the culture is just we’re really fortunate.
Robert Ambrogi: That’s great. I want it and I keep looking over our producer to see how much time we have here because I know we’re already going longer and I want to talk more about where you are now. But one thing I want to ask is just looking back over the 20 years from 1999 to today, what was the kind of top one or two milestones in your mind, I mean, what were the things that you really stand out as for the development of the company?
Phil Rosenthal: In a way there’s so many, I mean, certainly I think both in the Bar market and here and working with the law schools and the large firms and all the folks at AALL, seeing the folks love what we’re doing. I think these were big moments. I think as we now three quarters of all lawyers have in through the Bar Association partnerships and that has meant so much to us and been such a big moment as we’ve seen that bill.
I don’t know if it’s a moment. Do you have —
Ed Walters: In over 20 years there are lots of moments. Phil mentioned the launch of our iPhone and iPad app, that was really great for us. I mean it was a place where we really got to be pioneers. I think back —
Robert Ambrogi: That was recognized. I mean remember the ABA Tech Survey several years in a row that was the lawyers’ favorite app.
Ed Walters: Even today, the 2019 survey, right?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, that was big.
Ed Walters: That was the most popular smartphone app for lawyers, not just for legal research, it’s Fastcase.
Phil Rosenthal: Winning the AALL New Product of the Year Award twice once with Hein and that has meant so much to get the recognition from the experts here was certainly one of the most special moments.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of them. I would point out just a few of them. Our patent application in 1999 charted a course for every legal research company in the world. It contained innovations like sorting search results had never been done before. In 1999, you got results back on the two principal services, highest court first, most recent case to the oldest case.
Things like using citation analysis to rank search results, using data visualization. These were all things that we sort of knew at the beginning and over 20 years now, we’ve always said, we were going to drag, kicking and screaming the rest of the market to do research the way we were and whether it’s data visualization or mobile apps or sorting search results in novel ways like we really are doing that.
And it’s something we do every day. With the analytics products, we’re doing right now with Docket Alarm and with the Fastcase legal research platform. I mean, this is the way people are going to be doing research on every platform for the next ten years.
Phil Rosenthal: So one of the big moments was when Michael Sander and Docket Alarm agreed to join us and that was such a triumphant moment because we knew that would be the key to so much of what we want do in the future. And another companion moment was at LegalWeek when Docket Alarm won the Most Innovative Product Judges Award.
That was a special moment — very special recent moment.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah, I mean, as a company over the last 20 years, you’ve — clearly the industry’s changed a lot but you’ve moved in different directions as well and not just getting in not just the acquisition of Docket Alarm and all of that but getting into publishing, now getting into the news business to some extent. In full disclosure I guess I want your advisory board for this new news thing that you’re starting up but –
Phil Rosenthal: Yes for law.
Robert Ambrogi: We talk about why it is you’ve moved in these different directions and where you’re heading with these?
Ed Walters: Well, let me just say a word about this. There’s an interesting market opportunity right now. The parent companies of large legal research companies I think are demanding too much of them, this is just my opinion, but this is how I see the market. I think Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier are trying to extract too much money out of Westlaw and LexisNexis.
They can’t really grow the top line and so they have to cut costs and when they cut costs to sort of meet the demands of the parent companies, I think they’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I think they’re having to overcorrect, and so, they’re divesting from divisions like publishing for example or legal news in West Case and that creates a really interesting market opportunity for a company like us.
We can come in and say that’s an overcorrection, that’s an overreaction. Print is obviously not dead. Editorial is obviously not dead. There’s a role for high-quality legal news. There is a role for high quality editorial treatises, and I think that’s a void that we can very effectively fill, not always but if this scale now that we’re 900,000 lawyers plus, now that lawyers run a million searches a week on Fastcase, it affords us a kind of scale where we can do print publishing, where we can do analytics.
I think most lawyers in America, a plurality of lawyers in America will use analytics for the first time on Fastcase. And so, I think as the market overcorrects, as traditional publishers have to scale back from their ambitions, it will create interesting market opportunities for us to grow and to scale.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah, yeah, does that resonate with you?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, absolutely and we realized that the whole universe is not just primary law legal research, and so one of the really exciting things over the last couple of years is rounding it out like it said with so many other resources, whether it be the Hein Law Reviews and a wonderful partnership there or public records with TransUnion, the news effort we’re doing.
Just to have expert witness, just to have all the different pieces so that this can be more full-service and then bring analytics to all of that. Of course, with Docket Alarm and so one of the initiatives has been to go beyond just regular primary law.
And the other initiative is to really focus on data-driven law, because we think that’s the future, it’s docket analytics, it’s analytics on Fastcase, it’s all the ways you can tie it together, and so we’re really excited about what that can look like.
Ed Walters: One thing I’ve heard from law libraries and law firms and friends who do this, is they always worry, every time there’s a new category, and I think the big category right now is analytics. They worried that it’s going to be another opportunity for commercial publishers to gouge them.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: And now we’re sort of at a scale where we can say we’re going to do it at a very high level, in some cases a higher level than traditional publishers and democratize it.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah.
