It is rare that I get to report on a new legal research tool. Even so-called startups in legal research, such as Casetext and ROSS, have been in business since 2014 or earlier. But today I have news of a new entrant in the field, BuzzyCite.
BuzzyCite is a free and easy-to-use case law research tool that taps into the vast collection of Harvard Law School’s Caselaw Access Project.
As I reported in 2018, the Caselaw Access Project (CAP) was a massive undertaking that culminated in the digitization of virtually all U.S. federal and state case law, some 6.7 million cases dating all the way back to 1658.
Initially, CAP offered access to this data in only two forms — via an API (application programming interface) to allow others to develop programs to access the cases, or via bulk downloads for research scholars and certain others.
Later, CAP added a search tool, but it is somewhat limited in the options it provides for conducting and refining searches.
Enter BuzzyCite. BuzzyCite uses CAP’s API to provide a better search interface into CAP’s case law library. It also provides tools for saving research (not just from CAP) and for generating citations in proper Bluebook style.
That’s a good thing, but it’s also a limitation for anyone searching for current case law. The CAP collection ends in 2018 and has no cases more recent than that.
Started As A Citator
BuzzyCite is the creation of Nicholas Buzzy, a former civil litigator in Ohio who taught himself programming and transitioned to a career as a software developer.
Buzzy first built a version of BuzzyCite more than eight years ago while a law student at Case Western Reserve University. That initial version was an application for the specific purpose of putting citations into proper Bluebook form. But when both Westlaw and LexisNexis added their own software that did that, he shelved the application and focused on his legal career.
Over the years, as he taught himself software development at night while practicing law by day, he came to believe that lawyers lacked a good option for free legal research. He also felt that many lawyers felt disinclined to save their research to folders in Westlaw or LexisNexis, because they were working in accounts paid for by their employers and would lose all that if they moved to a new job.
Searching is Simple
Searching for cases on BuzzyCite is simple and straightforward — so much so that Buzzy believes nonlawyers will also use the site. Enter a term or phrase and click search to get a list of results. You can also search by party name or case citation. You can limit searches by jurisdiction and court and specify a date range.
Search results are bare bones compared to more-polished legal research services. The results list the case name, court, jurisdiction and date, and they can be sorted by any of these categories. But there are no snippets to give you a hint of what the case is about or to show your search terms in context.
From the results page, you have three options:
- You can select to read the case, which opens the full case at the CAP site.
- You can click the “cite” button, which allows you to copy the case citation in correct Bluebook form.
- You can save the case to a research folder, where you can also add a note.
In addition to case law search, BuzzyCite has three other features:
- Citation Library. These are all the cases you have saved to folders. The default view shows a list of all saved cases (including notes you can attach to them of up to 2,000 characters). A drop down lets you select to view cases only within a specific folder you’ve created.
- Custom Citation. This feature lets you add resources to your citation library from sources other than CAP. For example, if you find an article elsewhere on the web that it relevant to your research, you can add it to a research folder.
- Citation Generator. This is the latest version of the tool that Buzzy originally built back in law school to ensure that your citations are in correct Bluebook form. You enter the jurisdiction, court, party names, reporter volume and page, and year, and the tool generates a properly formatted citation, including correct abbreviations of party names.
Free to Use
BuzzyCite is free to use and Buzzy told me that he intends to keep it that way.
I asked him about the site’s terms of service, which I thought might be of concern to some lawyers. It contains this statement regarding privacy:
“[Y]ou acknowledge and agree that BuzzyCite may collect your personal data, derivative data, mobile device data, and third-party data. BuzzyCite may share information collected about you to its employees, business partners, and third-parties. You consent that BuzzyCite may partner with third-party vendors, which independently gather data of your use of the Service.”
He provided this answer:
“We limit collection of user behavior data and do not track the user identity or content of search queries. I am unable to see what searches you or any other user have made. We modeled our terms of service after other free and popular API’s, which also rely on the ability to communicate with third-party vendors to enforce usage limits (like the number of citations a user can save).”
As a case law research tool, BuzzyCite’s biggest drawback is its lack of current cases. As I said above, the CAP collection runs only up to 2018. There is limited usefulness in gathering pre-2019 case law on a topic, only to later discover that a subsequent ruling overturned it all.
Buzzy acknowledges that this is a limitation and says the site is not a replacement for a traditional legal research service. If enough users show interest in the site, he will explore other options for bringing in current cases, he said.
Another limitation is the lack of “snippets” on the search results page, something almost every legal research service provides in one form or another and that researchers have come to expect. With the results showing only the case name, court, jurisdiction and date, it can become tedious to have to open each case and then scan it for your search terms.
But having said all that, it is worth remembering that this is a one-person project intended to provide a better search interface into the voluminous and one-of-a-kind collection of the Caselaw Access Project. In that purpose, it succeeds, offering a simple search interface that is superior to CAP’s own search and that is free to use.
BuzzyCite is not a site where you would complete a sophisticated research project. But as a tool for quickly researching a topic or for finding specific cases, it can be useful. An added bonus is that it lets you save all your research, from whatever source, in a Citation Library that you can come back to whenever you need it.