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. The survey asked lawyers whether they had ever downloaded legal-specific smartphone apps and, if so, which [...]
TAG | apps
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.
Legal news company ALM today rolled out a set of apps for iPhones and iPads covering 14 of its national and regional publications.
The apps, which can be downloaded from at.law.com/apps, cover the the following publications:
- The American Lawyer.
- Corporate Counsel.
- Law Technology News.
- The National Law Journal.
- Connecticut Law Tribune.
- Daily Business Review.
- Daily Report Online.
- Delaware Business Court Insider.
- Delaware Law Weekly.
- New Jersey Law Journal.
- New York Law Journal.
- Texas Lawyer.
- The Legal Intelligencer.
- The Recorder.
A press release issued by ALM today says this:
The apps offer a superior and faster reading experience than what is possible through a smartphone or tablet Web browser. They also provide offline reading capability so users can view news stories and other articles even when they are not connected to the Web.
I had a different experience when I tried the app for The National Law Journal. The screenshot at right shows what is supposed to be the “front page.” This is not what you’d expect for a news outlet’s front page. It seems to bear little relation to the stories that appear on the NLJ’s web front page. Further, it lists items out of context, leaving the reader confused. Why, for example, is the name of the law firm Sidley Austin listed there? When I click through to the article, I find it is a profile of the firm, and I have to guess that it has something to do with the recently published NLJ 350. But that is purely a guess on my part — the app offers no context.
This may not be the fault of the app, however. The mobile version of the NLJ web page shows virtually the same front page as the app and is just as confusing.
On top of all that, the app was slow on my iPhone, with pages taking several seconds to load and in one case more than five minutes over a strong 3G connection. And I could find no way to save content for offline reading, although that may be because the app already downloaded it to my device. A “help” page would be helpful here.
The press release goes on to say:
The apps are being sponsored by leading financial and legal institutions who are providing end-users free complimentary access to the content during the launch sponsorship.
That’s a good thing, I guess. It means that some content that might otherwise be behind a paywall is available here thanks to the sponsor. In fact, if you look at the NLJ front page using the iPhone’s Safari browser, several of these stories are locked. If you look at the same stories using the app, they are unlocked.
If you regularly follow any of these ALM publications, its app might prove handy. But given my admittedly brief experience using the NLJ app, I would like to see editorial and navigational enhancements to make it clearer to the reader what stories are about and why they’re there.
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.
Business cards can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that they provide an easy way to exchange contact information. The curse comes when you get back to your office and have to figure out what to do with them. Basically, you have two choices. One is to condemn the cards to business-card purgatory – that shelf in your office where they sit and gather dust. The other is to make them useful by adding the information to your contact-management system.
In the prehistoric days of the all-paper Rolodex, adding business cards to your contacts was easy. You could just clip two notches in a card and insert it in your Rolodex in appropriate alphabetical order. In fact, business-card notch clippers were once popular giveaways at legal trade shows. Now, however, you face the problem of having to get the information from that paper card to your digital file.
Not surprisingly, there are apps for that. One of the easiest to use is Bump, which is available for iPhone and Android. With Bump, you can forget the paper business cards altogether. Just hold your phone in your hand and bump the hand of another Bump user. Your contact information is magically transferred between phones.
Bump sounds like the ideal remedy for business-card overload. The problem is that the other person’s phone needs to have Bump installed and both people need to have it ready to go and set up to exchange contacts. Rarely have I actually used Bump, primarily because the other person either does not have it or has never set it up.
Another alternative is an app that turns your smart phone into a business-card scanner. There are a number of such apps available. One I have used is CamCard from IntSig, available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Snap a picture of the business card and CamCard recognizes the contact information and saves it to your address book. It will also read QR code business cards. Once you’ve saved the information, you can search for the contact on LinkedIn or export the information to Excel.
These scanner apps are nice but imperfect. If you start with a plain, block-text business card and get a well-lit, sharp picture, the OCR software does a good job of deciphering the information on the card and inserting the correct information in the correct fields. But if you start with a more stylized card or cannot get a clear shot, the OCR performs less admirably. Either way, you end up having to go in and manually check and edit the scanned information. For the amount of text contained on a business card, it almost seems easier to type it directly.
The Holy Grail
What makes CardMunch different is that it uses real humans. Just as with the other apps, you use your smart phone to snap a photo of the business card. Once you have the picture, you tap “upload” and wait. Unlike OCR apps, CardMunch sends the image to real-live humans. They transcribe the information and send it back to you, at which point CardMunch notifies you, “You have a new contact.” The most recent one I tried was returned to me in roughly an hour.
