Using an e-book, Fastcase can load up published and unpublished cases without concern for the weight of the paper.

Fastcase recently announced a new product to give lawyers their first look at judicial opinions in e-book format — free and licensed under the Creative Commons BY-SA license. Fastcase Advance Sheets are the first of five Fastcase e-book products planned for release this year, all aimed at disrupting the traditional market for law books. In the legal publishing business, free is tantamount to disruption.

The “advance sheet” concept is well known among lawyers and librarians. The term describes paper drafts of opinions mailed to legal professionals before they are cumulated and published in books. The subscription prices for advance sheets are also well known: not cheap.

Legal professionals continue to thumb through advance sheets for their respective jurisdictions. And within the advance sheets, readers narrow their view to cases in their respective practice areas. But gone are the days when lawyers had the luxury of looking through and reading all the law issued in advance sheets. It would be costly to get all the advance sheets, and even more costly to take the time to read them, because time spent reading may mean time spent not billing.

Fastcase has replaced advance sheets with an e-book format. Using an e-book, Fastcase can load up published and unpublished cases without concern for the weight of the paper.

And because the Fastcase Advance Sheets are in e-book formats (.epub and .mobi), they will appear in iBooks, Kindles, Nooks, and on Android devices. Each book will publish one month’s judicial opinions (published and unpublished) for specific states or courts. For example, there will be advance sheets for each state, federal circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. One e-book will contain the published and unpublished opinions from the California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal.

Forty volumes of e-books were published the week of June 18, according to Fastcase, and approximately 300 were issued by the end of the month. The volumes include case summaries and highlights and, since they’re e-books, the content will be searchable and readers will be able to bookmark and annotate pages on demand.

Ed Walters, CEO at Fastcase, said the the Advance Sheets will be available through the same mechanisms that you download books and music from the online services, e.g., iTunes and Google Play.

Asked about the other four e-book publications, Walters said that after the free advance sheets, Fastcase will publish e-book case reporters with official pagination and links to its online research database. Thereafter, Walters said the company has their eye on national, topical reporters, e.g., in securities and antitrust law.

According to Walters, to date the legal book publishing market has been content-oriented. Now that the content has been commoditized where courts are first publishing their own opinions, which are then picked up by secondary publishers, publishing is a “service, not content, business.” Differentiators in the publishing industry will become “service and new distribution models,” said Walters.

Asked what e-books are next after free advance sheets and paid case and topical reporters, Walters would not say. But he did say to give Fastcase some time to get all the advance sheets into the online stores. It may take one or two days, according to Walters.•