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Features - Quicklaw America: A View Through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses

By T.R. Halvorson, Published on September 30, 2000

T. R. Halvorson is a lawyer in sole practice in Sidney, MT, President of Pastel Programming Co., a division of Synoptic Text Information Services, Inc., and author of Law of the Super Searchers:  the Online Secrets of Top Legal Researchers, How to Avoid Liability: The Information Professional's Guide to Negligence and Warranty Risks, and Legal Liability Problems in Cyberspace: Craters in the Information Highway.

Previously I reviewed the LOIS Law Library,1 VersusLaw's V.2 Jurisline.com,3 and the National Law Library4 applying the Southern California Online User's Group Rating Scale (SCOUG Rating Scale).5  The rise of alternative online sources of American legal information continued this year with the launch of Quicklaw America at the LegalTech conference in January.  Quicklaw America has grown quickly into a service worthy of being evaluated through the lenses of the SCOUG Rating Scale.

At launch, the service offered U.S. Supreme Court, federal circuit court, and state court decisions, the United States Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, selected state statutes, selected state regulations, and international materials.  In February the service added databases of federal and state court rules.  By March 30, 2000, it announced that "The most current United States Code from any source is provided by Quicklaw America Inc."6  Quicklaw America's offerings have grown from 1450 to over 2300 databases and extend into legal newspapers and periodicals.

"Leave West, young man."

Quicklaw America Inc. was formerly known as Current Legal Resources Inc. (CLR).  After Thompson Corporation acquired West Publishing Company in 1996 and closed its Westbury, New York facility in 1997, a group of former West employees from the Westbury office formed CLR.  All of the editorial work for the United States Code Annotated as well as certain other federal and state materials had been done exclusively by the Westbury office.  CLR developed databases containing the United States Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the U. S. Statutes at Large, the United States Court Rules, U. S. Supreme Court opinions since 1900, federal appellate court opinions from all circuits, state appellate court opinions from all 50 states (2.9 million full text opinions updated daily), and 19 topical databases containing current U.S. statutes and regulations divided by topical areas of practice including agriculture, antitrust, banking, bankruptcy, civil procedure, civil rights, communications, criminal procedure, customs, cyber law, education, environmental, immigration, Indians, intellectual property, labor and employment, securities, tax, and technology law.

Quicklaw's America's editorial staff averages over 20 years of experience in updating federal and state statutes, regulations and court rules.  Its editors enhance the U. S. Code with explanations of references in the text of statutes, footnotes and codification notes explaining potentially ambibuous statutory language, effective date notes, amendment notes allowing users to re-create historical versions of sections, a popular names table, and credit information detailing the history of sections.

In October 1999, Quicklaw Inc. acquired CLR and changed the name to Quicklaw America Inc.  Quicklaw Inc. is a Canadian company that has provided online legal research across Canada and internationally for over 27 years.  Quicklaw's predecessor was the QUIC/LAW Project at Queen's University Faculty of Law in Kingston, Ontario.  The Project was started in 1967 by Professor Hugh Lawford as a joint research project between IBM and the University. In 1972, IBM was forced to withdraw due to the policies of the Canadian federal government to have Canadian companies control information systems. Since the government did not continue to fund the database, Professor Lawford and Richard vonBriesen founded QL Systems Ltd. as a private company and took over the databases.  Quicklaw sold its search engine know-how to West Publishing Company who incorporated it into Westlaw.  Searchers will notice similarities in searching the two services.  On June 1, 2000 Quicklaw Inc. announced that it has filed with the securities regulatory authorities in each Canadian province a preliminary prospectus for a proposed initial public offering of common shares.

Coverage and Scope

Canadian readers likely are already familiar with the non-US. offerings.  The following tables illustrate case law coverage and scope for U.S. federal jurisdictions, and state databases for New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Texas:

        Federal

United States Supreme Court 1900
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3d Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Cir. 1941
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Cir. 1930
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Cir. 1981
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals 1950
Federal Circuit Court of Appeals 1982

        New York

New York State Cases
(NY Court of Appeals and NY Supreme Court)
1955
New York State and Federal Cases
(NY Court of Appeals, NY Supreme Court, US Court of Appeals 2d Cir. and US Supreme Court)
varies
New York Consolidated and Unconsolidated Laws current to May 2000
Rules of the United States Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit current
New York Codes, Rules and Regulations current to March 1999

        California

California State Cases 1930
California State and Federal Cases
(9th Cir. and US Supreme Court)
varies

        Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Cases 1950
Pennsylvania State and Federal Cases
(3rd Cir. and US Supreme Court)
varies

        Texas

Texas State Cases 1970
Texas State and Federal Cases
(5th Cir. and US Supreme Court)
varies

The company prioritizes content development according to market demand.  Its initial primary markets are Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York.  By far, its largest number of state databases contain Illinois materials.

