Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Dragon DictationHas this ever happened to you? You are out and about and out of nowhere you think of just the right words for that document you've been drafting at work. This happens to me all the time and by the time I am able to jot them down, I've forgotten them. That's why I like the Dragon Dictation app by Nuance Communications. Just speak into this free voice recognition application to create texts, email messages, notes, and reminders. You can update your social media status too.

This app works on devices with at least OS 4.0 and iTunes 9 operating systems. There are several languages to pick from, but keep in mind that recognition accuracy is best for native speakers of the language. One nice feature is that recognition gets better over time. Note: tech support is only available in English at this time.

iPad Screenshot 1 Helpful tips

  • In order to add punctuation, just speak it. For example, "Dear John comma."
  • Similarly, speak text commands like "next paragraph" or "new line." 
  • Instead of tapping the "done" button, you can have Dragon Dictation detect when you are done speaking by turning on the "detect end-of-speech" option. 

While Dragon Dictation is a great tool, it is not perfect. The application has a limited recording time (60 seconds) before the information automatically gets processed, and there is no audible signal to let you know when it shifts from recording to processing. A number of reviews mentioned that this makes it less than ideal while driving because you do not know when to stop talking so you do not lose any information. Another factor to consider while driving is that this app requires devices be connected to the internet in order for it to work.

Despite these limitations, Dragon Dictation is definitely worth a try.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Keeping Solo Practitioners in Mind

I was perusing a Law Library Journal the other day when I came upon an article of interest: "What about the Majority? Considering the Legal Research Practices of Solo and Small Firm Attorneys" by Joseph D. Lawson, Deputy Director of the Harris County Law Library in Houston, Texas.

Specifically, it discussed the use of fee-based resources by practicing attorneys. The author in the past had expressed concern about the research needs of solo practitioners, since they were often underrepresented in surveys. Working at a library that was open to the public and used by many attorneys unaffiliated with a firm, meeting their needs was of substantial importance. Interestingly, he found that as of 2005, 49% of all private practicing attorneys in the US were solo practitioners. However, when the American Association of Law Libraries conducted a survey on practitioners "understanding how practicing attorneys conduct legal research," solo practitioners comprised only 13.77% of the sample population. These survey results may have unintentionally favored the needs of attorneys working at law firms.

Another survey was conducted by the Ford Bend County Bar association to collect data from its local members. In order to generate a higher response rate, the questionnaire was distributed with the annual election ballot; more than 50% of respondents in this case were solo practitioners. These respondents reported similar usage of print and free online resources as the ones from the national survey, but reported using fee-based sources far less frequently. In fact, 42% of local respondents reported that they never or rarely used fee-based resources.

There are, of course, implications of this study for law libraries that are used heavily by practicing attorneys. The article concludes that in order to understand how attorneys conduct legal research, attention must be paid to the behaviors of solo practitioners. Library response to their needs should come in the form of providing access to fee-based online sources, especially expensive databases that are often cost prohibitive for solo practitioners and attorneys are small firms.

At my own library, I've noticed a number of professionals who've come in, relieved to find that they can access a lite version of Westlaw (called "Westlaw Campus Research"). The ability to search cases and statutes, as well as to generate KeyCite reports, is an invaluable resource for them. Keeping their needs in mind should be a key part of the mission of any law library.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"National" Holidays

I'd like to share some insight with you: we are a nation that likes to celebrate everything. With Presidents' Day right around the corner, it seems like the beginning of the year is full of national holidays. I'll admit that I am one of the last people to notice things, but lately I've noticed an unusual number of celebratory days.

How easy is it to make something a national holiday? Perhaps I've missed something, but I thought Congress had to pass a law for there to be a national holiday. Well, if they can't agree on the budget, it's nice to see that they agree to not "cry over spilled milk."
I guess they do not mean THAT Peppermint Patty

After a little research, I found that the majority of these "national days" are not enacted laws. In fact, the list of days that are recognized as official national holidays or observances is fairly small. Like all legislation, a bill to create a new federal holiday must go through committees and be approved by both chambers of Congress before being signed into law by the President. Congressional Research Service has several detailed reports on federal holidays, including evolution and current practices.

Representative Conyers introduced a bill in 2011 that would have made the "Tuesday next after the first Monday in November in even number years as 'election day'." Unfortunately, the bill did not get very far. It can take years for a day to become a national holiday. Legislation designating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday was first proposed in 1968, but was not signed into law until 1983.

If you have a cause or obsession that you would like to see celebrated, but don't want to wait 15 years to see it happen, you can register a national day via, which explains the uptick in "national" holidays recently.

Why not try to register your own national day? If things don't go as planned, you can always celebrate "Blame Someone Else Day" this Friday the 13th.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wolfram Alpha -- A Computational Search Engine

WolframAlpha is the best search engine you've never heard of—and it’s a wholly different animal from Google and its analogs. Wolfram bills itself as a “computational knowledge engine,” accessing data from other trusted sources to generate answers to user queries; a not-at-all exhaustive list of these sources includes the CIA’s World Factbook, the United States Geological Survey, and the Dow Jones. Using a piece of software called Mathematica, Wolfram Alpha uses this externally sourced data to generate the numbers it spits back out to users. Most of the information evaluated by Wolfram is numerical in form, which means that it’s an excellent resource for scientific, quantitative data, but is less useful for researchers interested in the social sciences or pop culture, for example.

This introduction is all well and good, but you’re probably wondering to yourself: what can Wolfram Alpha do? The answer: a lot.

From the eschatological to the mundane, Wolfram Alpha has it all—or a ton of it, anyway.

Formulating a useful search query can take some getting used to, so it’s a good idea to start out with Wolfram’s own list of examples (screenshot below). Using these, you can find out your own life expectancy (mine is 82.16--not bad), the weather in Paris in December of 1980 (temperatures ranging from 23 to 55 degrees Farenheit), and the population of New York City in 1875 (1.206 million). 

If you’d like to access this from your mobile device, it’s available as an app too on iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle fire, and Windows Phone, though it will cost you a whopping $2.99. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


If your 2015 resolutions include optimizing your legal content service, you may be interested in Bestlaw. This is a free Chrome extension designed by Joe Mornin, a 3L at UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and computer programmer, to enhance productivity in WestlawNext. According to Mornin, the quest for perfect Bluebook format was the driving force behind his ingenuity.

Once installed, Bestlaw adds a toolbar that is accessible when you retrieve a case, statute, or law review article in WestlawNext.

Available features depend on the type of document retrieved, but include copying a perfect Bluebook citation with one click (currently available for reported federal cases), copying the full text with one click, adjusting readability for viewing on mobile devices, and sharing these documents via popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. I would review your licensing agreement before using that last feature, though. Speaking of restrictions on sharing, one feature I found especially useful was the ability to search for the document on free sources, such as Cornell LII and Google Scholar with one click.

As you can see, many of the features involve saving time by reducing tasks to one click or eliminating needless scrolling, such as jumping to footnotes or returning to the top of the document.

While there are some limitations, Bestlaw has received great reviews overall and is worth a test drive.

If you're wondering what's in Mr. Mornin's near future, besides spending countless hours studying for bar exam(s), he is working on versions for Firefox and Lexis.