Lawyers are supposed to be experts at deciphering convoluted rules. But even lawyers can be confounded by the rules of golf. Thus, the golfers among you will be pleased to learn that two lawyers have translated the rules of golf into plain English and made them available through a mobile app, ready to consult whenever [...]
TAG | apps
The student, David Lutz, found it cumbersome to have to print out PDFs of cases, annotate them, and then type all the annotated information into a brief. The app lets you do all that on an iPad. (There are no iPhone or Android versions.)
The app allows you to annotate PDFs of court decisions using nine customizable highlight colors. Each color represents a facet of a case, such as Facts, Procedural History, Issues, Holding and Reasoning. You can edit the colors to give them any label you like.
As you read a case, you use the different colored highlighters to mark text as important to one of the facets. Marking is done simply by holding your finger down on the text and then dragging to select the portion you want. You can also underline text and add notes.
When you are done, tap the “Brief” button and a case brief is created, with your highlights organized in bullet points under the labels associated with each color. Each bullet point links back to its place in the text.
Cases can be organized into folders that you create and name. Cases can be moved between folders and folders can be organized either alphabetically or by creation date.
BriefCase also has a built-in dictionary that allows you to highlight any term in a case and get its definition, even when offline.
Free vs. Paid Features
The app is free to download and everything I described above can be done for free. For a price of $9.99 a year, users can get these additional features.
- A unique email address that allows the user to send cases directly from Westlaw, Lexis or other research sites into BriefCase. (Free users must import the cases manually.)
- Ability to share briefs by email and print them. (There is no way to share or print briefs in the free version.)
- Ability to sync briefs with Google Drive and Dropbox.
Given that the free version does not allow you to print or email briefs, it is pretty much useless except as a way of trying out the app. At the same time, if you try it and find it useful, then $9.99 for a year is certainly a reasonable price.
Frankly, it has been a long time since I have briefed cases in this way. The app is likely to be of interest only to law students and newer associates. If you brief a lot of cases, it may be worth checking out.
It’s been a bad couple of weeks for apps that let you share contact information. Recently, I wrote about problems with CardMunch, the LinkedIn app that uses actual humans to read and transcribe business cards you scan with your mobile device. Now, Google has announced that it is shutting down Bump, the app that lets you share your contact information by simply holding your phone in your hand and bumping the phone of another Bump user. (See my post from February 2013 in which I discussed both CardMunch and Bump.)
Google, which bought Bump less than four months ago, announced this week that, effective Jan. 31, it will discontinue Bump and another app, Flock, a photo app that creates shared albums from friends who are at the same event. Both apps will be removed from the iTunes App Store and Google Play’s Android store.
The announcement gave no explanation, other than to say, “We are now deeply focused on our new projects within Google, and we’ve decided to discontinue Bump and Flock.”
I’ve had Bump on my iPhone for several years but, frankly, rarely used it. It only works with others who also have the app installed, and I rarely encountered other lawyers who had it.
Starting tomorrow and continuing every Friday thereafter, the creators of the Rulebook app will offer for free one of the books from its library of state and federal rule books. The company is calling this its Free Rule Book Friday promotion. The company will announce which book it is offering each Friday morning via its Twitter feed @rulebookapp.
To get the free book, you will need to install the app, which is available for free for the iPhone and iPad, but not Android. Once you install the app, you can download some rule books to it for free, such as the Federal Rules of Evidence. Others must be purchased at prices generally around $2 or $3. As I described in an earlier post, this is the app that the The Bluebook chose to host its mobile version. (The Bluebook download costs $39.99.)
A variety of federal and state rules are available for purchase within the app, including the court rules for 22 states and the District of Columbia.
The Free Friday promotion will continue “until further notice,” the company said.
Is this a ploy to gain publicity and Twitter followers? Probably. But it might also be a way to get your local courts’ rules for free. And that’s a good thing.
The popular blog that covers the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog, released an iOS app yesterday. It provides mobile access to the same content that is available on the blog. It also provides push notifications of breaking news from the court. The blog’s announcement yesterday said that additional features and improvements will be rolled out regularly.
