I had heard of AustLII, of course, which is a free site for Australian law. I had not heard of JADE, an online Australian case law database created by BarNet in April 2008. It has a vastly superior interface to AustLII. In fact, they are doing a lot of things that make their research tool perfect for lawyers used to researching on the Web, and that many fee-based publishers could imitate.
Here’s a quick run down:
When you type in a case style (joe v. mary), Jade’s search understands that terms that are adjacent to a v are often a case name, and so it attempts to return it. Compare that to many case law services, even fee-based ones, that require a different type of search when you are looking for a citation. Jade has also gotten rid of the traditional legal research boolean operators in preference for doing what Google does. If you require a term to be in a document, use the plus sign (+), a minus sign to exclude a specific term. Interestingly, if you use no connectors, it will perform an and/or search and then use relevancy to highlight the best matches.
The interface is exceptionally clean. The search bar is at the top and options are on a left hand menu. When you retrieve results, you automatically get an excerpt, that highlights the content around your keywords. You can also click to see a summary of the case, or open the miniviewer to see the full text within your search results. This feature is nice because you do not ever leave your search results, so you can quickly move on to the next result without moving to different screens.
The citator (note-up) in Jade shows other cases within the database that cite the case you’re reading. But Jade goes beyond that, and I think that’s what makes it a really interesting resource. I would love to see some of the bookmark aspects appear in other online systems. You can add a Jademark to keep track of cases that you are interested in. When you add the bookmark, you can also provide comments so that you can remember why the case was relevant (or not) and you can provide tags. As an example, I added tags for a client and matter, but you can tag it how ever you need to in order to make it relevant. Because Jade has a lot of keyword / subject markup already, you do not need to do the basic subject terms. You can really use the Jademark to personalize your connection to the case.
More importantly, perhaps, you can share your Jademark with the Jade community. So if you are reading a case and think there are additional terms that make it relevant and you create a Jademark for yourself, you can enable others to see your Jademark. When you are looking at your results, you will see any available Jademarks, yours and those available to the public, listed to the left of the case excerpt. You can share in 3 different areas, and it would be interesting to be able to share to specific groups of users (say, everyone in a firm).
When you load up a case, you will see the new Casetrace box to the right of it. It shows cases that link to the case you are reading. Even better, each document is presented in a way so that the links in Casetrace go directly to the pinpoint site. Click the link and the page will move to the appropriate point in the decision, and show you information about the citing case. Casetrace is about incoming links. When you perform a search, it shows you outgoing links from the decision.
Jade is still very new, at version 3 and with over 100,000 decisions and growing. But it is leaps ahead of many case law providers when it comes to how it enables search and retrieval of Australian court decisions.