Timeliness

Quicklaw America says it provides the most current United States Code of any source. This claim is capable of being continuously verified.  The service displays the following update information below the search template: 

The service displays similar information in statutory and administrative code databases, both state and federal.

In the U. S. Supreme Court database, the timeliness notice while I was writing said, "Includes all decisions received as of today."  I wanted to know exactly what that means.  What they had received could have been lagging, perhaps.  Quicklaw America's Vice President of Marketing told me they get their U. S. Supreme Court cases via the Hermes feed.  That feed has a two-hour lag from issuance of opinions by the Court.  Quicklaw America continuously adds cases as received via Hermes.  That makes their database as current as humanly possible.

In the Illinois state cases database, I saw a timeliness notice that said, ". . . including cases received as of yesterday."  I wanted to know exactly what that means, too.  The Vice President of Marketing explained Quicklaw America's process of acquiring and adding cases.  The company obtains nearly all court opinions in electronic form.  It receives opinions in hardcopy from only a few courts, not even half a dozen.  The electronic sources include feeds, court websites, and ftp sites.  Cases received by feeds today are added to Quicklaw America's databases tomorrow.  Court websites and ftp sites with announced updating schedules are checked at the scheduled times.  Court websites and ftp sites with no announced updating schedules are checked daily.  Cases added to court websites and ftp sites today are added to Quicklaw America's databases tomorrow.  That's what "cases received as of yesterday" means.  That makes their case law databases as current as humanly possible.

Accuracy/Error Rate

Quicklaw America obtains its cases and statutes from official sources and standard points of distribution already in electronic form, with only a few exceptions.  Generally, data errors that might exist in their databases exist in the original.  In U. S. Supreme Court opinions, citations to other opinions of the same court chronically fail to have an upper case "S" in "U.S."

Sometimes courts correct an opinion either by reposting the whole opinion as corrected or by posting an order stating the correction.  Quicklaw America tracks those postings and updates its databases.

Accessibility/Ease of Use

Software

At launch, Quicklaw America was accessible by its proprietary QUICKLINK PRO software.  The software is available for free downloading from Quicklaw America's website.  On August 30, 2000, the company announced its internet browser-based search interface.  Since a body of literature describing or reviewing Quicklaw as accessed via QUICKLINK PRO (before the introduction of Quicklaw America) already exists,7 this review will be limited to the browser interface.

Trial Account and Subscribing

One may obtain a free, 14-day trial account easily by telephone or by a sign-up page on the website.  Trial account activation is prompt.  The system emails a password within minutes.  To subscribe, one must contact an account representative by telephone, fax, or email.

Hours of Availability

The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I searched the service at widely varying hours on all days of the week and found its server capacity adequate to respond promptly at all times.

Connecting; Logging In

Connecting to the service is simple.  The service is on the web.  The web interface does require a level 5 browser.  I tried it with lower level browsers and confirmed that level 5 really is needed.

The page a searcher probably would want to bookmark for searching is the Current Subscriber Login page.  That page calls for entry of password.  The password appears to be a compound expression of user ID, forward slash, and password, which simplifies logging in a bit.  Clicking on the Submit command button brings up the Client Identification page.  A searcher may enter a client code to track usage so that costs can be billed to the client.  This step can be bypassed by entering nothing and simply clicking the Submit command button.

Main Menu

The Main Menu is a screen divided into two frames.  The left frame is a familiarly styled navigational column.  It is smartly uncluttered yet adequate to efficiently get where you want to go.  It is divided vertically into three sections.  The first section provides links to Sign Off, Main Menu, Totals, and Find by Citation.  The second section allows a searcher to select a database by entering the database code.  Database codes are short character strings such as CA2 for the U. S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit database.  Type a code and click the Go command button.  There is also a link for Database Directory which lets a searcher find out what databases are available and what any database's code is.  The third section displays the toll-free customer service telephone number and the customer service email address.  The right frame is the main viewing area of the screen.  While at the Main Menu, this displays two kinds of information.  The first is a list of recent announcements, with a link to a page for all announcements.  This keeps users informed of how the service is growing.  The second is a link to the Database Directory that operates the same as the Database Directory link in the left frame.