(Click thumbnails above for larger view.)
The app’s home screen shows the same stories that you see on the blog’s home page. A menu lets you narrow the stories you see to those that are categorized as “featured,” “breaking news,” “round-up” (a daily item that rounds up short news items), and editor’s notes.
You can also view the blog’s Twitter feed from within the app.
Updates, 10/9/13, 3:53 p.m.: Some additions and clarifications to my original post from earlier today:
- Invites to the app can be requested from within the app once you download it. Once you are authorized to use the app, you can invite others from within the settings menu. Alternatively, you can invite others from the web page http://at.law.com/appinvite.
- The full contributor network will officially launch in the first quarter of 2014. Only some contributors will go live by the end of November.
- The overhaul of Law.com also will not go live until the first quarter of 2014. The changes slated for November are not the full overhaul but a relaunch of existing sites with a new look and feel and new functions.
* * *
At an event in Boston last night, legal publisher ALM unveiled a new Law.com app for iPads and iPhones that delivers content from all ALM publications and websites in a seamless, stylish and customizable interface. Also last night, ALM revealed that it will be pushing out a major overhaul of the Law.com website by the end of November and that, as part of that, it will be launching an extensive contributor network in the style of The Huffington Post, with from 100 to 500 writers from outside ALM regularly contributing commentary and analysis.
Last June, when ALM launched a set of 14 iOS apps for its different publications, I wasn’t thrilled with them. By contrast, with this new Law.com app, ALM has got it right in every way. I had a chance to use it at the launch event on an iPad and have also installed it on my iPhone. In both cases, it is a pleasure to use and view and incorporates various features that make it functional as well as attractive.
First off, let me emphasize that the app is currently usable only by invitation. Anyone can download it, but you will not be able to log in unless you have been pre-authorized by Law.com. Those users who have been authorized will be given the opportunity to invite up to three “friends and family” to participate. The app will become fully available to any Law.com registered user in February 2014 in conjunction with LegalTech New York.
On the iPad, the app’s home page displays a tiled array of top stories from various ALM publications. You can easily swipe through these stories similar to the way you would on an app such as Flipboard. The home page shows these in horizontal layers of two side-by-side tiles, each layer representing a publication or category.
This home page can be customized in several ways. For one, you can drag and drop the tiles to arrange them in whatever order you prefer. Even better, you can add and delete tiles. A small pencil icon in the upper left corner brings up a menu from which you can select what to include here. You can select specific publications or you can select from a list of practice areas or subjects. You can also create a search and have it appear as a permanent tile.
The app also lets you add news sources from outside the universe of ALM properties. You can select from a list of legal blogs and news sources and have those appear on your home page as well. At this point, you cannot add sources that are not on the list, but you can submit a request directly through the app for a source to be added.
On the iPhone, the app uses a similar tiled array to display stories, only in a single rather than a double column. As with the iPad version, you can easily swipe through stories, add them to your Briefcase and share them to social media or by email.
As you would expect, the app incorporates tools for social sharing of stories. It also has a Briefcase feature where you can save stories and create custom folders.
The app’s designers have done a great job of integrating ads in a way that makes them unobtrusive. Effectively, they have created a new kind of ad format that appears between stories as you swipe from side to side in order to move from story to story. The ads stand out graphically, but don’t get in your way.
Regarding the contributor network, Law.com will be inviting outside authors to become regular contributors to the site. When this network launches in November, it is expected to have at least 100 contributors. By the time of LegalTech in February, the Law.com editors hope to have as many as 500 contributors.
The contributors will not be paid but will be given access to a WordPress-based platform that will allow them to publish directly to the Law.com site. These contributors are expected to include individuals from all walks of the legal profession, including lawyers, law professors, legal marketers, legal recruiters and the like.
This contributors’ “channel” will be featured on the Law.com website and also within the app.
As mentioned above, Law.com will also be unveiling a new design of its website with new features and functionality.
