The Legal Intelligencer’s annual “Best of” survey was released today; as usual, the latest edition shines a light on what legal resources attorneys in the Keystone State are using. The survey’s respondents are readers of The Legal Intelligencer, the Philadelphia-based daily law journal that has been operating for more than 150 years. Continue reading “Legal Intelligencer Releases “Best of” Survey; Jenkins Law Library Takes Second for “Online Research Provider””
On September 24th, Joe Mornin, a Berkely Law School student, released Bestlaw to the public-at-large (see the The Lawyerist‘s and The Recorder‘s admirable coverage of this story). In a nutshell, Bestlaw is a browser extension that improves upon the Westlaw Next interface. Remarkably, Joe Mornin designed the browser extension himself, and makes this piece of software freely available to download on his website (http://www.bestlaw.io/). Bestlaw’s website states the software accomplishes the following:
THE CURRENT VENDOR SYSTEM
Legal research procedures are driven by vendors. At a basic level, getting to be a good researcher involves memorizing two bodies of knowledge: what legal information resources exist out there, and which vendors create those resources. Dovetailing into all of this, access of resources is controlled by the vendors as well; each vendor has their own, unique, separate interface. This environment makes practical sense because legal research is a commercial enterprise. Accordingly, vendors resemble information silos: their information is their capital. Would legal research be more efficient and effective if there was an incorporation of federated searching, which would enable searching across all of the vendor interfaces simultaneously? Of course! But, the current legal research business model necessitates individual, isolated research interfaces, with individual content collections accessible only via one point of access.
This current legal research business model introduces various problems for the user. Two of the more salient problems are: what information is actually unique inside a vendor interface, and how do vendors charge the user for non-unique content. Westlaw and Lexis, for example, charge transactionally, meaning every pull of information comes with a price tag. This is acceptable when a user pulls information that is absolutely unique to these specific vendors. However, users do not always pull unique information; commonly, they incur extra transactional fees by pulling information they could get for free from somewhere else. The issue, really, is the convenience of the interface: users are already inside a vendor’s specific pay environment, and it becomes really easy and convenient to pull resources inside the pay environment, rather than jump out and search for a free (and trusted) copy of the same resource.
PULLING INFORMATION FOR FREE
Bestlaw, remarkably, incorporates the ability to jump out of the Westlaw Next environment in order to get free copies of resources. As stated above, while inside the Westlaw Next interface, a user can pull free documents from free services like CourtListener, Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, Casetext, and Google Scholar. The convenience factor of being in Westlaw Next’s environment becomes partially moot. Just to step back: Bestlaw adds a toolbar to the Westlaw Next interface, when a user is viewing a document. The toolbar enables the user to pull the exact same document they are currently viewing from one of the above mentioned free resources (so, in my understanding, a user would have already induced a find and view charge, but could circumvent the print charge).
IMPLICATIONS OF BESTLAW
Again, federated searching is the concept of inputting a single search into a single interface, and having that search performed across a multitude of databases. Think of inputting a case law terms and connectors search into an interface, and having that particular search run across Westlaw Next, Lexis Advance, Fastcase, and Bloomberg Law simultaneously. The results could be sortable by some combination of relevancy and cost, meaning the user would get highly relevant results at a lower cost. Rather than be information silos that require users to log into their specific, isolated interfaces, vendors would have to compete in a new technological environment, one where open competition would require the highest relevancy at the lowest cost. The user experience would be improved.
Bestlaw’s ability to jump out and pull from free resources while the user is in the Westlaw Next environment is a step in the direction towards federated searching; Bestlaw is forcing a mash-up of Westlaw Next and a handful of free legal information sources. The user, despite being in the Westlaw Next environment, is no longer restricted to pulling just Westlaw Next content, thus enabling the user the ability to circumvent “print” fees they would typically incur. This is a very intriguing development, and all credit has to go to Joe Mornin for getting the ball rolling.
Few things have raised such hue and cry in our industry this year as the announcement that PACER was going to be without certain courts’ materials. The concern expressed by law librarians and legal researchers clogged newsfeeds for weeks and made its way – all the way – into the halls of politics. Yet while many saw an immediate challenge to the way we work, others saw an opportunity to turn an old model on its head. Bloomberg BNA president, David Perla, in a recent article for Law Technology News, was among those not only seeing the glass as half-full but also thinking of newer, better ways to make it overflow. Continue reading “Perla Makes a Point on PACER”
Ravel Law incorporates the age-old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” into legal research. Visualization is fundamentally incorporated into Ravel Law’s software design. When users conduct a search on a legal topic, or a prior case, Ravel delivers an interactive graphic displaying cases associated with this topic or prior case; the cases that are the most heavily cited have larger icons, thus signifying quickly to researchers which cases are fundamentally important to whatever topic or prior case they’re researching.
Recently released, the ILTA Technology Survey offers information professionals great insight into how lawyers are interacting with technology at their firms. The organization, made up primarily of firm IT and KM professionals, produces an annual technology survey, and, thankfully, releases it for free (the AmLaw Tech Survey and the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey Report will run you a few dollars).
Notably, among the many topics it covers, the survey focuses on attorneys’ use of tablet pcs and apps.
The results for the question “to the best of your knowledge, which non-native tablet/iPad apps are most used at your firm for business purposes (choose up to five apps)” are as follow, with a brief/not-all-encompassing description from me on what these apps do:
1. Citrix Receiver – enables access to Citrix environments from mobile devices
2. LinkedIn – social media platform for business professionals
3. Dropbox – cloud-computing storage service
4. Adobe Acrobat – .pdf viewer and editor
5. Skype – remote video and voice or instant messaging platform
6. FaceBook – social media platform
7. Documents to Go – enables users to view Microsoft Office and Adobe files in the iOS environment.
8. Evernote – enables users to take electronic notes
9. GoodReader – annotate and read .pdfs
10. Mimecast – enables access of Mimecast email environment
14. TrialPad – presentation tool tailored to attorneys
15. Westlaw Next – legal research system
27. iTimeKeep – time tracking utility
39. iJuror – jury selection app
Westlaw Next’s inclusion is notable, in that it signifies tablets are being used for legal research, but its location on the list shows the strong popularity of the more well-known productivity-oriented apps (dropbox, evernote, documents to go, etc.). The answer to the overarching question how much traction is there for tablets and mobile devices to be used for legal research is still a little nebulous. Will user behavior change to where tablets and mobile devices are commonly used to conduct legal research? It’s hard to say. Is there a legal research platform that could really exploit the unique characteristics of tablets or mobile devices, to the point where the mobile-version would offer something valuable that would distinguish it from the desktop version?
Also notable is that attorneys themselves are typically not the respondents to the survey questions–rather, it’s the membership of ILTA who are queried. And, it is important to point out, once again, that those queried were to only chose 5 apps, and not every app they have observed/encountered their attorneys using.