Database Directory

The Database Directory is composed of several pages arranged hierarchically.  The first page contains links to pages for materials from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Africa, and the Caribbean.  Clicking the link for United States brings up a page with three options:  Federal Materials, State Materials, and Topical Materials.  The Federal Materials page provides options for cases, statutes, court rules, administrative materials, and federal topical databases.  The State Materials page provides options for Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Other States.  This reflects Quicklaw America's priority on developing content according to market demand.  The four specifically-mentioned states have individual database directory pages.  All other states are on one long page.

Navigating to a Database

When a searcher finds the code for the desired database, she can navigate directly to the search page for that database either by clicking the hyperlinked database code or by entering the code in the left frame and clicking the Go command button.  While at the search screen in a database, a searcher can switch directly to another database by entering the database code for the other database in the left frame.  In case a searcher does not know the database code for the other database, the Database Directory link is in the left frame.  While viewing a hit document, the hit list is in the left frame and lacks the Database Directory link and the text box for entry of a database code.  The database codes follow a pattern obvious enough that a searcher, after using the service for a few days, would remember or be able to anticipate the code for many of the databases.  For example, the database code for the appellate decisions of a state is four characters, the first two being the postal code and the last two being QL (probably for Quicklaw), e.g., NYQL for New York.  Once in a database, the screen always tells its contents, so a searcher won't be relying on a mere guess at the code.

Search Modes

Quicklaw America offers two search modes:  template and Boolean.  The search templates are oriented to field-restricted searching.  They also provide options for proximity, plurals, and ranking.  An "Add Date Restriction to Query" link expands the template to provide a simple form for specifying date restrictions.  A "Find by Citation" link brings up a citation search page.  Citation searching presently is available only for the U. S. Supreme Court, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, the Illinois Supreme Court, and the Illinois Appellate Court.

The Boolean search screen offers the same plurals, date restriction, and ranking features as template searching.  It replaces the field search terms boxes with one larger box for entry of Boolean search statements.  A selective and succinct Boolean connector cheat card is displayed to the right of the search statement box.

Switching between search modes is simple.  The template search screen has a Boolean Search command button and the Boolean search screen has a Template Search command button.

The search template for the United States Code offers the following fields:  Title/Headings, Citation, Section No./Desc., Text of Section, Future Amndts., Explan Notes, Source/Pop Name, and Any Field.  In the Illinois Compiled Statutes database, the fields are:  Title/Headings, Citation, Section No./Desc., Text of Section, Explan Notes, Source, and Any Field.  The Section No./Desc. field will be changed to Section No./Nameline.

All search screens provide a "Help on Quicklaw query syntax" link.

Boolean Operators

Quicklaw America supports AND, OR, NOT, implicit OR, numeric or word proximity (non-directional), paragraph proximity, directional proximity, right truncation, suffix, wildcard operators, and field restriction operators.  It supports phrase searching by enclosing literal phrases in double quotation marks.

AND, OR, and NOT are case insensitive.  The ampersand, &, may be used for AND.  The percent symbol, %, may be used for NOT.

The numeric or word proximity operator is formed by a forward slash and an Arabic numeral from 1 to 255, e.g., /10.  A numeric proximity of 1 results in an adjacency search.  For example, law /1 merchant will hit on "law merchant" and "merchant law."  The paragraph proximity operator is a forward slash followed by the letter p, /p.  The directional proximity operator is the plus sign, +.  It instructs the system to search for the connected terms in proximity to each and in the specified order.  The range of proximity for the directional operator is 1 to 255.  If no numeric proximity value is specified, the system assumes a proximity of 1.  The search statement law + merchant will hit on "law merchant" but not on "merchant law" and not on "law applicable to a merchant."

The right truncation operator is the exclamation point, !.

The wildcard operator is the asterisk, *.  Each asterisk replaces only one character anywhere in a word except the first letter.  To replace more than one character, the desired number of asterisks must be used.

