Canadian Legal Apps, Deux

What is a legal app?  I touched on some legal research apps years ago for my book Finding & Managing Legal Information.  The topic arose again recently and I think the landscape has changed enough that it’s worth a second look.  In particular, because I don’t think legal app is actually a very clear description.

As I’ve written on this blog, I don’t see #legaltech as a monolith.  There are technologies developed for practing legal professionals, lawyers and the growing ranks of navigators, paralegals, and technicians who may be helping others with legal issues.  There are technologies developed for the person handling their own legal issue.  There’s the amorphous legal information scope, in which guides, handbooks, legal research, and other information sources are dropped.

I’m linking to some apps below that exist in the Google Play Android store.  It’s not intended to be comprehensive – there may be other apps, especially ones that are only in the iTunes world – and there needs to be some Canadian nexus.

What is a Legal App?

A failure to be clear leads to claims I’ve seen that there are only a half dozen legal apps in Canada.  That’s nonsense.  It may be true with a narrower definition.  But there are plenty of apps that have existed or still do in Canada.  And there’s the grey area of legal information delivered through non-legal apps and web apps.

A good example of the latter are the ebooks you can get through your public library.  Overdrive (or Libby, it’s app) isn’t legal specific.  But the Community Legal Education Ontario has its web content in epub format along with other self-guided Canadian divorce books.  A person might not see them – Toronto Public Library’s Overdrive doesn’t contain the books, but the Ontario library consortium that my local public library belongs to has them – unless the library subscribes to the content.

Free legal information e-books through the Overdrive app for Ontario readers

So, is Overdrive a legal app?  Other Canadian apps I’d put in this category of legal information:

There are also apps, like this Ontario Highway Traffic Act app, that are are no longer maintained.  Or apps, like Alberta Legal Information Society‘s LegalAve, that are no longer funded.  And never forget apps that no longer exist, including WiseLII.

Legal information apps are, I think, a toss up.  Many of these resources have started out as web pages and could remain so.  The app either provides a mobile experience the web site can’t, or it adds some minimal functionality and convenience – and product placement – that the web site can’t, as it’s mostly out of sight, out of mind.  Anyone doing legal research is probably using the mobile friendly web sites of CanLII, Thomson Reuters Westlaw Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or Vlex Canada.

Practice Oriented Apps

This is easier.  These apps assume you’re somewhat proficient in an area of law.  Or else you’re a career criminal or extremely litigious.  Successful apps in this category are going to be productivity based, and need to create the expectation that the legal pro will carry them all the time.  Examples include:

Again, we’ve seen some apps rise and fall.  Standin is a good example, an app that enabled lawyers to get other lawyers to stand in for them if they were running late in one court.

But since most technology that lawyers use isn’t legal specific, I’d be surprised if this is ever a large area of apps.  Most lawyers will be using the same business apps any other business owner has.

General Legal Apps

This area is crammed with law firm vanity apps, essentially app business cards.  I’m always surprised that lawyers pay for this sort of thing, and can only assume they don’t look at business conversions.  But there are apps geared towards someone figuring out if they’ve got a problem and if they can solve it themselves.

Final Thoughts

There are an awful lot of apps for lawyers and containing legal information.  I was surprised at how many are still in an app store and yet are no longer maintained.  If it wasn’t already hard enough getting correct legal information to people to solve their legal problems, this won’t help.  Any law firm considering an app should make sure they’ve really thought out what narrow audience they want to reach and how they’re going to measure their success.  It’s not clear to me that a mobile web site wouldn’t be better for most lawyers.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.