Legal Research Tournament, Round 1, Game 4: WestlawNext vs. Fastcase

Welcome to the last installment of Round 1 of the Legal Research Tournament, where 8 teams (or legal research resources) will begin the competition to answer the question: If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best? For a description of the rules of the tournament, the teams competing and the tournament seedings and bracket, please see our previous post, The Legal Research Tournament Begins!

[Opinions expressed during this completely objective competition are solely my own, and not those of the UVA Law Library, UVA Law School, or former and still champion LawDawgs softball team.]

And on to the fourth of this week’s four matchups!:

(1) WestlawNext vs. (8) Fastcase.

WestlawNext is by far the most popular choice among UVA Law students; and with good reason. WestlawNext has done a superb job transitioning to the Google-like approach to search by offering a user-friendly interface with different search options that appeal to all types of users. Like the simple Google approach of typing some terms into a box and letting the search engine do the work for you? WestlawNext’s main WestSearch box works surprisingly well, allowing users to do a broad search and then narrow the results by document type, jurisdiction or other facets. Prefer to do more precise, controlled searching? You’re in luck as well. Just browse from the main screen to one of WestlawNext’s many specific databases and click on the word “advanced” next to the search box.

That opens up a user-friendly Advanced Search screen tailored specifically to the database you have selected. There you can use their Fields template to search only selected portions of documents, and be reminded of the different term connectors WestlawNext uses for sophisticated Boolean searching.

WestlawNext’s smooth combination of basic and advanced searching works well, allowing for more powerful search techniques than just about any other database available at UVA.

Fastcase counters by offering a nice database with many of the same features as WestlawNext, but at NO COST to members of many state bars, including Virginia’s. Ok, the no cost part is no big deal to our law students because they get free access to WestlawNext while in school anyways (plus Fastcase is not actually available at the law school). However, no cost is often a BIG DEAL to practicing attorneys and Fastcase is a good database. It provides advanced case searching for all U.S. federal and state cases and easy access to all current federal and state statutes. Unfortunately for Fastcase in this tournament, WestlawNext does all that plus way more. WestlawNext offers features such as detailed case headnotes and well-edited statutory annotations that Fastcase just cannot match. Keep Fastcase in mind as a nice, no-cost alternative for practicing attorneys on a budget, but here it’s just not able to match up with WestlawNext.

                Winner: WestlawNext.

With that, four teams move on and four go home. For those teams ending on a loss: Keep your head up—just making it into our Final Eight was a big accomplishment in itself!

Stay tuned for Round 2: The Semifinals!

– Ben Doherty  

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Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

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