Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mobile Apps for Law: Who knew there are over 800 legal apps?

Mobile Apps for Law is brought to us by former big firm library director Arlene Eis, founder of InfoSources Publishing,

Earlier today I was engaged in a discussion with several of my global colleagues about the hypothetical "lawyer of the future." We all agreed that portable and personalized app libraries will be a feature of this future, but none of us can discern the exact timeline or contours of this transformation. Just as I was musing over the possible threshold for this evolution to reach "critical mass," I received an e-mail invitation to subscribe to the first database directory of legal apps. The product is currently discounted to $25 per password.

Who knew there were already over 800 law related apps out there? MAL is a veritable “Wild West” of legal publishing, featuring a wide array of publishers that I have never heard of. Currently MAL covers apps for 8 types of devices including Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, iPods, Adroid/Droid,PocketPC, Palm, and Ereader. The apps are described as being a utility or a research app but I couldn’t find a way to search these separately. Since we all are concerned with information quality, the addition of hyperlinks to product reviews for some products was extremely helpful, but there need to be more! The reviews which I did read appear to focus on the technical functionality of the app and not  information quality issues, such as provenance and timeliness of updates.

Humorous, but none-too-reassuring monikers abound: BigTwit Software (I am not kidding)., PDA Wizard, Law on my Phone, Tech Innovations, to name a few. Waffle Turtle Software raised an eyebrow by appearing to conflate the NY CPL (criminal procedure law) with the NY CPLR (civil procedure law). My personal favorite is from the unlikely publisher Loose-leaf Law Publications  which offers the "NYPD Policeman’s Patrol Guide." There are some core primary sources available such as titles from the USC, the CFR and a variety of state code volumes. Costs range from almost $1,000 for a bar review course to free for the American Lawyer app.

Conspicuously absent are the major legal publishers. I located 10 Thomson apps, including Black’s Law Dictionary and WestlawNext for iPads. CCH Mobil and American Lawyer apps were included.  I couldn’t find anything from Lexis. However since there was no easy way to search by publisher – I may have missed something from one of the majors.

Searching: lots of options - keyword, Boolean, legal topic, device and jurisdiction.

App Description: Each entry provides detailed information, including: title, publisher, description, subjects, price, devices, version, size, last update date, links to reviews and finally, a link to the app store or URL where you can download the app immediately to your device.

My wish list:
  • Publisher information:  Who are these people? I would like to be able to search by publisher and also get some background on the updating policy for the app as well as the source of the content.  
  • Updating A"last updated" date appears for many but not all apps. No indication of how you would get continuous updates after you purchased the apps. Are you entitled to updates as the law in amended? Do you get updates for a year?  
  • Publisher and app rating system: I would like to see some sort of user rating system to be included like you get on hotel sites… “beds were lumpy, but a great location”.  
  • More reviews from information professionals: It is great to know about the functionality and features are but our risk management mission dictates that we have a better assessment of quality.
Wither app-land?

By analogy, if MAL was providing the roster for a music festival, what you would see is a list of  "garage bands" and wonder where the headliners are. So let’s do the math. There are over 800 apps and fewer than 20 are from major legal publishers. That is less than 2% of  legal"app market share." We know that won’t last long. The challenge ahead  for those of us who manage the acquisition of information resources for large organizations, will be to  work with publishers to develop licensing, pricing and updating schemes that allow wide deployment at a reasonable price without compromising quality.

Thanks to Arlene for providing some insight into the current configuration of  the legal app landscape.
PS: Arlene - when will you be releasing the "Mobil Apps for Law" App?






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