Why do law firms spend, collectively, billions of dollars on commercial legal research databases, when what they are looking up is law — which is in the public domain? How are these databases able to erect these enormously profitable paywalls? The answer is that they provide more than just the raw text of the law. They provide search tools and additional, value-added content on top of the law itself. The two legal research titans, Lexis and Westlaw, employ lawyers to read cases and other legal materials, categorize them, add commentary, and link them together. These services have legitimate value because they all save lawyers time, and time is money — especially in a profession that largely bills its clients in six-minute increments. That’s why these expensive tools exist, even in the Internet age. As one lawyer put it, after trying to get by on only free legal research tools, he tried Westlaw and was an immediate convert who now happily pays for the service.
Two young lawyers thinks they can disrupt the legal research giants by applying the lessons of Wikipedia and crowdsourcing their own comparable set of annotated law.
Joanna Huey attended Harvard Law School, where she was president of the Harvard Law Review, and Jacob Heller attended Stanford Law School, where he was president of the Stanford Law Review. They later served together as clerks for Judge Michael Boudin at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, and worked at law firms. Both were dissatisfied with the available research tools and their hefty price tags, which put the poor at a competitive disadvantage in the justice system.
Unlike many lawyers, neither Huey nor Heller are afraid of technology, so they decided to do something about it. Huey’s undergraduate degree is in physics, and Heller was a web developer before law school. They applied to Y Combinator, and were accepted. They’re now emerging from the program and ready to launch their company: Casetext.