Mobile Legal Research – Notes From the US

Cheryl Niemeier, Director of Knowledge & Research Services at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, started a series of blog posts on legal research apps last week. The post was titled Part 1 – Legal Research in Your Pocket: Fee-based Services and it made me a little bit jealous.

It also made me a little bit nervous and a little bit worried and a little bit puzzled.

Cheryl’s excellent annotated list of research apps includes content that many Canadian law libraries would license, HeinOnline and CCH Intelliconnect. It also contained a lengthy list of sources that would only apply for Canadians with a significant cross-border practice. I am a little jealous of this content. Of course we have WiseLII and a Quicklaw app, and it doesn’t cover things like the eBook apps that our Canadian legal publishers offer, but it is a lengthy list all the same.

Why would someone like me, a law librarian who is quite obviously pretty darn geeky, be nervous, worried and puzzled by a legal research app list. I will explain, and hope to read your comments.

Nervous: Many legal research apps I have seen are a slice of what is available on the full, paid site. For example, the Quicklaw app offers a path to find a case by name or citation only – a small portion of the full service. It makes me nervous to think of lawyers out of the office relying on app service as opposed to using a mobile friendly website for legal research.

Worried: Are we prepared – with training, wifi access, best practices – for the impact of mobile lawyers. As someone who recently supported law firm legal research, would I ask the right question about how someone needs to access information to provide the right tool at the right time. Have we moved from a “do you want a hyperlink or an email attachment” to can I show you how to get than on your Android/Apple/Blackberry/Other device?

Puzzled: I wonder to what extent are lawyers bypassing desktop research in favour of mobile. This is a big question for library budgets that are offset by desktop use of sources where usage is tracked to make purchasing, training, and budget decisions.

What do you think of when someone says mobile legal research – mobile browser accessibility or law via app?


  1. First and foremost thank-you for the retweet and secondly for your thoughtful blog post response. Now on to my reply comments enumerated below:
    1. Nervousness is not necessarily a bad feeling, but no need to be nervous about the apps I profiled, as they do indeed offer the full compliment of content that is avaiable on the desktop versions.
    2. Why worry? If you have not yet embraced mobile yourself for your research as a law librarian then yes, be worried, very worried – for your job that is! But seriously, as law librarians we need to be leading the charge on mobile access and that includes using it, training attorneys on using it, creating best practices etc.
    3. Puzzled? I bet many younger and even older attorneys are bypassing desktop access and doing research on their mobile devices and in my view that is a good thing. And the research done on many of the apps (i.e. WestlawNext and Lexis) is tracked as the use shows up on the billing reports just like the desktop access use does.

    In conclusion, don’t be nervous, worried or puzzled. Rather be bold (i.e. take charge and lead the way), calm and carry out the task, and clear that it is our job as law librarians to do so.