Edward Walters, '96: Slaying the Legal Research Goliaths

Appeared in Record issue: 
Spring 2009

Fresh out of college at Georgetown, twenty-one years old, Ed Walters, ’96, was one of only two politically appointed Democrats working in the White House of President George H. W. Bush. He was on the president’s speechwriting team. Some of his political leanings must have slipped into his compositions, because he vividly recalls the day when Bush’s powerful chief of staff, John Sununu, could be heard throughout the White House thunderously demanding to know “Who is Ed Walters and what is his agenda?”

Despite Sununu’s consternation, Walters retained his job until his boss was voted out of office. Not many years later, though, Walters was perturbing the powerful again, this time in a business context. In 1999 he left his job as an associate at a prestigious law firm to devote himself to creating a new enterprise that would go up against two formidable corporate giants. “It was David against Goliath, except there were two Goliaths,” he recounts.

The Goliaths were Westlaw and Lexis. The company that Walters founded, Fastcase, provides state-of-the-art legal searching capability at a fraction of the Goliaths’ prices, employing a search algorithm that quickly finds the specific case a user is looking for. “Our technology solves the needle-in-a-haystack problem of traditional legal research systems, where too often you have to go through screen after screen to find the case you need,” Walter explains. “Fastcase works like Google: The best results show up at the top of your search results, not on page eleven or page forty.”

Fastcase users can sort their searches according to several criteria, including the number of citations to other cases in the search results, the date of the decision, the jurisdiction, and the authority of the court that rendered the decision.

While his giant competitors were raking in billions of dollars in annual revenues, Walters financed his fledging operation by maxing out his credit cards and emptying his retirement account. It was more than two years before Fastcase signed up its first customer. “We created this company during the days when the internet bubble had burst, and because our service is web-based, many people thought we were just another flash-in-the-pan dotcom,” Walters says.

The doubters were wrong. Fastcase now has enrolled more than 340,000 of America’s 1.1 million lawyers, and it is growing fast. Fourteen state bar associations make Fastcase available to all their members, and Walters says the company has been signing up a new state bar almost every other month. Because it is affordable and efficient, Fastcase is poised for further strong growth in today’s tough economic times as many lawyers and their clients are more closely watching expenses.

Fastcase also has created an internet site for nonlawyers, the Public Library of Law, which offers access to more than two million pages of cases, making it the largest free web-based law library.

Many people and experiences from his days at the Law School helped Walters build Fastcase. He says: “A lot of my friends provided both encouragement and advice; for example, when we obtained some modest venture financing, friends who had gone into that field helped guide me through the negotiations. Several professors have encouraged and supported me in ways that really have meant a lot. And let me tell you—once you survive Professor Helmholz’s Socratic questioning, most negotiations or business presentations hold very little fear by comparison.”

Walters observes, “When you succeed, you’re called an entrepreneur, but if you fail they just call you crazy.” Whatever he may have been called in the early years when he was liquidating his assets to pursue his dream, today Ed Walters’s willingness to confront industry giants, and his success at doing so, have earned him the accolades due to a true entrepreneur.