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5 Apps for the lawyer

It's official. The iPhone has come into its own in the legal world. It took a little time, and lawyers are notorious Luddites (you can pry the WordPerfect out of their cold, dead hands) but they do like Bright Shiny Objects, and nothing fills the lapel pocket like an iPhone.

The iPhone finally cracked the law-firm standards stranglehold by virtue of its compatibility with Microsoft Exchange, which freed lawyers from the non-choice of "would you like a Blackberry, or a Blackberry?" Granted, the Blackberry still seems to have a better handle on business needs, but for some, the iPhone is worth getting to know.

It should go without saying -- I will say it, though -- many of the productivity apps that are useful to everybody are useful to lawyers, so two of these apps are not strictly law-related. (See if you can spot them! It's a brain teaser and a post!) Also, certain obvious apps don't exist yet, such as a standalone LexisNexis or WestLaw legal research app. That said, the web will suffice for now. In fact, though I've artificially constrained myself to only standalone applications, the iPhone really shines for accessing web research sites given that Mobile Safari is (mostly) a full-featured browser.

So, without further ado, here are five apps that give a glimpse into what the iPhone can do for attorneys.

1) DataViz's DocumentsToGo. Nobody expects to write a brief or a memorandum from start to finish on an iPhone (though I am waiting for a good enough voice-recognition app so that getting a draft started is feasible), but any legal writing usually goes through more revisions than your average pre-1.0 beta software. Often this happens right as you were planning on leaving for the day.

DocumentsToGo allows you to edit and change documents, as well as email them over Exchange (requires $9.99US Exchange version) to other team members. Of course, iPhone OS 3.0's cut/copy/paste was a prerequisite to making any word processing application workable, but now document editing has become at least moderately feasible. Nothing replaces your desk, covered in open books or a large monitor with LexisNexis or WestLaw opened to 18 different searches, but this gives you just a bit more flexibility and just may save you a panicky trip back to the office at 11:30pm on Saturday night.

2) Thomson Reuters' Blacks Law Dictionary. Despite its staid, milquetoast appearance (a dictionary app? Haven't we progressed beyond this?) it's actually a really great application. All rules and case law are hyperlinked to westlaw.com, which, as I've mentioned, is really quite navigable on the iPhone's Safari browser. At $49.99, it's not inexpensive, but as lawyers know, sometimes only Blacks will do. Will it be your most used application? Probably not. But considering most applications out there are $4.99 and lower, I feel pretty confident it's probably going to be one of your most expensive. Don't expect that decimal place to move to the left any time soon.

3) TimeWerks. Sure, you thought that the iPhone meant you were a free-wheeling, outside-the-box kind of lawyer. But nobody escapes death, taxes, and, if you're a law firm attorney, billable hours. While no programs that I'm aware of can seamlessly sync with firm billing apps, it's a step up from filling out paper billable sheets while you're out of the office.

TimeWerks, $9.99US, will track your projects and time spent in a way that, while not strictly built for lawyers, is user-friendly and versatile, and lets you export a .CSV file that may streamline getting the data to your main billing program. Another program, Billable Hours, was built specifically for attorneys and their crazy six-minute billables, but has not yet gotten robust enough for general endorsement. I haven't tried it, but it doesn't seem very well reviewed. For $2.99US, it may not be a tragedy to try it.

4) Court Days. Sure, you've got a calendar. You can count. We know you're smart. But considering how many of us are still blowing filing deadlines, it stands to reason that some of us just may be arithmetically-challenged. Don't worry, I won't tell if you download this app, but it does just what you might think it does: calculate days before or after any particular deadline so you can file, oppose, brief or reply in time. You pick your jurisdiction so it knows which days are court holidays, and it tells you how many court days you've got. I can't help you with getting that discovery motion filed, but I can make sure you realize it's due to the clerk in three hours.

5) The Law Pod. Not one application, technically, but a suite of six, the Law Pod is another reference-type application that, if you are a Federal litigator, you might like. Each going for $.99US, The Law Pod offers full-text and searchable versions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the U.S. Constitution. Various state-specific apps exist in the app store, so if you're a state litigator, it may behoove you to run a search. And, not to give intellectual property attorneys short shrift, an app called Title 35 gives you similar access to the patent-relevant parts of the United States Code for $2.99US.

The truth is, of course, that the majority of a lawyer's work requires at least a full-screened laptop, but lawyers need not be technophobes, limiting their mobile productivity to email and calls. But I'd sure like to see some developers put the iPhone through its legal paces and devise applications that would fit into the way law firms do their business. This would mean apps that interface with existing billing and client/matter-tracking software, true client-specific document collaboration, and even conflict checking. After a decade of being one of only a few Mac-based lawyers in a very PC-centric profession, it's nice to see the iPhone making inroads. I look forward to a few more law firms taking the Mac plunge because the iPhone led them there. And maybe, just maybe, WordPerfect for Mac will come out of retirement. Nah. Who needs it. It's a beautiful new w....ooh! Shiny Object!

(NB: edited to reflect search feature of Title 35)

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