Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mobile Legal Research

I have been using smartphones for the better part of five years now. Throughout this period, I have attempted to conduct mobile legal research on these devices with varying degrees of success. Apple's iPhone, however, has now made it possible for me to utilize a variety of different legal research resources with enough in the way of effectiveness to be worth while. It is possible that some of what I have written below will also apply to other mobile platforms like Palm's WebOS or Google's Android devices. I do not have much personal experience with those platforms though and for that reason I am limiting my discussion here to Apple's iPhone.

For most folks who have used the iPhone, the standout feature of the device is its web browser. While many smartphones have had the ability to browse the web, the Apple Safari browser on the iPhone is in it's own league in many respects. As a law librarian, it didn't take me long to realize the potential of this device for mobile legal research. While my results have been mixed to date, I do believe that the iPhone can fulfill the role of an "in a pinch" method of getting useful research done in a hurry.

First off, there are two ways to get to the law on the iPhone, the browser and the dedicated apps from the iPhone store. As the apps are more limited in scope than what the browser can accomplish, I'll start with them.

Lexis-The Lexis app is free at Apple's iTunes store. It's function is currently quite limited however. As of now, this app can pull cases and Shepardize them. That's really about it. Given the wealth of information available at, this is a bit of a disappointment. Note, while the app is free, you do need a password to access the service.

Blacks Law Dictionary-Available in full text at the app store. This could be a potentially useful app but at $49, I'd just assume pass on it. Most iPhone apps are little more than a dollar or two and fifty dollars for this app seems a bit steep to me. I have read that it is a pretty well done edition of the dictionary and I suppose that if you really need it available everywhere the price would make sense. For $49 though, I'd buy a copy of the print edition for my home and let that be that.

Drug laws-Clearly tailored to providing some level of warning to potential drug users, the Drug Laws app has the criminal drug statutes from all states along with the sentences that each offnese carries. Available for $.99

Law Stack-A popular free app that includes The US Constitution, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. The app can also conect to a vendor run database that contains additional sources of law.

Legal News Reader-A legal news app that gathers articles of interest to the legal community from a variety of news sites. $.99

Fastcase-This company is a sort of budget competitor to Lexis and Westlaw that has proved very popular with small law offices. The included content is pretty light on secondary source material (treatises and the like) but its case law, statutes and administrative code coverage is quite good.

It should be noted that there are over one hundred thousand apps for the iPhone. I obviously did not go through them all to find the best legal apps. If I've missed a favorite, I apologize in advance.

Legal resources available through the browser.

Lexis-The mobile Safari browser is good enough to access Login is pretty much what you would expect on the desktop. The screen is obviously a bit small for extended use but if one resizes the screen by pinching, it is usable for quick document retrievals. I find that emailing the material to myself from the lexis "Email a document" feature to be the best way to get what I find off the iPhone and over to where I need it to go. Unlike the Lexis app, there is no limit to what can be done via this method.

Westlaw-Thompson West has a dedicated mobile site for smartphone browsers that works pretty well on the iPhone. It is not the full Westlaw site but it does contain a number of popular databases. As a mobile site, it responds very quickly when accessed. Like Lexis, a password is needed for use.

The whole industry of mobile communication has undergone a revolution over the past decade or so. It is thus not surprising that legal research is now becoming a part of that process. I believe that the applications and websites that I have discussed above represent the leading edge of a wave of similar developments. From my standpoint, the ability to tend to the needs of the lawyers who I support from almost anywhere has been a great convenience to me. Time that I would have otherwise spend on my home PC or in the office can now be devoted to friends and family without worrying that I'll miss something important. That piece of mind alone is valuable.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much

2:15 AM  
Anonymous paul smith said...


6:43 AM  

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