Three (Free) Apps for Every Law Student or Practicing Attorney

There are over 2 million apps available for download from the iTunes store and Google Play combined. It is unsurprising that some lawyers are utilizing available legal-specific apps on their mobile devices and tablets, creating portable law libraries. Although the majority of lawyers still have yet to download a legal app, a little less than half have—according to the American Bar Association (ABA) 2015 TechReport. After downloading and experimenting with over a dozen free legal apps, the following three are worth the time-investment.

FastcaseExtensive Legal Research: Fastcase.

Fastcase is the most popular app for legal research, ranking higher than WestlawNext and LexisAdvance, according to the ABA 2015 TechReport. Although it requires a subscription, Fastcase is free to download and use. The app itself is largely intuitive; searches on Fastcase can be performed using citations, phrases, or keywords—including Boolean operators. Users can also browse statute collections by individually pulling up the state and selecting the desired code. Fastcase contains one of the largest selection of free Texas Codes.

The app may be downloaded from the iTunes App Store for iOS devices and from Google Play for Droid devices.

General Reference: PushLegal’s Statutes and Case Law Library.

Created by a Houston, Texas trial attorney, PushLegal is free to use for anyone signing up with a school-issued email address. The app contains quick access to the Federal Bankruptcy Code, Rules of Civil Evidence, Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Criminal Evidence, Rules of Criminal Procedure, Sentencing Guidelines, and several other federal titles. PushLegal also contains Texas, New York, Florida, and California state codes, including the Family, Penal, Probate, Business Organizations, and Property Code.

Searching is user-friendly on PushLegal. A search bar is located at the top of every screen, and various code sections also include a “Legal Cases” tab, listing cases that have recently referenced the particular statute.

However, accessibility is PushLegal’s best feature. Although an internet connection is required to download or “subscribe” to each book, after it is downloaded, the codes can be accessed without an internet connection

The app may be downloaded from the iTunes App Store for iOS devices and from Google Play for Droid devices.

Legal News: ISCOTUSnow.

Provided by the Oyez Project, this mobile app contains the latest information on cases currently pending and recently decided in the Supreme Court of the United States. Minutes following the release of a SCOTUS opinion, it is reviewable on the app. Oral arguments and transcripts, along with decision summaries, are also accessible. Additional features, like polls, allow users to share their reactions to SCOTUS news.

The app may be downloaded from the iTunes App Store for iOS devices and from Google Play for Droid devices.

IBM Watson For Legal Research Coming Soon

IBM’s Watson is close to becoming realized in the legal research realm.

According to The Globe and Mail, a class project-turned-startup launched by University of Toronto students that uses IBM’s artificially intelligent Watson computer to do legal research now has backing from Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Called Ross, the app uses Watson to scour millions of pages of case law and other legal documents in seconds and answer legal questions. Its founders liken it to a smarter version of iPhone’s Siri, but for lawyers, and say it could one day replace some of the grunt research work now done by low-level associates at the world’s top law firms. It is one of several attempts to apply what is called “cognitive computing” to the historically technology-averse legal profession.

And Ross is learning quickly. One of Ross’s developers noted: “It’s early days for sure.” “But what we are seeing is Ross grasping and understanding legal concepts and learning based on the questions and also getting user feedback. … Just like a human, it’s getting its experience in a law firm and being able to learn and get better.”

This will eventually have major ramifications for legal research as we know it. As mentioned in the article, this will likely replace much of the grunt research like finding particular statutes or cases by citation. But Ross is nowhere near being able to creatively use case law to form arguments. And there are many issues to be worked out with Ross storing proprietary information.

While there is no denying that Ross will help augment intelligence, he should be considered more of another tool in a lawyer’s toolbox rather than a replacement. Think of Iron Man’s JARVIS as opposed to The Terminator.

Jarvis_shield_interface

Law Librarians’ Society’s Legislative Source Book

Law Librarians Society logo

The Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. is an association established for educational, informational and scientific purposes with a geographical focus on the Washington, D.C. region.  Luckily for us, they have compiled a great online Federal legal source book!

The Legislative Source Book contains many pdfs with information on how to research various types of Federal information.  There are documents explaining how to located current legislative and regulatory activity, how to locate United States Statutes and Code, as well as an overview of the Congressional Record and Congressional Serial Set.  If you want to learn how Federal Laws are drafted they explain it!  Most information is for Federal information but there is some information on State Legislatures, laws and regulations as well.

Overall, this is a very comprehensive source on how to find current and historical Federal Legislative information.