The suffix operator is like the right truncation operator but allows a searcher to specify that only certain endings qualify.  The suffix operator is formed by an opening or left parenthesis, one or a series of suffixes separated by commas without any spaces, and a closing or right parenthesis, e.g., (e,ed,ing).  The suffix operator depends on being appended to a linguistic root, not just a sheer character string.  For example, "fractur" is not a root.  The search statement fractur(e,ed,ing) will generate a message that "fractur" is not in the database.  The message provides a Continue command that lets the system continue searching for the remaining terms.  To bypass that message by not searching for non-root words, a "noroot" parameter can be added:  fractur(noroot,e,ed,ing).

The field restriction operator is the ampersand, @, followed without a space by the field name.

Implicit OR, Generally

The implicit OR operator is simply a space.  The search statement oil petroleum is equivalent to oil or petroleum.  When the search statement contains no proximity operators, the implicit OR can be used interchangeably with the OR operator.

Combining the implicit OR with proximity operators allows search statements that are more compact and easier to comprehend than equivalent statements constructed using OR.  For example,

biological natural /10 parent mother father

is equivalent to:

biological /10 parent OR biological /10 mother OR biological /10 father OR natural /10 parent OR natural /10 mother OR natural /10 father

Both statements hit on documents containing any of the following proximity relationships:

"biological" up to 10 words away from any of "parent" or "mother" or "father"
"natural" up to 10 words away from any of: "parent" or "mother" or "father"

Combining the implicit OR with additional operators allows powerful searches using relatively short search statements.  The search statement air travel /3 mile! point! will hit on "air miles," " air points," "travel mile," " travel point," "miles in the air," " air travel points," "miles of travel," " travel bonus points," "air travel miles," " points for travel," " travel for one mile," and " point of travel," to name a few.

Operator Precedence (Order of Operation)

The implicit or default order of operation is:

implicit OR
proximity (/n, +n, /p)
phrases
OR
NOT, AND

A serious weakness of Quicklaw America is its failure to support express order of operation.  Consider the search statement price and oil or petroleum.  On LEXIS, this statement would do what we want because, by default, that system performs the OR operation before the AND operation.  On DIALOG, however, AND precedes OR by default, so the statement would be interpreted as "EITHER [price and oil together] OR ELSE petroleum by itself."  On many systems, a searcher can expressly control the order of operation of connectors, such as by nesting with parentheses.  Where express control is available, it is a good idea to express the search as price and (oil or petroleum).  We can't do that on Quicklaw America.

A careful understanding of the default order of operation and the distinction between the two different OR commands can overcome the lack of support for express order of operation.  Catherine P. Best, Research Lawyer with the Vancouver, BC firm of Campney & Murphy gives the following example and explanation:

Assume that I want to conduct a search for cases dealing with punitive or aggravated damages in the areas of libel and slander.  A good search query would be punitive aggravated /5 damages AND libel slander defamation.  ...  The main distinction is that the implicit OR takes precedence over proximity commands, while the explicit OR does not.8

Implicit OR Adjacent to Phrases

Note that an implicit OR before or after a phrase will be treated as an OR operator.  This, together with the true nature of a phrase on Quicklaw America and Quicklaw America's operator precedence can result in statements not being interpreted the way you usually expect from the implicit OR.  Phrases in quotation marks really are special directional proximity expressions.  Implicit OR has precedence over proximity operators, but proximity operators have precedence over OR.  Let's look at an example.

Consider the search statement "controlled substances" drugs /10 driving.  The phrase "controlled substances" is interpreted by the query processor as if it were controlled +1 substances.  Thus, the query processor makes two latent operator changes to your search statement:  the substitution of OR for implicit OR, and the insertion of +1 in the phrase in quotation marks.  The statement becomes controlled +1 substances OR drugs /10 driving.  The statement now has two proximity operators and an OR.  The proximity operators have precedence over OR, so controlled +1 substances is one nest and drugs /10 driving is another.  If the effect were expressed with explicit nesting characters, the statement would be (controlled +1 substances) OR (drugs /10 driving). That is not what you usually expect from the implicit OR.  If the effect usually expected of the implicit OR without its being replaced by OR is desired, the statement can be reformulated as "controlled substances" /10 driving OR drugs /10 driving.  The reformulated statement, if it were expressed with explicit nesting, would be (controlled +1 substances) /10 driving) OR (drugs /10 driving).  The difference is easier to see when we set the two explicitly nested statements next to each other:

(controlled +1 substances) /10 driving) OR ( drugs /10 driving)

(controlled +1 substances) OR (drugs /10 driving)

Plurals

Quicklaw America searches for plurals by default.  A searcher can turn off that feature, but I think the default is better except in rare cases when precision is clearly more important than recall.  When it is turned off, the searcher needs to be certain that documents consequently excluded from the hit list would not be relevant.

