Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of apps, sites, and technology.

Pacer Pro is Pacer Improved

If you have ever pulled a federal court document, then you are familiar with Pacer. Pacer’s critics are many and prone to point out the software’s numerable flaws including its arcane UI and user costs. Luckily, we are riding a wave of programmers and entrepreneurs who have been willing to improve upon this outdated interface (see my previous write-up of DkT). The latest is the impressive Pacer Pro, which, as Robert Ambrogi writes in his excellent review of Pacer Pro in the March 2014 issue of ABAJournal (available here) “provides universal search[ing], more robust search tools, more informative search results, and better ways to manage documents and downloads”. He’s right, this is a vast improvement on the Pacer UI–and it’s free! Here are some of the really good things Pacer Pro does: Continue reading

How is Bloomberg Law’s New App?

Bloomberg Law has announced the release of a new app that works in conjunction with your Bloomberg Law subscription. The app is available both for the Apple iOS (via the App Store) and the Android operating system (via Google Play). Continue reading

App Review: DkT

If you work in the legal field, there is no doubt you have experienced working with PACER; it’s the interface that enables users to access and file federal court documents. DkT (available here) is a brand new app that puts an easily-navigable, streamlined mobile user interface on top of PACER, enabling users to access documents via their mobile devices. PACER does have its own mobile interface, but DkT has design features that clearly separate it as a better option for users, including: Continue reading

Same Content, Different Apps: Martindale-Hubbell, Lawyers.com

Lexis has created two apps that do the exact same thing: the Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com apps allow user access to the same, giant directory of attorneys. Lexis, though, clearly has different audiences in mind for the two apps, having tailored Martindale-Hubbell to attorneys and Lawyers.com for the public.

The Martindale-Hubbell app is intended to be used by attorneys. More legal language is employed in the template searches that drive the app: users can search for “area of practice” or “law school” for example. The copy from the app description in the iTunes store indicates attorneys are the prime audience for this app as well. The copy, accessible here, reads: “Need to refer a case to an attorney outside your jurisdiction?” and “Ever wished you could look-up opposing counsel’s background and expertise on the fly?”.

Lawyers.com, on the other hand, is directed towards members of the public who need an attorney. The app delivers the contact information of the lawyer closest to the user’s current location, gives contact information for the searched-for attorneys, and even displays directions on how to reach their office. And iTunes store copy, accessible here, states: “Need to find a lawyer fast?” “Looking for ratings and reviews on lawyers in your area?”, and even goes on to state the content underlying the app is coming from the Martindale-Hubbell lawyer directory.

It’s a little reductive, but generally true, to say that apps typically are user interfaces thrown on top of databases. More often than not, apps are just a mode for users to access, interface with, and sometimes contribute content to some underlying, large database. Observing Lexis’s creation of two different interfaces intended for two different audiences to settle on top of the same content gives us an interesting insight into the actions and perspectives of one of the really big fish of the legal research world. Re-organizing the same information is something that continually occurs in the world of apps, though usually it’s different app producers creating different interfaces, not the same producer creating multiple apps that do the same thing. But, Lexis’s actions are clever–the public and attorneys are different enough audiences, with different enough research goals, who will emphasize different enough search criteria, that deploying different interfaces for them seems to be an effective solution.

Lastly, though downloading and using the apps is free, I’m sure you’ll have to pay for whatever attorney you find.

There’s an App for that!?!—California’s Child Support Calculator

Of the many apps in the West/Thomson Reuters oeuvre, there exists the CFLR DissoMaster. What does this app do? Co-produced by CFLR and the Rutter Group, this app’s sole purpose is to calculate child support in California. Yes, child support strictly in California.

Child support calculation in California follows a statewide, uniform equation that starts at Family Code section 4050. The equation, of course, is extremely complex and contains a slew of criteria; programming software to automate this is reasonable enough. And notably, the iPad-based CFLR DissoMaster isn’t the only software designed to satisfy this niche. There are more robust, desktop-centered products. CFLR features its own desktop-based DissoMaster Suite ($540) to face off against the competition’s Xspouse ($299).