“Free the Law”: Harvard Law & Ravel’s Free Case Law Project

Last Thursday, Harvard Law Library and Ravel Law announced a partnership they call “Free the Law.” In short, Harvard is digitizing their entire library of U.S. Case Law, which includes materials going back to pre-revolutionary days, and putting them into Ravel’s system, to be available free of charge.

The project is ambitious, and won’t be done overnight — even scanning half a million pages a week, they’re not expecting to have it fully developed for 2 years. However, it also provides a great opportunity for researchers everywhere to have access to case law. They’ve also agreed to release the full database for bulk use (that is, data mining and so on) within 8 years.

Is this a game-changer? Yes, and no. Google Scholar already has a free database of modern case law (since 1960 for most courts, and going back as far as 1791 for some) that anyone with an internet connection can search as easily as using Google, so from that respect, this really only fills the historical gap. Moreover, those older cases, especially those prior to the Great Depression, are more useful to academics than to practitioners or citizens in general, as they become attenuated from the modern day.

However, the fact that Harvard is partnering with Ravel makes this more interesting to me. Ravel is a relatively new platform that is focused on performing analytics on cases, which they use to connect cases together and highlighting the significant passages of cases. The data from this pool of case law will greatly improve the effectiveness and value of what Ravel provides, and in turn, will add value to the case law in the system. The open availability of the database also means that intrepid data hounds will be able to conduct extensive analysis of U.S. case law that was hampered by the difficulty of finding it all in a single place.

The other caveat I’ll toss out is that the project is only for case law. Most new law in the US is either statutes or administrative regulations, and those appear to be absent from this project (at least, for now). However, I’m still excited to get access to the treasure trove of case law data and to see what the data team at Ravel is able to do with it.

New Database: Tax Notes!!

tax notes

Tax Notes is the Law Library’s newest database.  It is a current awareness and tax research database.  This product will help you stay on top of current tax news.  It is easy and quick to sign-up.  Here are the instructions*:

Please go to http://www.taxnotes.com to sign on to the new site.  For the initial sign-in, you need to be within your company’s/university’s IP range.

Please follow these steps:

  • Please go to http://www.taxnotes.com, and click SIGN IN at the top right.
  • In the username field, please enter your Texas Tech University e-mail address.  Click Next.
  • On the next screen, please click on the blue “Register Here” link.
  • You’ll be taken to a Profile page.  Enter your name and Texas Tech University e-mail address.
  • Choose a password and enter it.
  • When you’ve finished the Profile, click SAVE CHANGES.
  • You’ll go to the Tax Notes webpage, where you can sign in with your username Texas Tech University  and the password you chose.

If you have any problems signing up or setting preferences, please contact Marin Dell (marin.dell@ttu.edu) for assistance.

*[NOTE: The user must be a Texas Tech University faculty, student or staff to access.]

SCOTUS Addresses Opinion Editing & Link Rot

banner_h120In May 2014, the NYTimes wrote about the Supreme Court continuing to edit opinions after release. Earlier this month, an NYTimes article noted that SCOTUS is now disclosing after-the-fact changes to its opinions.

The move on editing is a major development. Though changes in the court’s opinions after they are issued are common, the court has only very seldom acknowledged them. Many of the changes fix spelling or factual errors. Others are more substantial, amending or withdrawing legal conclusions.

Starting this term, a court statement said, “post-release edits to slip opinions on the court’s website will be highlighted and the date they occur will be noted.” The court’s website includes sample opinions to show how all of this will work. “The location of a revision will be highlighted in the opinion,” the statement said. “When a cursor is placed over a highlighted section, a dialogue box will open to show both old and new text.”

And in other wonderful news, SCOTUS is also addressing the problem of link rot in opinions.

The Court said it would also address what it called “the problem of ‘link rot,’ where Internet material cited in court opinions may change or cease to exist.” The Court will now collect and post the materials it links to on a dedicated page on its site.

Lawyers Say Legal Research Skills are Very Important

BAR/BRI has released the first of what it intends to be an annual survey on the “State of the Legal Field.” The objective is to “evaluate industry perceptions about the state of the legal field,” establishing benchmarks related to student practice readiness, employment expectations, employment trends, and law degree return on investment. Faculty, law students, and practitioners were surveyed.

As one law library director noted, “[m]ost telling for [law librarians], I think, is “key finding #2.” Key finding number 2 of the report noted that:

“Faculty placed very little importance on research, with just 4 percent citing it as the most important skill for recent law school graduates. In contrast, 18 percent of attorneys named research the most important skill a new lawyer should possess.

This survey conveys similar information as a survey from 2013 that said that:

  • Newer attorneys spend more than 30% of their time doing legal research
  • Approximately 50% of associates think legal research should be a larger part of the law school curriculum

databasebooks