Output

Hit List

The left navigational frame displays the hit list, ten hits at a time, with a Next 10 command at the bottom.  The name of each case is hyperlinked.  Clicking on a case name brings up the opinion in the right frame.

Order of Hit List; Ranking

Quicklaw America supports four ranking orders:  statistical relevance score, then newest first; statistical relevance score, then oldest first; newest first; and oldest first.  In case law databases, the default is statistical relevance score, then newest first.  In statute databases, the default is oldest first.

General Appearance of Documents

The document display format is attractive, as illustrated below:

DONALD NEAL RAKE v. WILLIAM J. WADE
(06/07/1993)

DONALD NEAL RAKE, ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
WILLIAM J. WADE, TRUSTEE

[1993] SCT-QL 3413
113 S. Ct. 2187124 L. Ed. 2d 424, 61 U.S.L.W. 4571
No. 92-621

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

June 7, 1993

HISTORY:  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas

 1      At the time they initiated separate Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, petitioners, two pairs of debtors, and another married couple were in arrears on long-term promissory notes held by respondent Wade, which were secured by the debtors' home mortgages and did not provide for interest on arrearages. The value of the residence owned by each pair exceeded each note's outstanding balance, making Wade an oversecured creditor. In their Chapter 13 plans, the debtors proposed to make all future payments due on the notes and cure the default on the mortgages by paying off the arrearages without interest. Wade objected to each plan on the ground that he was entitled to interest and attorney's fees, but the Bankruptcy Court overruled the objections,  and the District Court affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that [s] 506(b) of the Bankruptcy Code entitled Wade to post-petition interest on the arrearages and other charges, even if the mortgage instruments were silent on the subject and state law would not require interest to be paid.

 2      Held: Wade is entitled to preconfirmation and postconfirmation interest on the arrearages that were paid off under petitioners' plans. Pp. 3-11.

Context of Search Terms

The HTML is coded to support highlighting of search terms at the searcher's option according to her browser settings.  Browser settings also let the searcher turn highlighting on or off for printing.  That is a valuable feature if printed cases are presented to courts or adversaries.  The highlighting feature is very smart.  Where the search statement was "underinsured motorist" /p "public policy", Quicklaw America highlights only where both phrases occur in the same paragraph.  If one of the phrases but not the other occurs in a paragraph, the phrase is not highlighted.

Quicklaw America offers no KWIC®-like display format.  It does, however, offer Locate Next and Locate Previous commands at the top of the display.  This lets a searcher review a case for relevance more quickly and it is superior to using the browser's Find and Find Next commands.

Citations; Pagination; Paragraph Numbers

In almost all case law database, opinions prior to 1998 contain the citation to the official reports, West's reporters, or both.  Quicklaw America is presently adding the remaining official and West citations.

Quicklaw America has its own, unique citations that a searcher needs to distinguish from vendor neutral citations.  My state of Montana has a vendor neutral citation format established officially by the Montana Supreme Court.   Quicklaw America's version of the Montana case Dill v. District Court has the citation "[1999] MT-QL 82."  Except for the brackets around the year and the "-QL", the format of that citation is similar to Montana's vendor neutral format.  One might be lulled into thinking the vendor neutral citation of the case is 1999 MT 82, but the correct citation is 1999 MT 85.  Quicklaw America assigns the numbers following "-QL" in the sequence that it receives the cases.  It counts all cases from a particular state in the sequence without keeping separate counts for each court.  Thus the citations are specific and unique to Quicklaw America.  Quicklaw America says it is adding vendor neutral citations.

Quicklaw America does not provide internal or star pagination to the official reports nor to West's reporters.  Vendor neutral pinpoint citation by paragraph numbers are not consistently supported.  The service numbers paragraphs and precedes the numbers with red paragraph symbols.  Those are Quicklaw America's numbers and do not correspond to the vendor neutral numbers.  In many Montana cases, I did see a representation of the official vendor neutral paragraph numbers in the form "para.1."  In the Dill case, vendor neutral paragraph 1 is Quicklaw America's paragraph 4.

Quicklaw America says pagination is on its slate of future enhancements.

Printing

Cases print beautifully with right margin justification.