The challenge of developing an app for the legal market is to define a compelling reason for lawyers to use it. We are all busy and we all have established sources for getting the news and information we need. A new app introduced last week is an example of one that is nice enough in concept and well executed in design. But it falls short in delivery and offers no strong reason for me to use it.
The app has the unfortunate name of Legal Newsance. I assume this is a play on the concept “legal nuisance,” but the irony is unfortunate. In fact, Google assumes the same thing — search the app’s name and Google replies, “Did you mean: legal nuisance?”
For a free app, Legal Newsance has lofty goals, promising to deliver curated legal news across a range of topics, legal research, job listings and on-demand CLE. The problem it has, at least at this point in its development, is that each of these categories are fairly sparse and scattered in the content they provide.
For example, the description of the legal research component on the Legal Newsance website lures you in with the come-on, “Tired of paying expensive subscription fees to access online research resources?” Well, maybe you are, but this app does not provide a substitute to paid research resources. Rather, it consists primarily of links to readily available government sites containing statutes, regulations, court rules and the like.
To its credit, it does a nice job of organizing this information and making it easy to find. Research links are organized by main practice-area topics such as “Advertising and Media,” “Corporate and Securities,” and the like, each of which drills down to further subtopics.
Job listings and on-demand CLE programs are similarly sparse. Job listings so far appear to come from just a handful of large law firms. In fact, the bulk of the listings appear to come from just three firms. The CLE listings come primarily from the Colorado Bar and Continuing Education of the Bar in California. The app does not actually deliver these programs; rather it lists them and provides links to their registration pages, where you can purchase streaming versions.
In fact, if you want to see which programs are listed in the app, you can see the same listings on the Legal Newsance website.
Possibly the most fully realized component of the app is its legal news feed. As with the research section, the news stories are organized by practice-area topics. There are also sections for top stories, legal industry news, “legally insane,” and work/life stories.
Here again, however, the selection of stories lacks sufficient focus to compel me to use this on a regular basis. Perhaps if I was killing time somewhere, I might browse its headlines. But generally I get my news feeds from sources I have already selected and set up. And my regular sources already include some for general legal news from around the country, such as the ABA Journal’s Law News Now.
Let me stop right here and give the app’s developers credit where credit is deserved: They have adopted an explicit policy of not “scraping” legal news and blog posts. They spell it out right on their website and I applaud them for that. When you click on a headline within the app, you go to a page that provides a brief excerpt of the story, that identifies the source of the story, and that provides a link to the full text at the source site.
Given that the app is free, the question arises of how its developers make money. The answer is through a component called the KnowStore, which also exists on the app’s website. The KnowStore sells what it describes as “focused, targeted legal know-how.” By another name, these products are legal forms — so far all contract and corporate templates and clauses. You can purchase these through the app at prices that range from 99 cents to $2.99.
The app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. I tested it on my iPhone, where it was responsive and easy to use. It would not work on my Nook HD+, possibly due to the Nook’s bastardized Android OS.
The Colorado company that developed it, Similan Labs LLC, was formed by an attorney who was formerly head of legal for a New York IT services and software development company.
You may find this more useful than I did. But as I said at the outset, I look for apps that give me a compelling reason to use them — that serve some useful role in my daily work or that fill a gap in my information needs. This one does not does not do that for me.
Talk about a living Constitution — here’s one the framers never saw coming. Today, the U.S. government is marking Constitution Day by launching an official annotated Constitution app that will provide legal analysis and interpretation directly on your iPhone or iPad. (Sorry Android folks, that one is still in development.)
The app is a companion to a new Web resource, Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation. Both the app and the website were developed by the Library of Congress, together with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Government Printing Office.
The launch of these new resources also coincides with the 100th anniversary edition of the nearly 3,000-page print treatise of the same name, originally published in 1913 and updated every 10 years since. Unlike the print volume, these new resources will be updated multiple times a year as new court decisions are issued. The analysis is prepared by attorneys at the Congressional Research Service in the Library of Congress. The version launched today is current through June 26.
Features of the app include:
- The full text of the Constitution.
