Calculating dates is important for any litigator. There are several apps that let you take one date and then add a certain number of days to it. (My favorite remains the very simple DaysFrom which is only a buck.) More advanced calculators let you take into account legal holidays, and the sophisticated Court Days Pro calculates dates based on sophisticated rules that you establish. Smart Dockets is a new app from American LegalNet, Inc. that knows the court rules on calculating dates for a number of state and federal jurisdictions. The app is free and the idea is great, although the app's execution leaves something to be desired.
When you start the app, you'll see that you are required to sign up for a free account, and you are asked for a lot of personal information including your phone number, your email address, your firm name and size, etc. You need to provide an accurate email address, but the app does not appear to check any of the other information. (For example, the phone number I provided was 555-555-5555 and that worked fine.)
Once you are logged in, you are presented with the main screen, the Event Calculator. You start by selecting a court rule set. The app may well have all 50 states, but I couldn't easily tell because the list is not in any order that I can make sense of. Fortunately, you can start to enter the name of the jurisdiction and matches will pop up, which saves you the trouble of wading through the entire, unorganized list. In addition to many state and federal courts, dates from other rule sets are included such as the AAA arbitration rules, rules for the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, etc.
Next you select a trigger type. Again, the list is long and organized, so use the search field at the top to find something. For this example, I am assuming that I have a hearing on a motion in Louisiana state court. I know that many dates are calculated once you have a hearing date, such as a memorandum in opposition being due eight days before. After selecting the trigger type, you then select the date for that trigger type.
You can next enter a case number, matter number and case title if you want, but you don't have to do so. There are more interface problems here. For example, if you tap the Case Title field and start to type a case name, the keyboard covers up the field in which you are typing, so you cannot see what you are typing. Obvious bugs like that make you question whether this feature was even tested before the app was submitted to the App Store.
Finally, tap the Generate Events button. This will give you a full list of events that result from your trigger event. If you turn on a button called Show Rule ID, the app will give you a cite for each event so that you can double-check the calculation. I encourage you to do so. You must accept terms and conditions before you first use the app, and one of them is: "You agree not to rely, in any way, on ALN’s SMART DOCKETS Court Rules and Software and the ALN website to assist You in complying with any court’s rule(s)." — which is somewhat humorous considering that is the whole purpose of the app, but I understand that the app developer just doesn't want to get sued over calculations that they are providing for free.
For example, in my test, with an Oct. 29 hearing date, I know that an opposition is due eight days before, but that would be a Sunday so the app correctly bumps back two more days to Friday, October 19. And the app shows many other dates that I might not have thought of. For example, you can see in the next screen that the app tells me that the deadline to move to recuse the judge is Friday, October 26, and the app gives me a cite to La. C.C.P. art. 154. That rule simply says that a motion to recuse shall be filed prior to the hearing, so I suppose calendaring a deadline of one business day before the hearing makes some sense.
At the bottom of the report screen, you are given three options. First, you can send an email to yourself with the contents of your report in the body of the email in HTML format. Second, you can send an email to yourself with the report attached as a PDF file. Both report types are very nicely formatted and easy to read. Here is what the PDF report looks like (click to see larger):
The third option at the bottom of the report is called "Email Invites." To use this option, select one or more of the events in the list and then tap the button. The app will email to you a .ics file that you can open in Outlook and many other programs to add the event(s) to your calendar.
One last thing that this app can do is simple date calculation. On the main screen, ignore all of the fields and just tap the Quick Date Calculator button at the bottom left. Enter a start date and then count forward or backwards a number of days, with options on what to do when the date falls on a weekend.
The app also works on the iPad, but again I ran into some problems with the interface, such as needing to tap in several different places to get the app to accept entries. Also, on the iPad, you are limited to using the app in portrait mode.
If you are using this app on an iPad, keep in mind that you can do everything that the app does on the Smart Dockets website, which you can access in Safari on the iPad in landscape or portrait mode.
As you can tell, I am disappointed with the interface on this app, especially on the iPad, but when it comes to the substance, this app is quite useful. The app contains court rules from a large number of jurisdictions, and because you can turn on the option to see cites to rules, it is easy to do a calculation and then check the rule itself to double-check the app's calculation. Calculating legal deadlines is incredibly important — I have seen a mistake in calculating an appeal deadline lead to a multi-million dollar malpractice lawsuit — so anything that helps you measure twice before you cut once seems like a good idea to me. Hopefully the developer will update the app with a better interface, but the hard part for an app like this is getting the content, and the app seems to have that covered quite well. Considering that the app is free, you might as well download it to add it to your arsenal of useful apps — unless you have a problem providing the personal information requested.