CardMunch stores your contacts and also stores the scanned cards in a cover-flow view — hold your iPhone vertically to see the list of contacts, turn it horizontal to see the cover flow. You can also save each entry to your smartphone contacts, which you can then synchronize with your Outlook contacts.
Another neat feature of CardMunch is its integration with LinkeIn. Each contact in CardMunch includes a “connect” button. Just click it to send a connection request to that person on LinkedIn. (If the person is not on LinkedIn, you receive an email from CardMunch telling you that.) CardMunch also pulls information from your contacts’ LinkedIn profiles, including their photographs, and adds it to their CardMunch file.
The only bad news I can report about CardMunch is that it is available only for iPhone. Its website used to say that support for both Android and BlackBerry phones “is coming soon.” But that message appears to have disappeared.
At ABA Techshow next week in Chicago, the cloud practice management platform MyCase is slated to debut a mobile app that will be a first for practice-management apps in that it will allow both clients and lawyers to access their case information. While other practice-management platforms have mobile apps allowing lawyers to access their case and client information, this would be the first that would include a separate portal for use by clients.
Reportedly, the app will include features that will allow clients to:
- View information about their case.
- Send and receive messages to and from the law firm.
- See and respond to comments.
The app will also allow lawyers to access their matters within MyCase, send messages to clients, view contact and calendar information, and bill on the go.
I have not seen the app, which MyCase will officially debut during Techshow. The app will not be available for download until it has completed the iTunes store approval process.
I received an email yesterday alerting me to a new app for converting Microsoft Office documents to PDF on an Apple or Android mobile device. In researching it, I discovered that the company also has an app for converting PDF to Office. Either of the two apps — both of which are free — make for useful additions to any lawyer’s smartphone or tablet.
The new app for converting into PDF is called Sonic PDF Creator and is available for iOS devices, including iPhone and iPad, and Android devices. Once you’ve installed it on your device, it is ridiculously easy to use. Simply locate the document that you want to convert on your device and select to open it using Sonic PDF Creator. Within seconds, the conversion is complete.
The PDF remains on your mobile device until you delete it. In addition, you can choose to email it, print it, or send it to a site such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
I tested it on both an iPhone and an Android tablet without problems. It was fast and flawless on both. The only problem I encountered was on my iPhone, in my first attempt to convert a Microsoft Word document that I received as an attachment to an email. When I tapped the document, it opened in my default app for reading Office documents. Then I realized not to tap the file, but hold my finger on it for a moment. That brought up a box allowing me to choose the app in which to open it. Once I chose PDF Creator, the conversion was completed within seconds.
The second app, Able2Extract PDF Converter, does just the opposite, converting PDF documents into Word, Excel, PowerPoint or text formats. It, too, is available for both iOS devices and Android devices. In fact, it actually converts both ways, from PDF to Office and from Office to PDF. It works in the same way as PDF Creator, but with one extra step. After you locate the document on your device and choose to open it in Able2Extract, you then need to select the output format — Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF or text.
Given that Able2Extract does both types of conversions, do you need both apps? Probably not. The advantage of the PDF Creator app is its simplicity. It does one task and does it well. Open the document in the app and you are done. It is quick and easy. Plus, you may not need the ability to convert both ways.
Just to be sure I wasn’t missing something, I put the question to the company. Here is the response I received:
We’ve developed the apps that way due to user behaviour. Some users might need only Office to PDF conversions and hence, use Sonic instead of Able2Extract because of the more direct PDF creation process it has to offer. In some cases, this is more convenient for converting more than one file to the PDF format for instance.
Namely, when you open file in Sonic, it is instantly sent to our servers and converted instead of just being placed within the list queue and having to select the conversion output type (as is the case with Able2Extract).
Can an iPhone app improve your legal writing? Kathleen Vinson thinks so. A professor of legal writing at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Vinson has developed iWrite Legal, a free iPhone app designed to help legal writers improve their writing skills.
The app consists of three sections — Legal Writing Tips, Legal Writing Checklist and Additional Resources — all aimed at providing advice and guidance on writing, editing and proofreading a legal document.
The first section, Legal Writing Tips, is simply that — a collection of tips, no doubt gleaned from Vinson’s own experience teaching legal writing. Each tip occupies its own screen, with a heading such as “Finding the Time to Write,” “Be Consistent” and “One Point at a Time,” followed by a paragraph that elaborates on the point. For example, under the heading, “Writing Efficiently,” the app offers this tip:
Do you feel that it is taking a long time to draft a document? Good writing takes time but often what slows writers down is trying to edit while you write. Don’t edit/revise while you write or stop to think of the perfect word. Write quickly and then once you have completed a draft, edit slowly. If you have to, cover the screen while you type so you can fight the urge to edit while you write.
