Law firm library use is down, according to the latest American Bar Association Legal Technology survey. It will be interesting to see if the increase in availability in mobile applications has any additional downward pressure on firm libraries. There has been some initial development in legal research mobile apps but it’s clear that the legal publishers are still trying to figure out how to handle their mobile audience.
This uncertainty is perhaps clearest with the Westlaw mobile resources. Or perhaps it’s not so much uncertainty but that they are trying to be careful to tailor their resources. As this post says, Westlaw is trying to make its content available to all mobile devices, via the wireless.westlaw.com and next.westlaw.com sites. While there is a lot of hype about Apple iPhone apps, Research in Motion’s Blackberry remains the handheld device of choice in law firms. Using mobile Web sites instead of operating-system-limited apps is probably a smart move. This may be especially sensible if the Google Android mobile operating system gains additional ground on smart phones and tablets. Westlaw will be releasing an iPad app later this year so they have all of their bases covered.
Fastcase.com is the other legal publisher that has made great strides in mobile support. In fact, their mobile apps are particularly inviting because they offer free access to the Fastcase.com case law service. Their iPhone app is free to download and offers a “[f]ree, searchable library of American cases and statutes”. How can you go wrong? Unlike many of the other apps that are available, dictionaries and copies of rules, Fastcase’s app takes advantage of network connectivity to access their database of cases. Like Westlaw, they are developing an iPad app that will be released soon.
LexisNexis has an iPhone app and some Blackberry support, BNA has a tax reference app, and CCH is providing e-mail updates combined with search on specific content with products like Employment Law Daily. Other legal publishers seem to have avoided the mobile issue so far, and this may not be a positive position to be in. Many of the current legal research Web sites do not render properly in handheld devices, because they have been built either with a specific Web browser in mind (not one available on a handheld device) or with other technical requirements that some handheld browsers do not replicate in the same way. Mobile apps sidestep that issue, but mobile Web sites are probably the best investment in the long term unless a publisher knows it has a large customer base on a particular device.
If you are contemplating how to do more legal research from your mobile device, your threshold question should be whether you need an iPhone to do the research you want to do. That’s where the app development is currently happening. The alternative is to make sure your handheld or tablet device can render the legal publisher Web sites.