- The full text of the treatise. A clause-by-clause discussion of the entire Constitution.
- Discussions of all Supreme Court cases and selected historical documents relevant to interpreting the Constitution.
- Lists of all federal, state, and local laws struck down by the Supreme Court, and all cases where the court overturned its prior precedent.
- Tables of contents and cases and an index.
The website version includes the full treatise as a digitally signed, searchable PDF. It includes a linked table of contents, a linked table of cases, a linked index and GPO’s seal of authenticity on every page. A Featured Topics and Cases page highlights recent Supreme Court decisions that demonstrate pivotal interpretations of the Constitution’s provisions.
Be forewarned: This app is a space hog. The iTunes store lists it as 94.1 MB, but the installed version takes up 104 MB on my iPhone.
Note also that the PDF pages do not rotate to landscape view. On an iPhone, that makes for clumsy reading, because to make the text large enough to read easily, you need to constantly slide back and forth across the page.
What are the most popular legal and business smartphone apps among lawyers? According to the 2013 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, the most popular legal app by a long shot is Fastcase. The most popular business app is Dropbox.
- Fastcase, 26.5 percent.
- Westlaw and Lexis, 7.7 percent each.
- WestlawNext, 7.3 percent.
Other apps they named were ABA Journal, LawStack, American Bar Association, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, PLI and Lexis Advance.
When the lawyers were asked whether they had ever downloaded a general business app and, if so, which ones, the top three they named were:
- Dropbox, 15.2 percent.
- Evernote, 9.8 percent.
- LinkedIn, 8.6 percent.
Other business apps they frequently mentioned were Dragon Dictation, Documents to Go, Wall Street Journal, PDF readers, Quickoffice, banking, and Adobe and Good Reader.
I’ve written about the Fastcase app a number of times, including having published an exclusive first look before it was officially released. The app, which is available for iOS and Android, provides direct access to a free library of cases and statutes.
The Legal Technology Survey Report is published in six volumes. Each volume can be purchased for $350 or, for ABA members, for $300. The volumes are:
- Vol. 1: Technology Basics.
- Vol. 2: Law Office Technology.
- Vol. 3: Litigation and Courtroom Technology.
- Vol. 4: Web and Communication Technology.
- Vol. 5: Online Research.
- Vol. 6: Mobile Lawyers.
A combined edition and executive summary will be available later this month.
The findings discussed above came from the volume on mobile lawyers.
In a recent article about mobile marketing I wrote for Law Practice Magazine, I explained why I am skeptical about the marketing value of law firm apps. I made an exception, however, for apps that provide a useful or practical function, whether for existing or potential clients.
The new Fisher & Phillips FMLA Leave App is a good example of the kind of practical app I had in mind. From the national labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips, the app enables employers and human resources managers to calculate basic FMLA leave requests and determine how much leave an employee has available. It is available for free in both iOS and Android versions.
Under the FMLA, employees are entitled to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave within a defined 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. Employers may use any of four different methods to calculate the 12-month period. Among the most commonly used is the “rolling” 12-month period, measured backwards from the date an employee uses FMLA leave.
This rolling method is the one used by the app to calculate leave. It takes just four steps to perform the calculation:
- Enter the number of days the employee is requesting for FMLA leave.
- Enter the number of days of FMLA leave the employee has already used in the prior 12 months.
- Enter the start date of the requested leave.
- Indicate the days of the week the employee works (by flipping an on/off switch next to the day).
Once that information is entered, hit the calculate button and get the results. The app reports the number of days available for leave, the date the employee should return to work, and how much leave the employee will have remaining upon return. An “email this” button lets the user send the calculation to the employee or elsewhere.
Needless to say, the app does not perform any sort of sophisticated FMLA leave analysis. For example, if an employee wants to take leave in an increment other than a work week, the app cannot calculate that. Also, the app does not calculate the longer period allowed for military caregiver leave.
For these more complex FMLA issues, the employer or HR manager may wish to consult an attorney. If so, then no doubt the folks at Fisher & Phillips hope the phone call goes to them.