The second part of the app consists of four legal writing checklists. They cover the initial stages of writing, revising, editing and proofreading. For example, the checklist for the initial stages of writing lists items such as, “What is the purpose of the document?”, “What relief do you want from the court?” and “Why is your client entitled to this relief?” As you satisfy yourself that you have covered each element, touch that element in the app to check it off.
So will this app make you a better writer? Well, allow me to quote from the app’s tip on good writing:
No magic formula, pen or computer exists that will automatically make your legal writing good. Don’t look for a quick fix.
That said, tips and checklists such as these can serve as checks and balances on your writing. In our rush to get work done, we can easily overlook the fundamental elements of effective writing. Having a checklist close at hand may not make your writing better, but it sure won’t hurt.
When it comes to law practice management technology, recent years have seen the launch of a bevy of cloud-based platforms. Clio was the first of these, followed by a number of products that include Rocket Matter, MyCase, LexisNexis Firm Manager, and the most recent addition to the lot, Thomson Reuters Firm Central. Cloud platforms offer many advantages, not the least of which is mobility — the ability to access your case and client information from any device.
But cloud platforms are not necessarily right for every lawyer or every firm. Orion has been a long-time provider of installed financial management, firm management and practice management systems for mid-sized law firms. Just last year, Sean Doherty looked at Orion and other installed practice management platforms for Law Technology News. He found that they offered good reasons for firms to stick with locally installed systems, most notably their deep integration with a firm’s back-office infrastructure and front-office tools.
Although most locally installed systems offer some form of mobile access, it is rarely on par with the full-featured mobile access some cloud systems provide. Aiming to remedy that with a full-featured mobile app, Orion introduced iOrion at the recent LegalTech show in New York.
Designed for the iPad, iPad Mini and iPhone, iOrion enables mobile access to key Orion financial management tools as well as to information about clients, cases and contacts. iOrion fully synchronizes with the desktop Orion, including the ability to start a timer in one and then manage it in the other.
Included within iOrion are:
- Full access to all contacts. If you initiate a phone call or email from within iOrion, it automatically prompts you to make a time entry.
- Access to key information about matters (or cases), including the ability to initiate and bill for time.
- Customizable “Smart Timers” that make it easy to track time for multiple matters while away from your desktop.
- Access to key client and matter financial information, including receivables, work-in-progress billing, accounts receiveable ledgers, retainer ledgers and trust ledgers.
As of this writing, iOrion is not yet available in the Apple iTunes Store. Orion is awaiting Apple’s final approval. I was provided with a pre-release version linked to a demonstration database containing mock client, matter and financial information.
Although I have never used the Orion desktop version, I found the app to be extremely easy to use and understand. I was particularly impressed by the depth of the financial data accessible through the app and by the capabilities it offers to track billable time and expenses.
I was also impressed by the ease of timekeeping on the app. To enter time manually, simply select the client or matter, select the activity code, and select the time, and you are done. If you wish to add notes to a time entry, you can. Alternatively, Smart Timers make it easy to simply turn on a timer for any client or matter and then automatically bill it when you are done.
In the range of features and access to data it offers, iOrion surpasses other mobile practice-management apps I’ve tried. Of course, iOrion can be used only by lawyers at firms where Orion is installed. For more information about the app, read Orion’s brochure.
More than a quarter of the nation’s top 200 law firms now have mobile websites, an increase of 46% from last year. This is the finding of the Second Annual AmLaw 200 and Global 100 Mobile Web Survey, conducted by the Law Firm Mobile blog.
The survey looked at which firms from the AmLaw 200 and the Global 100 have created mobile sites. It also looked at the types of content they published to those sites, how firms enhanced their sites, and where some sites need improvement.
Among the survey’s key findings:
- Among AmLaw 200 firms, 54 (27%) have mobile sites, an increase of 17 firms since 2011. Of firms on the Global 100 list, 29 have mobile sites, an increase of seven firms from 2011.
- Of the firms that have a mobile website, most (67%) have between seven and nine types of content on the site.
The most popular type of content these firms have on their sites are:
- Professional biographies (59).
- Offices (53).
- Practice areas (52).
- News (45).
- About the firm (42).
- Careers (40).
- Events (38).
- Publications (34).
Surprisingly, one of the least common content types is “contact us” information, included on just 13 sites.
The Law Firm Mobile blog has many more details about the survey, along with a full listing of the firms that have mobile sites and a screen shot of each firm’s site.