Saving Documents to Local Storage

Documents may be saved to local hard drive.  The Save As dialog always proposes the file name "QUICKLAW."  A searcher must enter a different name to avoid continually overwriting the same file.  Quicklaw America already was aware of this inconvenience when I talked with them.  They plan to change it and might have done so by the publication date of this article.

Documents saved to local hard drive retain the HTML coding that supports highlighting of search terms.

An annoying trait of saving documents in Internet Explorer is that both frames are saved.  When the document is opened later, instead of displaying just the document, Internet Explorer also displays the the left navigational frame.  On other systems, I work around this problem using the Open Frame in New Window command from the frame's context menu (that pops up with a right click in the frame), and then save from the new window.  That command does not work with documents on Quicklaw America.

There is no separately downloadable format such as Word, RTF, or Wordperfect.

Consistency

The search interface and query modes are consistent from database to database.  Searchable fields and their names are consistent.  Documents formats are largely consistent.  The same editorial policies and indexing practices are in effect from database to database.  The omit list of non-indexed stop words that, hence, are not searchable is:  ABOUT, ALTHOUGH, AN, AND, ARE, AS, AT, BE, BEEN, BUT, BY, FOR, FROM, HAS, HAVE, HOW, HOWEVER, IF, IS, MUCH, OF, THAN, THAT, THE, THERE, THESE, THIS, THOSE, TO, WAS, WERE, WHICH, WHILE, and WITH.

Integration

Quicklaw America is reasonably well integrated.  It offers combined databases that meet many needs.  For example, Montana is in the federal Ninth Circuit.  The MT9 database allows cross-file searching of three databases that Montana lawyers often must consult:  the Montana Supreme Court, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and the U. S. Supreme Court.

At present the browser-based service does not allow a searcher to make her own selection of files for cross-file searching, however.  In a state like Montana, this can be a problem.  Our Supreme Court considers a relatively high number of issues of first impression.  In such cases, the Court often looks to the decisions of other states to find persuasive authority.  Lawyers learn which states tend to be more favored and why.  Depending upon the issue, a searcher might want to select varying combinations of half a dozen or so states in the early going.  That can be done on VersusLaw's V., but not yet on Quicklaw America.

In the Canadian parent company's Quicklaw service as accessed via its QUICKLINK PRO software, a user can create a customized selection of databases for cross-file searching.  Quicklaw America is working on the browser-based service to incorporate all of the features and functions of the proprietary software.

In every database, citations to U. S. Supreme Court, Seventh Circuit, and Illinois cases are hyperlinked, as long as the target case is within the scope of the target database and the citation is correct.  Clicking on a hyperlinked citation brings up the cited case.  Quicklaw America is extending citation hyperlinking to all circuits and states.  

Documentation

Quicklaw America is well and nicely documented.  Users can order print copies or download PDF files of the following user materials:

Note that the download page is, so far, on the Quicklaw website and not the Quicklaw America website.  The Quicklist of Commands Card is actually eight pages in PDF, six of command information.  It is based on QUICKLINK PRO rather than the web browser interface.  Some features of QUICKLINK PRO are not available yet in the browser interface, but the Boolean query language features are the same and the Card was all I needed get up and running fast.  Since the browser interface is only days old as I write, enhancements to it and new documentation of it are likely to appear in the near future.

Quicklaw America documents its coverage and scope in a number of formats.  A database directory page is freely available at the website without subscribing to the service.  The directory also is available for download in PDF format and may be ordered in print.  The directory is updated each month.  Another database directory is available "inside" the service when a subscribed user is logged in, as has been described above.  It provides more specific date ranges than the freely available directory.  Enhancements to this directory are underway to provide more specific breakdown.

The service keeps users up-to-date with system enhancements and new content by displaying recent announcements at the Main Menu.  It also publishes a quarterly newsletter for subscribers.

Customer Support and Training

Customer service is available by phone, fax, and email seven days a week.  The hours Monday through Friday are 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on weekends are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (based on local North American time zone).  The customer service telephone number is toll free.  That number and the customer service email address are continually displayed throughout research sessions.  The company says email inquiries are usually answered within a half hour.

In Canada, Quicklaw offers "Introduction," "Refresher," and "Advanced" training sessions free to all customers weekly in nine cities where it has its own training facilities, and regularly in other cities.  Private in-house sessions can also be arranged.

