I reviewed the 1.0 version of the LawBox app last October, and at the time, I thought that the app was already useful but also had a lot of potential. It was a free app containing many sources of law, such as federal rules, plus the app allowed you to download additional paid content, plus the app served as a news reader. At ABA TECHSHOW earlier this year, I met with the developer, Nicholas Zeltzer, and he showed me some of the ideas that he was planning for the 2.0 version of this app. Version 2.0 is now available in the App Store, and I must admit that I'm a little overwhelmed by all that this very ambitious free app can do.
First, just like in the 2.0 version, you get lots of law included in this app for free: the federal rules of appellate, bankruptcy, civil and criminal procedure, the federal rules of evidence the U.S. Constitution, and Title 28 of the U.S. Code. That is a heck of a lot of law in one app, and again, this is free. But Zeltzer hopes that you will tap the plus button at the top right of the Index screen to purchase additional state law, right now from California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas, or additional titles of the U.S. Code. Each statutory title costs $0.99, which can add up if you want to purchase the entire statutory scheme, but it cheap if you just want to grab the titles that you use the most often.
Just like before, the app includes a helpful search feature that can search by content or even by title. But you start to see some of the power of the 2.0 version of this app when you double tap on a rule, which brings up what the app calls a "Slip Bar" on the left, a context-sensitive bar that allows you to do many different things. In the below screens, for example, I searched the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the word "deposition" and then tapped on Rule 32. The search terms are highlighted in red. (Any rules highlighted in yellow are links to those rules.) Once I double tap, the screen darkens and the Slip Bar gives me several options. I can tap the @ to send an e-mail with the text of the rule, I can tap the target icon to advance to each subsequent instance of the search term "deposition," I can tap the bubble icon to see the official Comments to the rule, I can tap the arrow to see a list of rules around the current rule, and I can tap the star to add this rule to my favorites.
The app also has a new feature called Flip Wiki, which allows you to jot down notes on any rule (or news story when you use the News function). If you make your note public, other users of the app can see your note, and you can see notes jotted down by others. Zeltzer is also working on a way to only share Flip Wikis with users that you designate, so for example you can share notes with just your law partners. I don't know how often people will use the Flip Wiki feature but it is interesting to bring a social media element into a legal reference app.
I'm really just scratching the surface on what this app can do, and because I can't begin to do this app justice, forgive me if I turn over this post to the developer, Nicholas Zeltzer, for a moment. The following is based on an e-mail written to me by Zeltzer, so these are his words, not mine. However, I edited down his words for this post, so if anything is unclear, blame me for my edits, not Zeltzer:
- The New Search Engine. This engine is fast, fast, fast and allows for booleans, phrases and stemming. It's also context-sensitive, meaning that what you search depends on where you are; tap the search button from within a section and your search screen and results will be limited to statutes from that section. This allows you to narrow down your search results before you even begin the search process, and simultaneously provides a convenient way to browse code sections (as the code hierarchy is flattened on the search screen).
- AutoLinks. This is a piece of "best-guess" technology that works surprisingly well. Every time you view a statute, the software will scan the document and attempt to identify references to other statutes in the same code, or even in other codes, and create links between them. If the referenced code isn't on the device, the app will contact the LawBox server to determine whether or not it is available for download.
- Slip Bars. That's our fancy name for the slide-in, slide-out utility bars that appear on double taps when you're reading content. Like everything else in the app, they're context sensitive, with different buttons and tools depending on what sort of content you're looking at. They're also handy space savers, as they're only on screen when you need them.
- Swipe Cells. Just like Slip Bars, these utility menus allow you to act on content. They appear when you swipe to the right across a news story cell. (Swiping to the left reveals the delete button).
- Built-in Web browser. This really shines on the iPad, which has a much, much more robust web toolkit and increased browsing speed. Using the browser, you can follow links from downloaded articles (and statutes, where available) out on the internet. And using the browser's slip bar, email, tweet, post, save, etc. You can also use the browser to submit new news feeds to the community feed pool, if you happen to stumble across a compatible website while you're out there.
- Favorites. There is a new Favorites Index that, in combination with the "add favorite" button, allows you to browse news stories and statutes that you've starred as favorites. The Favorites Index is sorted by feed/statute.
- New Store. It's already stocked with California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Texas, and some federal content. As the new content browser can -- theoretically -- handle any size data set, we'll be adding content to the store rapidly.
- News Index and Pools. We finally have a working community/personal feeds setup (still toying with the idea of Google Reader compatibility), so you can browse feeds submitted by other users, or submit your own feeds to the community pool, or your personal, private feeds list. This works well with the built-in web browser, because users can now submit feeds from within the app, from any site they visit, without having to type in feed URLs, or mess around with submission forms.
- The News Browser. Rewritten from scratch, it's faster, provides multiple view modes, and features a nifty new live-update stream, whereby stories appear as they're downloaded — allowing you to get to the reading immediately, without having to wait for the parsing process to finish.
- The FlipWiki. The FlipWiki allows you to make public or private notes on content (statutes, rules, news stories, etc).
- Context-Sensitive Help. Tap three fingers on the screen from anywhere in the app to bring up a settings menu that includes a help page for the particular screen you're viewing. You can also use this control panel to adjust most of the app's settings from within the application.
- iPad support. Primitive at this point, but it's there. LawBox is a universal app, and everything is tied to the user's LawBox account, which means that a user can download their purchased content to both their iPad and iPhone without having to purchase it again. Our next update will feature much improved text layout for the iPad, and we'll be able to carry that back to the iPhone when OS 4.0 comes out.
- 3rd-Party APIs. We're still social media friendly, and we've added Facebook to the mix.
- Extensibility. This is really the greatest feature: LawBox 2.0 is an entirely new application. The first version was a nice little utility, but it wasn't going to scale well. We went back to the drawing board and started over with an eye on building something that could really be built upon. We succeeded: the app is now a genuine content platform, and there's a lot going on under the surface that we haven't had time to bring to the foreground yet. (This also means an end to the six-month update/content drought that plagued the first version).
Obviously, LawBox 2.0 goes far beyond what any other legal reference app has ever tried to do on the iPhone. You might even think that it is too much. For example, I prefer to use a news reader app like NetNewsWire which syncs with Google Reader so I don't think that I will make much use of the RSS news feeds in this app, but having said that, it was interesting to see the extensive list of hand-selected legal news sites that are included in this app. But even if you don't use all of the advanced features in this sophisticated app right away, LawBox is still just a great and free source for the federal rules that many of us use all the time. Thus, I highly recommend that all attorneys check out this app.