TAG | apps
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.
The legal directory and Q&A forum Avvo today introduced Avvo Lawyers, an app that allows lawyers to follow and answer consumer legal questions directly from their iPhones or iPads. Using the app, you can:
- View and filter questions posted in the areas of law you follow.
- Add or remove subscriptions to legal questions posted in specific areas of expertise.
- Draft and post answers to questions.
Also, if you subscribe to Avvo Pro, you can use the app to respond by phone or email to prospective clients.
Consumers have posted more than a million legal questions to Avvo in the last five years, the company says.
You can download the app for free from the iTunes store.
Here is an interesting iteration of the standard law dictionary — one designed specifically to help legal professionals who are not native speakers of English. Available as an app for iPhone and iPad, TransLegal’s Law Dictionary not only provides the definitions for more than 3,000 legal terms, but it also provides audible pronunciations and examples of how to use the term in context.
This app was developed by TransLegal and Paragon Software Group. TransLegal is a company that specializes in helping international legal professionals learn English legal terminology and usage, providing online courses and materials as well as an online Legal English Dictionary. Paragon is the same company that developed the mobile versions of the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law that I reviewed here in July.
The definitions contained within the dictionary are “the product of thousands of hours of ongoing research carried out by an expert team of lawyer-linguists” and are regularly updated to reflect the most current usage, according to the developers.
Each definition includes an audio recording of the term, to aid pronunciation, and also an audio recording of the term used in a sentence. Most terms also include a “Phrasebank,” which are additional text examples of the term in context. Definitions sometimes include additional explanatory notes to help provide a better understanding of the term and also synonyms and alternative spellings. Some even discuss common mistakes in usage of the term.
The app provides several search options, including wildcard searching (such as “un*” to find words that begin with those letters), fuzzy searching (for when you are unsure of the term’s correct spelling), and full-text search (to search both terms and their definitions). You can also find a term simply by beginning to type it in the search field.
As I noted in my review of the Merriam-Webster’s law dictionary, Paragon is the developer of the PenReader handwriting recognition software for mobile devices. The TransLegal app includes PenReader, which means you can search for words by writing them on your screen with your finger or a stylus. It is easy to use and surprisingly accurate.
Another nice feature of this app is the ability to easily adjust the font sizes of entries and terms using a slider bar within the settings menu.
The standard price of this app is $24.99 (19.99 EUR or 17.49 GBP). However, through Oct. 6, they are offering it for an introductory price of $12.99.
Although this law dictionary is designed for non-native speakers of English, I can see it proving useful even to native speakers. Although it contains fewer and less-detailed definitions than a standard law dictionary, its use of terms in context can be illuminating and its explanatory notes and suggestions of common mistakes include tips that any lawyer might find helpful.
A Massachusetts divorce lawyer yesterday launched Massachusetts Divorce, an app for the iPhone and iPad that can be used to calculate alimony and child support under Massachusetts law and then generate a court-ready form. It can also be used to calculate dates.
The app has three main functions:
- Alimony calculator, to determine how much alimony must be paid and for how long.
- Child support calculator, which will calculate child support based on the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.
- Date calculator, to determine the duration between two dates or to calculate the time for the court to issue divorce judgments.
With the child support calculator, once you have entered the numbers, the app enables you to export the results into a PDF version of the court-approved child support form. You can then print the form using air print, email it or export it to Dropbox.
The app is compatible with iPhone and iPad. It costs 99 cents.
When I tried it this morning, the app functioned as described, except for one glitch — I could not export the child support form to Dropbox. Although my Dropbox account tells me that it recognized the app, when I tried to export to Dropbox, I received a message, “Failed with error.” I was able to email the PDF to myself.
The description of this app in the iTunes store describes it as the first comprehensive app for divorce calculation in Massachusetts. A search of the iTunes store indicates that there is another app, L.P.T. Family Law, that describes itself as a “Massachusetts family law resource tool that includes statutes, calculators, case law, forms, and court directories.” I have not tested this app, which also has an Android version. Another available app calculates child support only.
Rocket Matter, a cloud-based legal billing and law practice management application, today launched an iPhone app to facilitate mobile access to the application’s core functions. The app runs on all versions of the iPad, the iPhone 3GS and higher, and iPod touch running iOS 5 and above.
The app lets you use your mobile device to:
- Capture time and expenses and associate them with a matter. This includes the ability to run a timer on your device.
- Access information on all of your matters within Rocket Matter.
- View and add contacts and initiate calls and emails.
- Manage your calendar and keep it synchronized with your Rocket Matter account.
I have not tested the app. A press release issued by the company this morning says this about it:
The company designed the app after conducting extensive user surveys. Based on the feedback, the iPhone app provides a streamlined version of the essential features of the flagship cloud-based product.