Again, the CFLR DissoMaster is iPad-based, and is not available on the iPhone. Users are led through a questionnaire, where they divulge income-related data on a line-by-line basis; robust help, including statute-info, caselaw, and Rutter edited content is available for each line. The completed report can be e-mailed or printed.

Presumably divorce/Family Law is big business in California—how big is a little hard to say. The National Center for Health Statistics compiles and reports on state divorce rates; though, since 2009, California is one of a handful of nonreporting states. The state had 232,719 divorces in 2008, 237,059 divorces in 2007, and 238,011 divorces in 2006.  Judging by the existence of this app, business must be good.

Review: SCOTUSblog’s New iOS App

Everybody’s favorite U.S. Supreme Court blog, SCOTUSblog, recently released an accompanying iOS app. At this point, the app’s main feature is to display the blog entries from the SCOTUSblog site, enabling on-the-go attorneys an easy method of staying abreast of the latest happenings at our nation’s court of last resort. Users have the ability to turn on iPhone push notifications, so, whenever a new blog entry is posted to SCOTUSblog, app users will be instantaneously alerted. The app also enables users to sort and view SCOTUSblog entries into the following categories: featured, round-up, breaking news, and editor’s notes. Lastly, users can use the app as a middleman to jump into SCOTUSblog’s twitter feed. To be clear, this app doesn’t contain content beyond what can be found on the SCOTUSblog site; rather, the point of the app is to quickly connect SCOTUSblog fans to the content of the blog via their mobile devices. With that said, Andrew Hamm of SCOTUSblog has stated new improvements and features will be regularly rolled out to the app, so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The OverDrive Model: How Lexis Approaches eBooks

OverDrive appears to have established the format of how to distribute eBooks in a public library environment. To oversimplify their business model, OverDrive is essentially the digital middle man between publishers and libraries. Think of them as the library iTunes of the eBook world; libraries who use OverDrive can offer their patrons access to an enormous library of eBook titles. OverDrive takes care of all the content management and collection development issues, and grants portal access to libraries who contract with them. On the other side of the fence, publishers upload their content directly into OverDrive, which enables a library to purchase the publisher’s titles.

LexisNexis Digital Library is a pairing between Lexis’s treatises and OverDrive’s electronic library management system. Essentially, LexisNexis supplies the content, and OverDrive manages the method of distribution. The patron, then, has access to a number of Lexis-published eBook titles that can be accessed via popular eReaders (Kindle, iOS, Sony Reader, Nook), various operating systems (Windows PC, Mac), and differing mobile device operating systems (Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone). The library, notably, purchases licenses for the eBooks. One license means only one copy of the eBook is accessible; once a patron has checked out that one copy, no other patron can access the eBook until it is returned. A library can purchase multiple eBook licenses, if they believe a particular title will be popular enough to have concurrent users. After a due date has elapsed, the eBook is automatically returned, and becomes available to the next patron.

Again, to emphasize, the LexisNexis Digital Library treats eBooks like physical books, availability of titles is limited by licenses: “In addition to simultaneous access to many titles for multiple users, users may also check out multiple copies of the same eBook depending on how many copies the library purchases” (from LexisNexis’s April 12, 2012 press release). OverDrive’s license-limiting model has been successful in public libraries, an environment of multiple publishers and huge patron bases, but does this arrangement successfully work in law libraries? Does firm size/patron-base affect the success of implementing LexisNexis Digital Library? How do patrons respond to eBook availability?

We’re still in the era of observing how the big vendors are wrestling with distributing eBooks. LexisNexis’s pairing with OverDrive offers a particularly unique approach to this issue.

