Monday, February 3, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #10: AllLaw

AllLaw (iOS) is the second of the "free" code library apps that I have investigated. Like LawBox, it offers collections of federal and state laws for purchase from within a free app.

The Good
AllLaw offers a large amount of content. Its library includes statutes for 47 states (including Massachusetts); federal statutes, regulations, and court rules; U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Tax Court opinions; and a legal dictionary. The state statutes are available for $5.99 each, the federal regulations and Supreme Court cases for $9.99 each. Or you can purchase the entire AllLaw library for $99.99.

While much of the content requires a purchase, the federal rules, federal statutes, tax court opinions, and legal dictionary are all free. This is an extensive collection of free material, making the app stand out against the competition such as LawBox.

AllLaw's content is broken up into five collections: state laws, federal law, federal rules, court cases, and the legal dictionary. Select a collection, and you bring up a table of contents and a search button. The table of contents is a hierachy: selecting a heading opens up a new table of contents of subheadings, until you reach the text itself. For example, I selected Federal Laws and was given the option of the U.S. Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, or the Federal Register. I chose the U.S. Code, which opened a list of code titles. Selecting a title opened a list of the chapters in the title, then subchapters, until I reached a list of code sections. When I selected a code section, the text of the section appeared.

At any level of the table of contents, AllLaw allows you to run a search. The search is limited to the content covered by the current table of contents (e.g., searching the list of code titles search the contents of every title, but searching the table of contents for Title 17 searches only Title 17). When you are viewing the text of a section, the search locates and highlights terms within that section.

 From within a section of text, you can email the text or create a bookmark for easy return at a later date. And of course you can scroll through the section to read it.

The Bad
AllLaw delivers content, but it does not provide much information about the content. It does not indicate how current the statutes are, and the source of the legal dictionary is a mystery. The omission of currency notes hurts AllLaw's viability as a reference source--any information must be double-checked against a copy of the current code.

AllLaw also provides few features to go with its content. The app offers no highlighting or annotating functionality. You cannot even copy the text and paste it into another app. And you cannot page between sections of the codes. To move from a given section to the preceding or following section, you must go back to the table of contents and select the new section from there.

The search function, while a good idea, is not developed enough. The search results list only the name and number of the section for each hit. So if you search the entire united states code, you cannot tell which titles particular search hits are located in.

The text of the sections doesn't include any way-finding information either, so if you don't navigate to a section using the table of contents, there is no way to know where you are within the particular code or book.

Another weaknesss of AllLaw is that it does not download the actual content to your device. Everything is located on the cloud. As a general matter, cloud storage is a good approach, but AllLaw does not allow even selective downloading of content. Users cannot access any content while offline.

The Bottom Line
AllLaw doesn't make the cut to remain on my device. It has some good content, but the features are too meager to justify using AllLaw to access that content. All of the free content, and much of the paid content, is freely available Online. Since AllLaw requires that I be connected to the Internet, I can use my mobile browser to access the content anywhere I can use the app. Websites such as Cornell's Legal Information Institute deliver large code libraries complete with currency information and robust searching. AllLaw simply isn't competitive.

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