Value-to-Cost Ratio

Quicklaw America offers subscribers two pricing options:

Flat-Rate Pricing

This option provides unlimited access to all Quicklaw America databases for a flat fee of $70 per month per user.

Transactional Pricing    

U.S. users of Quicklaw America's service through the internet may pay a single charge of five dollars for each complete search of one or more databases. The five dollar charge covers:

  • unlimited browsing of opinions, codes, statutes, rules and regulations retrieved by the search

  • use of the Quickcite citator

  • use of hyperlinks among the citator, opinions cited by the citator, and other opinions cited within retrieved documents

  • unlimited printing and downloading of the search results

  • "global searches" in which two or more databases are searched simultaneously by a single search; this includes the largest multi-database files, such as State Cases Global

Resubmission of a modified version of a search is treated as a new search.

A "find" request to display a particular opinion based on the names of the parties or the citation of the opinion is treated as a new search.  

A "totals" command tracks how many searches are performed and allows a user to pass all of the search costs to the client.

Assessing Quicklaw America's value-to-cost ratio is complex.  This is a new service that is evolving rapidly.  The ratio today won't be the same in three months. Among the alternative services, their strengths and weaknesses are in different areas.  The comparison requires one to prioritize the quality factors, and that involves some tough decisions.  For many, the paramount factor is database scope and coverage for particular jurisdictions. 

An intangible factor affecting the value-to-cost ratio for a rapidly developing service is the experience and attitude of the people behind the product.   Quicklaw America's people have depth of experience in the online legal information industry.  Their background is with West Publishing Company.  Their parent company is Canada's Quicklaw Inc.  When asked about aspects of their service that are weak, they don't quibble with the question or try to rationalize away the importance of the issue with typical marketing talking points.  They straightforwardly acknowledge the weakness, acknowledge the importance of the issue, and say whether they working on it.  My impression is that Quicklaw America is likely to follow through on slated enhancements as human and financial resources allow because they understand issues important to professional searchers.

Already the value-to-cost ratio is much more favorable for firms who need Canadian, international, and topical databases.  In that setting, Quicklaw America is the clear choice among alternative providers of primary American legal authority.  All of Quicklaw's Canadian and international databases, including its QUICKCITE citator, are available with a subscription to Quicklaw America.

Privacy Policy

I asked Quicklaw America about its privacy policy.  As I write, the company is writing it.  The Vice President of Marketing told me the company aims to post the policy soon and it might be online by the time this article is published.

Footnotes

1T. R. Halvorson, "The LOIS Law Library: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses," LLRX.com™, March 1, 1999.   <back to text>

2 T. R. Halvorson "VersusLaw's V.: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses," LLRX.com™, March 15, 1999.   <back to text>

3 T. R. Halvorson, "Jurisline.com: What You See ... What You Don't See," LLRX.com™, January 17, 2000.   <back to text>

4 T. R. Halvorson, National Law Library: A View through the Southern California Online Users Group Rating Scale Lenses, LLRX.com™, May 1, 2000.   <back to text>

5 Reva Basch, "Measuring the Quality of the Data: Report on the Fourth Annual SCOUG Retreat," Database Searcher, vol. 6, no. 8, October 1990, pp. 18-24.  The SCOUG Rating Scale is the earliest full-orbed view of quality and value of information in the electronic age that I can find.  It came out of the 1990 annual retreat of the innovative Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG).  Despite its pre-web genesis, the SCOUG Rating Scale has enduring value today.  There are a number of SCOUG-inspired rating systems being applied to web services.  That's why I previously proposed that searchers "use the Web to conduct and publicize SCOUG-inspired quality evaluations of selected Web resources."  T. R. Halvorosn, "Searcher Responsibility for Quality in the Web World," Searcher, vol. 6 no. 9, October 1998, pp. 12-20.   <back to text>

6 Quicklaw America Inc. Press Release No. 14, March 30, 2000, "United States Code is Most Current Available (USC).   <back to text>

7 See especially Catherine P. Best, Best Guide to Canadian Legal ResearchUsing QUICKLAW with QuickLink PRO.  See also Queen's University Faculty of Law, Advanced Legal Research, Steps in Doing a QL Search. <back to text>

8 Catherine P. Best in T. R. Halvorson, Law of the Super Searchers:  The Online Secrets of Top Legal Researchers, p. 130,  edited by Reva Basch, Information Today, Inc., 2000, ISBN 0-910965-34-X. <back to text>