Jun 17, 2013

LawSauce App Helps You Locate Legal Materials Worldwide

No comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

Two experts in legal research have developed an app for iOS and Android devices that they describe as like an international GPS for lawyers, helping you quickly locate the right web resource for a variety of legal research tasks. After trying it out over several days, I am impressed by how much it covers.

In some cases, however, I was tripped up by anomalies in how the app organizes resources. I found myself confused about why certain resources were omitted, when it turns out some of them were there all along, only not where I thought I’d find them. More on that below.

Called¬†LawSauce, the app helps you sift through the variety of legal materials available online and find the ones best suited to help you find what you need. It covers more than 100 jurisdictions and includes more than 8,000 links. More links are being added all the time — in fact new links were added just this morning.

The app was developed by Ruth Bird, law librarian at the Bodleian Law Library at the University of Oxford in the U.K., and Natalie Wieland, legal research skills adviser at the University of Melbourne Law School in Australia. They created it, Bird told me, after being constantly confronted by frustrated researchers who find too much information on the web and want a shortcut to the right spot.

The app works by guiding you to the appropriate resource. For example, let’s say you want to find a case from the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The first screen in LawSauce asks you to select a task. From the drop-down menu, tap, “Find Cases.” That takes you to the next screen, which asks you to select a region. Tap “Africa.” The next screen asks you to select a jurisdiction, so from a list of African countries, you tap “South Africa.” The next screen asks you to select a title. Various resources are listed, but you tap, “Constitutional Court of South Africa.” Next you go to a screen that asks you select a resource. Only one is listed — the World Legal Information Institute. Click “Next” and you come to a page that summarizes your selections and has a hyperlink to the World LII. (If the selected resource is not free, LawSauce displays a dollar sign.) Tap the link to open your device’s browser and go to the World LII.

That first screen, where you are asked to select a task, summarizes the types of resources you can find through this app. The selections available there are:

  • Find blogs. This provides links to selected legal blogs.
  • Find cases. This links to the source of the case reports or to the court, not the actual cases. You must search within the linked resource to find specific cases.
  • Find gazettes. This links to the official government site for the gazette or official journal of the country or entity, provided in the language of the country. (For the U.S., the only source included here is the Federal Register.)
  • Find Hansard. This links to parliamentary or congressional debates. (In the U.S., this links to the Congressional Record.)
  • Find journal title. This links to the provider or aggregator of legal journals.
  • Find legislation. This includes links to acts, statutes, bills, regulations, statutory instruments, subordinate legislation, delegated legislation and rules.
  • Find LRC Reports. This links to Law Reform Commission sites with collections of their reports.
  • Find treaties. This links to international, multilateral and bilateral treaties.

The first time I tried the app, I found myself confused about what appeared to be omissions. Because I am located in Massachusetts, I thought I’d try a simple task of finding resources for the cases of our highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court. So I went through the screens, selecting “Find Cases,” then “North America,” and then “Massachusetts.”

When I got to the screen that said, “Select Title,” I scrolled down and found “Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.” When I selected that, LawSauce showed me only one resource, Fastcase. This surprised me, because Fastcase is a paid subscription service and there are several free sources for SJC opinions, including FindLaw, Justia and MassCases.com, not to mention Google Scholar.

I emailed Ruth Bird about this and she promptly replied, explaining that at least some of these resources I asked about are there, including FindLaw. However, they are listed using the label given by the particular provider.

Thus, if I go back to that “Select a Title” page where I selected “Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court,” it turns out there is also a listing for “Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts” that would have led me to FindLaw. There is also “Massachusetts Reports,” which would have led me to Westlaw. There is also “Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Slip Opinions,” which would have led me to the Social Law Library. And there is “Massachusetts State Reports,” which would have led me to the Legal Information Institute.

“Part of my difficulty,” Bird wrote in her email, “is that each provider labels the source slightly differently, and so the titles are not consistent. I am wrestling with whether to just name the courts and then list all the resource providers, or to honour the naming conventions of each provider.”

To my mind, the app should do the latter — list the court (or legislature or whatever) and then list all the sources.

This app is available for both iOS and Android devices. Currently, it costs $4.99 to purchase. A free version is being developed that will include all the same resources and features but that will have advertising. The LawSauce site provides links to the Apple and Android stores for downloading the app.

Apart from the one issue I described above, I can recommend this app as useful to anyone who is frequently engaged in legal research — particularly research in jurisdictions outside those in which you normally work. The developers have done a Herculean task of assembling these thousands of links from jurisdictions worldwide and organizing them in a way that lets you find them with just a few clicks.

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