Ed Walters: So it will be a great solution for giant law firms, because it’s very powerful, but law schools can use it, solo practitioners can use it, small law firms can use it, everybody can use it, and that’s — that’s really what we’re trying to do.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah. Looking at your core product is there anything that really frustrates you about it? Is there something — did you see a shortcoming in it, something that drives you crazy about it, but still, what’s wrong with it that hasn’t been fixed yet?
Ed Walters: That’s an easy answer and a big itch we’re trying to scratch right now is we want to improve our citator and we’re in the middle of a large effort to really bolster — our citator is called Bad Law Bot and it’s an algorithmic citator. What frustrates me is that it’s always compared to kind of the traditional citators as if they are the gold standard. There’s very good documentation that the traditional citators have mis-tagged citations about 30% of the time.
So we’re working right now on a couple of ambitious projects to make our citator like demonstrably better than even the traditional editorial citators and I think that’s a big area focus for us.
Watching the next maybe a year or so we’ll be rolling out updates to Bad Law Bot into our citator to make it the best in the world. And I don’t say that like in a broader way, I think it is very possible to make an algorithmic citator using Machine Learning around citations that will be more accurate and more up-to-date than any editorial citator there is.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah. So I have to ask the question, 20 years in, where are you going to be in 20 years from now? Where is Fastcase going to be and where is the whole legal — and where do you see the legal research industry if you want to call that going?
Ed Walters: You first Phil.
Phil Rosenthal: Oh, my gosh. 20 —
Ed Walters: The rocket scientist always gets the hard question.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah really, really, well.
Robert Ambrogi: Answer for a year from now for that matter.
Phil Rosenthal: It’s going. Well, the beautiful thing is it’s focusing more and more on the technology side and actually what we think about here at AALL how it’s more and more people can build custom, customized tools, there is going to be less out-of-the-box software. I mean there’s a lot of beautiful software out there, but especially in the large firm market we’re seeing people needing to customize things and I think we’re going to see that where with AI, with new technologies, things will look so different in 20 years and that’s where this group at AALL will have a lot of fun being able to lead the way and build all those tools.
Where in 20 years, I will be somewhere in my 70s, maybe I should be on a beach, I don’t know where —
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean where do you see the company, where do you envision this company, what’s the growth trajectory for this company?
Ed Walters: I think we’re going to breakthrough. I mean I really do think that you might still have like two or three major publishers 20 years from now, but Fastcase absolutely is going to be one of them. And what I would love to see –
Robert Ambrogi: Maybe under a different day, but still —
Ed Walters: Maybe we’ll remember what the good name is, but I do really think that if you look at the history of this kind of information whether it’s the GIS mapping information or law or anything else, what you end up with is a gigantic free tier with services on top of it and then a bunch of retail services, and I think over time we’ve really proven our ability to build beautiful, elegant, awesome products, so we’ll be a very popular one of those, and we are going to be a big part of making the underlying law available to a whole new generation of innovators. That’s really important to us.
If you look at innovators right now, it is kind of as we’ve said a golden age of legal research innovation fueled in part by the availability of public law and we are going to continue to push that. It will create new competitors to Fastcase by making the law more public and everyone’s going to be better off.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting 20 years in, that you deserve a lot of credit for all you’ve done to push the democratization of law and yet for 20 years we’re still got a long ways to go in it.
Ed Walters: We’re still in litigation over it. You told me in 1999 that we would be in a lawsuit —
Robert Ambrogi: And we’ve got the Supreme Court about to hear.
Ed Walters: Yes, but in addition, so there’s the Georgia versus Public Resource Federal case which is in the US Supreme Court. We’re litigating all the time to try to make sure that everyone knows that private publishers can’t own public law, and I really do think the tide is turning our way.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah. Give you each last word as we need to wrap up here, but Phil, Ed.
Phil Rosenthal: I just want to say thank you really to all the folks who have supported us over the 20 years. Our amazing team over the 20 years, the folks here at AALL, all the other people that we’ve worked with, our wonderful supporters. We would never have gotten here without a lot of fantastic people working with us and we just can’t say thank you enough.
Robert Ambrogi: Yeah. Ed.
Ed Walters: I think 20 years is going to be a very interesting milestone, maybe this podcast will be the thing that memorializes it. This really is that breakout moment for Fastcase, for 20 years we’ve pushed very, very hard, but we’ve never gotten traction the way that we are right now.
Our fastest growing segment is like Am Law 250 law firms, the adoption rate among small firms and solo practitioners has never been higher. People are using Fastcase like crazy which is amazing, and this is really a very special moment. I’ve loved all of our history, but there is something really magical going on at our 20th Anniversary right now.
Robert Ambrogi: Well, on that note I think that’s a good point to stop. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.
Looks like we’ve reached the end of the road for our On The Road episode here at the Legal Talk Network. This is Bob Ambrogi, big thanks to Ed Walters and Phil Rosenthal for joining us today on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Fastcase.
For our listeners, if our listeners have questions or wish to follow up with you how can they reach you?
Phil Rosenthal: [email protected] is my email address and would love to talk to all of you.
Ed Walters: And you can always find my nerdery around baseball, whiskey, space exploration, robots and legal research on Twitter @EJWalters.
Robert Ambrogi: Thanks a lot to all of the listeners for tuning in.
If you liked what you heard, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app. This is Bob Ambrogi, until next time thanks for listening.
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