Review: Oyster, OverDrive, & Other eBook Apps

Different distribution models are being pursued in the eBook app market. Oyster, a brand new eBook app, is using a subscription-based model similar to Netflix or Spotify; the Oyster user pays a monthly subscription ($10 per month), which enables the user to download and read as many eBooks as they desire. Exploration and discovery are emphasized in the app: the app’s home page enables users to easily browse, every book has a “related” tab that shows users similar titles, there are a number of curated and edited booklists, and there’s a social media/Oyster community component enabling users to see what titles their friends like. Content is one of the big questions, though, among the big publishers, HarperCollins’s books are available on Oyster.

OverDrive Media Console’s distribution model is to offer eBooks to patrons for free, but limits how many users can simultaneously access a particular title. In OverDrive’s model, a user’s local public library determines what content is available by purchasing licenses to individual eBook titles. How many licenses the library purchases determines how many copies of the eBook are available to patrons. Just like their physical counterparts, if a patron discovers the eBook they are interested in is currently checked out, they will not be able to access it immediately; the user can place a hold on it for future access. The app isn’t as attuned to exploration and discovery as the Oyster app; there are new book and curated book lists, but the app is more centered on catalog searching.

The classic model of eBook distribution is the reader pays for the eBook they wish to read on a book-by-book basis, and uses the eBook app tied to the marketplace they used to make the purchase. Books purchased on Amazon are read on the Kindle app, Barnes & Noble purchases are read on the Nook app, and iTunes Store purchases are read on the iBooks app.

These distribution models, of course, are centered on the consumer eBook industry, but what type of format will be the most successful in the legal eBook industry? How much carryover will there be? OverDrive is already instituted with Lexis eBooks—which we’ll cover on Thursday, but would an Oyster-like subscription-model be successful? How could a law library fit in to the more direct-to-consumer models, like Amazon’s, Barnes & Noble’s, and iTunes’s?

Update: Scribd has just announced the release of their own Oyster-like eBook subscription model. More can be read on this here and here.

Review: Meet, Greet, & Remember with Evernote Hello

Evernote, the company famous for its elephant logo and apps that let you make notes, save them, and then take or access them digitally almost anywhere, has been seeking to expand its reach. In its quest to become as ubiquitous as the mobile technology we carry, Evernote has been targeting niche markets with specialized versions of its popular application. For foodies looking to hang on to recipes and meal photos, there is Evernote Food. For readers, there is an Evernote Clearly app that promises a distraction free reading experience. Of interest to us is their networking application for professionals on the go – the newly revamped Evernote Hello. Continue reading

The Culture of Sharing

New companies and new technologies are reinforcing a culture of sharing resources, according to James Surowiecki in his article “Uber Alles” (New Yorker, Sept. 16 2013). Surowiecki takes the perspective of the U.S. marketplace, an environment that historically has run on a buy-to-own mindset from its consumers. Newer companies, observing how mobile technologies value access above all else, are betting on a change in consumer philosophy. Ride-sharing companies (Lyft, Sidecar, UberX, RelayRides, Getaround are all detailed in the article) and media-sharing companies (NetFlix, Spotify), are all speculating consumers would prefer to have access to a variety of goods rather than own a limited number of goods.

What does managing the availability of a collection of resources to a pool of subscribers bring to mind? To me, clearly it’s librarianship. From a macro level, how much does a library’s responsibilities differ from those of the companies listed above? We’re both in the market of access, not ownership; our success depends on ensuring our patrons get the resources they need when they need them.

On the one hand, isn’t it greatly encouraging that the market is starting to see resources the same way a librarian does? The business model emphasizes management of already acquired resources: rather than try to connect a buyer to a seller, the goal is to connect a subscriber to a resource. Ownership is devalued, and access becomes all-important.

Librarians do have knowledge and experience in this environment, and I’m sure those in our profession could be a valuable resource to these subscription-rather-than-ownership-based companies. However, rather than seeing this as an opportunity to teach, librarians need to monitor this development because of what we can learn. The market will shake out and show us which companies are the best at satisfying their customers in this new subscribe-to-borrow arrangement. At absolutely no cost to us, we have the opportunity to observe this experiment, the results of which we could incorporate into how we manage our resources and satisfy our patrons and users, and all we have to do is watch and learn.