A built-in timer and intuitively designed screens quickly capture billable time and expenses. Contact lists, client-matter information, and calendars with day, month, and list views keep all relevant case information in one convenient place. Information recorded via the Rocket Matter iPhone app appears instantly in the web-based product.
In situations with little or no connectivity, data is automatically stored offline. The app will instantly synchronize with the Rocket Matter database once connectivity is restored.
It also says that the app uses the same authentication and security measures employed by the web application. All data is transmitted to and from the app over an encrypted channel. Users can set a passcode lock to ensure that there is no unauthorized access to their data if the device is lost or stolen.
In 1926, the editor of the Harvard Law Review, Erwin Griswold, produced a pamphlet covering proper forms of legal citation. Originally published with a brown cover, the cover was changed to blue for the sixth edition in 1939 as a patriotic gesture to get away from a color associated with Nazi Germany. Now in its 19th edition, the pamphlet, A Uniform System of Citation, is more commonly known by the name derived from that cover, The Bluebook.
You can still buy The Bluebook in dead-tree form, of course, and a Web subscription version was introduced in 2008. This week, the first mobile edition was introduced. The mobile version of The Bluebook uses an existing app, rulebook, as its platform. Rulebook is an app for iPhone and iPad from which you can purchase and download federal and state court rules. (No Android version is available.)
The rulebook app has a number of useful features, including full-text search, highlighting, annotations, bookmarking and hyperlinking.
The app is free to download, but The Bluebook and other legal content must be purchased separately. The cost to purchase The Bluebook for use within rulebook is $39.99. That is more than the cost of the print version, $34, or of a one-year online subscription, $32. Law firms, court systems and other large organizations can purchase bulk licenses to the mobile version of The Bluebook.
The Bluebook is published as a joint venture of the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and The Yale Law Journal. The rulebook app is a product of Ready Reference Apps.
The Free Downloads
For one day only, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, anyone with the free rulebook app will be able to download the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Bankruptcy Procedure, Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure and Evidence at no charge. Normally, these rule sets cost $1.99 each. All you need to do is have the app installed and download these rule sets. Their price will be set as free.
Earlier this month, Thomson Reuters debuted the WestlawNext Android App, providing mobile access to WestlawNext from both Android tablets and smartphones. I was given a limited-time log-in to WestlawNext to try out the app. I tested it on an Android tablet and here is what I found.
Overall, I like it. I have two complaints, which I’ll get to later. But the app delivers what it promises — on-the-go access to the core features of WestlawNext. (I reviewed WestlawNext in greater detail in January 2010.) Using the app, you can:
- Search all core content using WestSearch.
- Run simple descriptive searches or more complex searches using Boolean terms and connectors.
- Use KeyCite to check the status of a case or law.
- Access your saved documents folders.
- Read and email documents.
- Add notes to documents.
- View your recent searches and documents.
The app synchronizes with your WestlawNext account, so that any research you perform on your mobile device is accessible from your primary account. You can start a research project on one device and continue it on another.
From the app’s homepage, you can start a search, browse WestlawNext content, KeyCite a document, access your folders and access recently viewed documents and recent searches.
When you conduct a search, the results include icons to tell you whether you’ve previously viewed a document, saved it in a folder, or annotated it with notes.
From a design standpoint, the app has elements that make it easy to navigate. At the top of every page is an arrow you can tap to jump to the bottom of a page. The bottom of every page has a similar arrow to take you back to the top. This is useful when you don’t want to scroll through pages with long documents. From any page, you can tap the WestlawNext logo in the header bar to return to the home page.
Most pages also have “skip to” and “tools” drop-down menus. The tools drop-down gives you quick access to options for emailing a document, saving it to your research folder, or adding a note to it. The skip to drop-down lets you jump to various sections within a document; for example, within a case, you can use this to jump from the synopsis to the headnotes to the attorneys to the opinion.
Up to now, I like everything about this app. I have two complaints, both fairly minor.
The first complaint has to do with saving documents to your research folders. The app only lets you save to your primary research folder. You do not get to choose the folder. This is oddly frustrating, because it lets you create additional folders, but not save to them. Even more frustrating is that the literature for the app says that you can “access and add documents to your folders.”
The second complaint is that the app provides no options for changing your display settings. You cannot adjust the font sizes or typeface. You cannot change the background color. On most documents, this was not a major problem, but on some, I found myself straining to read the small fonts. The ability to adjust font sizes would be a welcome enhancement.
Overall, I found the app to be easy to use and well designed. The app is free, but, needless to say, you need a WestlawNext account to use it. If you are a subscriber to WestlawNext and an Android user, you will want to get this app.
If you’re interested, you can download it from Google Play.