Jinfo BlogEfficient and Effective Legal Research in the Era of Apps

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By John DiGilio

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Reed Smith's national manager of research services, John DiGilio, looks at the growth of mobile applications for conducting legal research and introduces the key apps of the moment and the criteria by which they will be reviewed.


From new information providers in the industry to the ever-expanding role of the librarian, the need for and possibilities of conducting effective and efficient legal research show no signs of contraction.

Our libraries and physical holdings are getting smaller while the world of legal research is exploding. The popularity of mobile applications for conducting legal research is a shining example of this innovation and expansion.

Mobile Phones Now Outnumber People

The proliferation of these applications has been fuelled by our growing reliance on mobile technology itself. It is currently estimated that there are more mobile gadgets in use than there are people to use them.

In our own industry, the prevalence of this technology is striking. The most recent annual tech survey conducted by the American Bar Association found that 91% of all attorneys are using smartphones.

Make Sure Mobile is in Your Strategic Plan

Just as the nature of legal research has transcended our physical libraries, so has the nature of the tools we use gone well beyond our firms' plaster walls and firewalls. As information professionals, we need to surpass those same limitations and reach our attorneys wherever it is they are working. Has your library factored mobile applications into its strategic plan? It may be time to do so.

To find out more about the challenges posed by mobile technology and our own experiences at Reed Smith, read my subscription article "Legal Research Apps Under the FreePint Lens".

The Apps of the Moment

You may be thinking that separating the truly great apps from those that are lacking sounds like a tedious job. However, it also presents an exciting new opportunity for us to expand our roles. 

One of the goals for my library team this year is to revisit and re-evaluate those mobile applications that are currently getting the most traction.

Mini reviews to which you can look forward include:

  • WestlawNext - Westlaw's flagship mobile application for conducting legal research on-the-go
  • Lexis Advance - Lexis' latest update to the headliner in its suite of mobile solutions
  • HeinOnline - Mobile access to what is touted as the "world's largest image-based legal research database"
  • Fastcase - Very popular among attorneys for accessing US state and federal case law from their mobile devices
  • Nexis News Search - Mobile searching of Nexis' famous news databases
  • Courtlink - Monitor docket alerts and tracks on-the-fly
  • And more...


Criteria for Review

To ensure that each app gets a fair shake, a standard set of criteria will be used during the testing.

My own experience has shown that there are certain things that great mobile apps do well and the degree to which they do it is what sets them apart from the rest. These factors include:

  • Ease of Use: How intuitive and user-friendly is the app? Is the essential functionality obvious?
  • Content: What materials and information does the app make available and how does it compare to its web-based counterpart? Are there restrictions in comparison?
  • Search Functionality: How is the content accessed and searched and how does this compare to the web version?
  • Results Delivery: What are the options for retrieval of the results?
  • Standalone Access: Can anyone use the app or are firm/individual subscriptions required?
  • Continuity: Is there interplay between the work done on the app and that which is done on the main site?
  • Usage Reporting & Billing: Finally, how does the app integrate with firm systems for tracking usage and client billing?

Each mini review will feature one of the apps listed above. If you have any additional suggestions for evaluation, please contact us.

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