Discipline-Specific Tools: The Law of the Land

Scales of JusticeDo you read legal thrillers?   They are one of the genres I enjoy.  Tracking down productivity tools and sources used by lawyers and legal students may not be as exciting,  but has more utility!

My university does not have a law school,  but does have a pre-law program in the School of Public Policy (one of my liaison responsibilities) ,  so I have created a guide to legal resources.   For that reason I try to keep an eye out for useful resources.   One is the blog Law Sites,  by Robert Ambrogi.   Much of his blog deals with technology resources for practicing lawyers.   Many of those resources are fee-based,  and while he doesn’t often mention price I always assume they are expensive.   Nevertheless,  he also points to resources that are free or less expensive.   One theme I have seen on several of the sites consulted was how to improve the quality of legal resources to the poor.   Ambrogi had a post on A2J Author,  which has been available as a standalone Windows software package for a decade.   It is now available on the web (requires registering for an account),  and is “a tool used by legal aid programs and others to create automated guided interviews to guide individuals in need of legal help” .   It is not meant to replace lawyers,  but to help these usually overburdened and resource poor legal aid attorneys to maximize their efficiency.

A site with a similar focus is the Program for Legal Tech + Design,  based at Stanford.  Their mission includes public service “We are building Access to Justice tools,  to bring law to ordinary people – to engage,  educate,  and empower them), education,  and research. Students and fellows work on a variety of design projects,  such as an open source text messaging service to remind people with an upcoming court date of the day, time, and location.   Their first target is juveniles, who have a particularly high rate of failure to appear, which subjects them to fines and/or arrest.

The Legal Tech + Design group also held a two-day event to design legal communication tools, attended by law,  engineering,  and humanities students.   The first day taught design principles and discussed communication techniques.   The second day the students broke into groups and came up with prototypes of communicating legal language to consumers,  then went out to find volunteers who tried out their designs.

Similarly,  hackathons are events in which a group of volunteers,  meeting either in real life or virtually,  design apps over a short period,  usually a weekend.   Ambrogi mentions a hackathon called Hackaccess held at a recent American Bar Association (ABA) meeting.   The winner was William Palin,  who designed an iOS app for creating health proxies or living wills (PaperHealth)  and who had previously created an app called Paperwork which helps create forms used in family law such as divorce or change of name forms.  There is even a website called LegalHackathon.org.   All of this feeds into the topic of another of Ambrogi’s posts that in 20 years of writing about legal technology he has never seen as high a level of innovation as he is seeing now.   He wrote this after attending a conference called ReInvent Law NYC,  where 36 entrepreneurs presented on their ideas or products.

So with all this going on,  what are lawyers and legal students using today to increase their productivity?  As you might expect,  they use many of the same products as everyone else is using.   Evernote is mentioned often.   In fact,  Rocket Matter,  a firm that produces legal practice management software,  put out an 18-page PDF called Cloud Planet: A Lawyer’s Guide to Evernote.   It is a basic guide,  nothing new for the experienced Evernote user.   Its lengthiest discussion is on security,  not surprising since lawyers deal with so much confidential information.   Rocket Matter considers their practice management product a productivity tool,  and they have a blog called Legal Productivity.   It discusses a wide variety of topics from what to expect from the new Apple devices to free sources of graphics to blogging tips to website metrics.

Rocket Matter isn’t alone.   Rival company My Case,  which also sells legal practice management software,  has a blog with a category for productivity.   One post on top iPad tips for lawyers has some general productivity apps,  but a couple that are for trial presentations,  Trialpad and Exhibit View.  Another post was on tips for using Google that had at least one I had not heard of,  which allows you to create an alarm.   Type “set timer 25 minutes” (perfect for a Pomodoro!) or any other amount of time.

The lawyer who wrote the post on Google tips has her own blog,  The Inspired Lawyer.   She writes on a variety of productivity tips and tools,  including such things as work-life balance.   One post many of us can use contains tips on dealing with what she calls “rabbit holes”  – web sites that you start reading only to look up and realize how much time you have spent on nothing useful,  sites such as Buzzfeed or Facebook. She also does links roundup posts,  called “Links I Like” which made me empathize with her immediately.  🙂

Another legal blog with a category for productivity is Family Law Lawyer Tech and Practice,  by John Harding.   He includes reviews of software and hardware,  mentions new technology available,  and more.

Sites more specific to law school and law students include the Center for Legal Pedagogy‘s page on time management and productivity tools for law school and bar study.   It links to a number of tools in various categories including time management and productivity,  focus tools,  to-do lists and task management tools,  and organization.  Harvard Law School Library has a guide to mobile apps which has a page for productivity tools  Topics include apps for to-do lists,  notes,  scanning,  and more.   Kincaid C.  Brown of the University of Michigan’s law school library has a short PDF called Make Your Life Easier: Free Online Productivity Tools and Resources.  The items listed are primarily Firefox add-ons,  and are mostly general tools such as Zotero,  but there are a couple specific to law.    One is Jureeka! which,  when browsing a web page,  provides links to the full text of free sources of such legal texts as federal statutes,  caselaw,  regulations,  and more.   The other is CiteGenie,  which can provide bibliographic citations in either Bluebook or ALWD style for legal materials.

This is a whirlwind tour of sites for productivity tips and tools for legal study and practice.   If you have your own favorites,  please add them in a comment

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