Monday, November 18, 2013

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #6: Bloomberg Law Reports

Bloomberg Law is new to the legal research arena, and it does not yet have a mobile app version of its search platform. What Bloomberg Law does have is a current awareness app--Bloomberg Law Reports.

Bloomberg Law Reports acts as a reader for Bloomberg's BNA Law Reports on iOS mobile devices (Bloomberg Law has not released a version of the app for other platforms such as Android). To use the app, you must first log into Bloomberg Law and access your Bloomberg BNA email notifications. The app provides a link to the email notifications page, but you cannot manage the notifications from within the app.

The email notifications page provides a list of the law reports available through your Bloomberg Law subscription. To make a report available in the app, you must add it to your current notifications using the blue "Set Notification" button next to the report. Once you set the notification for a report, the report will appear in the app. The report will also be listed under "Current Notifications" on the email notifications page. To remove a report from the app, access the email notifications page and click on the red X next to the report under "Current Notifications."

Once you have loaded some reports, the Bloomberg Law Reports app works like an RSS reader. Each report is listed as a separate feed, and the app indicates how many unread articles are in each report. When you access a report, an article displays in the reading pane, and you can move between articles by swiping left and right or by choosing from a list of article headlines. Once you view an article in the reading pane, the app marks it as read.

You can choose to browse all the articles in a report, or you can search the articles by keyword. The search can be useful if you are interested in a subset of a report's topic. For instance, I receive the Patent, Trademark, & Copyright Law Daily Report, but I am only interested in copyright news. The search function saves me the time of browsing through all of the headlines for just copyright articles, and it finds me articles I would have overlooked in browsing because the headlines don't mention a copyright issue.

The Bloomberg Law Reports app has several drawbacks. The first is specific to Western New England School of Law. The app cannot access Bloomberg's servers through the law school's wireless network. If you are on our campus, you will not be able to update the content in the app via WiFi. You can still use the app to read articles that you have already downloaded, since the app is designed to automatically store between 20 and 200 articles for offline reading. The connectivity issue is probably related to law school's network configuration, so I don't put the blame on Bloomberg. But the issue does affect my willingness to use the app because it limits the currentness of the articles I see.

A bigger issue with the app is the way it is integrated into Bloomberg Law's notification system. Bloomberg Law primary supplies notifications is through email. The app sits on top of the email notification system almost as an afterthought. When you set the notification for a report, you automatically subscribe to the report's email list. Bloomberg Law does not provide a way to receive notifications via the app without also receiving the same notifications via email. Since my main reason to use such an app is to replace email notifications, the required duel delivery makes the app redundant. 

The app as an individual program is great--simple, visually clean, and effective. But the concept of the app falls flat. Why do I need a dedicated Bloomberg Law app to mimic an RSS reader when I already have an RSS reader? Bloomberg Law should have put its effort into providing RSS feeds of its BNA Law Reports. An RSS feed would allow me to use my own reader on any platform and free me from the email notifications. The app is great, but Bloomberg Law had better options available for delivering its content.

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