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PreCYdent Legal Research Web Site Takes on LexisNexis, Westlaw

A San Diego- and Milan, Italy-based startup company recently launched its version of a legal research Web site and is quickly growing its number of searchable cases.

PreCYdent Inc.’s search engine aims to be more effective at finding relevant case law than LexisNexis or Westlaw, which have billions of searchable documents from thousands of sources in more than 100 countries and are the dominant legal research providers.

Tom Smith, a law professor at the University of San Diego’s School of Law and chief executive officer of PreCYdent, has heard many law students say they can’t do legal research with a few search words the way people do searches on Google.

“As an academic I use the two big online legal research services , Lexis and Westlaw , a lot and it always frustrated me that they didn’t have search technology that was as good as what I use on the Web,” said Smith, whose company refers to its Web site as the “beta” version because it is still in an early development stage.

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Free Searches

But now, anyone can search cases for free by typing just a few key words. The site, which was created and launched for less than $1 million, is supported by advertising, Smith says.

PreCYdent earns advertising money when site visitors click through to hosted Google ads, which are posted adjacent to search results.

“PreCYdent searches the legal citations network the way the major Web search engines search the Web,” said Smith.

Smith was introduced to Antonio Tomarchio, now chief technical officer and co-founder of PreCYdent, by a mathematics professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., several years ago. Tomarchio, a graduate of Politecnico di Milano, Italy’s largest technical university, teamed up with Smith to form PreCYdent in April 2006. Tomarchio and a team of computer science engineering consultants designed and tested the new legal research technology for several months on a database of U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases.

Smith and Tomarchio, who lead the company’s six full-time consulting staff, say that all lawyers, law librarians, law students and the public should have free access to state-of-the-art search technology to help them navigate through the large and complex body of legal authority.

“We want to spread the legal knowledge for free over the Internet,” said Tomarchio in a video statement released on the company Web site and YouTube. “And we aim to drastically change how legal research is done and create a legal community where people and legal professionals can interact.”


Nationwide Coverage Coming

The beta version contains U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals cases from 12 states, including California, Florida, Hawaii and New York. Within the next two to three months, Smith says he anticipates extending the service to cover all 50 states.

These cases are available in the original Portable Document Format, or PDF, and may be read, downloaded and printed at no charge.

While basic searches are free, users can register to become a member of the PreCYdent professional network. The objective is to create a space where people interested in law will be able to share knowledge, find help and exchange experiences.

Developers are incorporating a number of Web 2.0 features. The site already allows users to add commentary, recommendations and ratings to cases. In addition to opinion and statute searches, users can upload documents from the U.S. Government Printing Office, including all materials printed by the U.S. Congress.

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