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.

Legal Newsance1The 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.

Legal Newsance2In 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.

  • Hi Robert,

    Thank you for taking the time to try out our new app. As an early startup, any and all feedback is both necessary and greatly appreciated. There are a few items I’d like to quickly touch on in response.

    Regarding your feedback on the News section, we currently publish links to over 200 items per week. While we will certainly look to increase coverage as we grow, we have no intention of replicating news feeds. News feeds have a small (albeit dedicated) following for a reason. They are an inefficient, time-consuming method for finding relevant content. Many lawyers simply do not have the time to invest in trawling through feeds. Our News section attempts to bridge that “convenience gap” for busy professionals by delivering the most important stories of the day, in the most efficient manner possible, on whatever device they are using.

    The Research section does not attempt to replace third-party research services, rather it offers a virtual library of primary resources that attorneys can quickly access on the go. Unfortunately, the only ways to access a collection of resources this extensive on a mobile device would be to set up manual bookmarks in a web browser or as part of an attorney’s subscription with an aforementioned third-party provider. There is no reason why lawyers should have to face this false choice when trying to find court rules, look up a regulation, search a government database or access any number of other primary sources on a phone or tablet.

    Our Jobs section currently has 5 law firms posting openings to the app, while the CLE sections also have 5 organizations participating. You are right that these sections need more participants to ultimately realize their potential, but I hope you can see the exciting direction that we’re heading in. These sections save lawyers time by allowing them to quickly access content that matters to them, wherever they are.

    For example, the ‘on demand’ CLE section already offers information on and access to 400+ programs by a variety of respected providers that are searchable by keyword or practice area. Similarly, the Jobs section features employer-posted openings that attorneys, paralegals and professional staff can find and often apply for directly on their phone or tablet. Instead of visiting each firm’s website or subscribing to a third-party aggregator, professionals can use the app to easily learn about new job openings.

    Again, thank you for reviewing Legal Newsance. I hope you continue to use the app and see it grow over the next few months as we continue to add content and features.

    • I certainly realize that an app of this sort takes time to build out. I appreciate the information you’ve provided in your comment. You’ve got a good start here and I’ll be interested to see how it develops.

      One clarification: I was not suggesting that your research section should compete against or compare against commercial research services. It seemed to me that you were asking for that comparison by the language I quoted from your website.

  • Understood, and thank you for the kind words. We went ahead and revised the research section language to avoid confusion going forward.