Good Apps Aren’t Hard to Find: Resources for Finding Legal Apps
By Emily Lawson
This will not be another article with a list of the top five legal apps. There are just too many apps for that. The iTunes App Store currently advertises that it contains more than 500,000 mobile apps, and Google Play boasts another 600,000 Android apps. While a (large) majority of these apps may not be relevant for legal professionals, a growing number are being created for the legal market. As more and more apps are developed with legal professionals in mind, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay on top of the new offerings; top five lists won’t cut it any longer. So the question becomes: how can legal researchers find out about relevant apps and keep up with all of the new ones that are being introduced?
Currently, there are a number of resources including app stores, app search engines, legal publisher websites, and legal technology blogs and websites that can help with this endeavor.
The most direct way to find and download apps is through the official app stores themselves. Each of the mobile device platforms has an app store. The iTunes App Store contains apps for devices running the iOS operating system, including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The Google Play store, formerly known as the Android Market, has apps for the multitude of devices using the Android operating system. Platforms with smaller numbers of apps have stores as well: BlackBerry has BlackBerry App World, and Windows Phone has Microsoft’s Marketplace.
The app stores allow mobile device users to browse for apps by category. However, the categories are typically very broad. They often include areas such as Business, Reference, and Productivity, three examples that may contain apps of interest to legal professionals. Unfortunately, at this point, none of the stores appear to have a specific category for legal apps.
The app stores also allow users to search for apps by keyword. This feature is most helpful when the user already knows the name of the app he or she is trying to find, as it can be more difficult to find relevant apps in the app stores without such information. These app store search deficiencies have often been criticized by users.
Once a user finds a potentially relevant app, the stores contain some helpful information for evaluating an app. They provide descriptions of the apps, often with screenshots, as well as reviews from people who have downloaded the app.
App Search Engines
Dissatisfaction with the search capabilities of the app stores has led to the development of app search engines. A variety of app search engines are available, some of which search for apps specific to one platform and others that search across platforms. For instance, Yahoo App Search searches for both iOS and Android apps, while AndroidZoom focuses on Android apps.
The app search engines have developed various search algorithms to make keyword searching for apps easier and more effective. In addition, once the user runs a search, the search engines typically have post-search filters to help with refining the results. For example, Yahoo App Search allows users to filter by price and category, while AndroidZoom adds the ability to limit results to just those apps with reviews or updates.
A couple of app search engines, Chomp and Quixey, go a bit further to help users find the apps they really want. Both describe themselves as functional search engines. This means that their algorithms focus on how users will want to use the app rather than just a few keywords. If you enter “legal research” into their search boxes, currently the first app returned in both is the Fastcase app, which most would agree is highly relevant. The same search in some of the app stores, and even other app search engines, is not always as successful. Chomp, which was recently purchased by Apple, focuses on iOS apps, while Quixey searches across platforms, including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows.
Legal Technology Blogs and Websites
There are also a number of blogs and websites that focus on legal technology and mobile applications for legal professionals. These are important resources as well because they can serve as current awareness tools to alert users to new and upcoming apps. For instance, the Law Technology News website, part of the Law.com network, provides updates about new legal technology and apps in the Mobile Lawyer section of the website.
Another advantage of legal technology websites and blogs is that they often have reviews of apps that are much more in-depth than the reviews found in the app stores and app search engines. The iPhone J.D. blog is a good example of this. It provides lengthy app reviews along with screenshots to help users determine if an app is right for them. A great feature of this blog is the Index to Prior Posts that lists the 250 or so apps it has reviewed in the past few years along with a link to each post.
Legal Publisher Websites
Legal publisher websites are another good place to find legal apps. The major legal publishers, such as Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg BNA, have all created websites dedicated to their mobile products. Because these vendors focus on legal information, it is only natural to keep an eye on their offerings as they continue to develop apps. The LexisNexis Mobile Solutions website, for instance, provides information about the apps LexisNexis has for Legal Research, News & Emerging Issues, and Practice Management & Marketing.
The U.S. government is another important legal information publisher, and it also has been busy developing apps. Some of these apps are of interest for legal professionals, though it is important to keep in mind that many of them are geared toward the general public. These government apps can be found on the USA.gov Mobile Apps Gallery. Currently, this website lists apps for iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices.
A couple of other resources for finding legal apps are also worth mentioning. Infosources Publishing has created a searchable directory of legal apps called Mobile Apps for Law. It is important to note, however, that the directory is not free; a subscription is required. Nevertheless, the website does provide a free RSS feed that alerts users to every app that is added to the database.
Finally, some law librarians have also been busy creating legal app research guides. The UCLA Law Library has put together a great example. It contains information about apps from a variety of platforms regarding legal research and news, law school and bar study, and productivity, as well as a section on fun apps.
Emily Lawson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is reference/research librarian at University of Houston Law Center’s O’Quinn Law Library.