Startup Corner: “You’ll have the full power of the legal profession, for free” – Casetext launches LegalPad

In a further step towards disrupting the hugely profitable US legal research market, free legal research and commentary site Casetext has today (18 June) launched a new writing tool that will help bring more commentary from leading lawyers straight to your desktop.

LegalPad significantly reduces the time and complexity that legal analysis and commentary takes by allowing writers to pull up cases, statutes and regulations directly alongside the text they are writing. They can extract quotes from multiple legal texts without leaving the page they are writing on, with the citation for that quote automatically included within the blog.

Casetext is now used by more than 350,000 people to search the law and related legal analysis every month. Founder and chief executive Jake Heller (pictured), a former litigator and president of the Stanford Law Review, told the Legal IT Insider: “Every time you read a case or statute you’ll have the full power of the legal profession – what law professors say about the case – right there.”

PDFs can be dragged and dropped into the LegalPad blog, while bloggers can also bookmark helpful documents. LegalPad also incorporates case recognition, meaning the blog will recognise which case an author is writing about before they have finished typing.

The simplicity and reach of the model goes a long way towards explaining why Heller expects a growing swathe of lawyers and law professors to blog on the site – which (call us old fashioned) could otherwise be regarded as simply giving away your content for free.

“You could start your own blog but then you would have to make it look good, which is where lawyers have trouble. Then you have to get readership, which is the hardest part and you’re at the mercy of Google, but if you know about SEO [search engine optimisation] you can do ok. A few lawyers pay thousands of dollars to outsource, which is expensive. So we have taken all those problems and made it simple for people.”

Certainly a lot of thought has gone into the layout and design and Heller adds: “It looks legal but not too formal or stuffy.” The background is dimmed because research shows a block of text is harder to read against a harsh white background.

While some lawyers will undoubtedly use Casetext as a way of finding a new job, others see it as an opportunity to win new business, or position themselves as thought leaders, with Daniel O’Rielly, a partner at O’Rielly & Roche in San Francisco commenting: “By regularly sharing our analysis of legal developments, we are positioning ourselves as a ‘go-to’ firm in our practices.”

Readers are able to ‘upvote’ the best blogs, which elevate their profile within the site.

Launched in 2013, Casetext is funded by venture capital money, having mostly recently raised $7m this year in a funding round led by Union Square Venture, with a view to eventually monetising premium services on the site, much like LinkedIn or Dropbox.

The site is a potential threat to the costly pay per-user model of major publishers, with Casetext’s case law drawn from government websites and the public domain, while some digital content is also made available to Casetext by not-for-profit organisations.

The U.S. has none of the legislative copyright restrictions that would make expanding into other jurisdictions such as the UK complicated, but nonetheless Casetext has big ambitions. Heller said: “Our mission is to make all the world’s laws free and accessible.

“The old way of doing things misses the most valuable source of legal knowledge: the legal community itself. Lawyers already share insight about the law publicly to demonstrate thought leadership and grow their reputation. By building the best platform to write commentary on the law, we’re able to collaborate with the legal community to create an insightful, free legal resource for lawyers and the public. And we’re disrupting an $8 billion legal research market in the process.”