Apps in Legal Education

Warning: This post is not all that high-tech, but I did have the opportunity to give an interesting lecture the other day, and I thought I would share my experiences!

Our (Indiana University Maurer School of Law) Advanced Legal Research course is relatively new, so the structure of the curriculum is somewhat fluid.  While most lectures cover traditional legal research topics – cases, statutes, legislative history, treaties, etc. – there was a little space in the curriculum for some alternative lecture topics.  Last semester, for example, a colleague and I co-taught a lecture on free and low-cost legal research resources.  This semester, I had the opportunity to give a lecture on legal research apps.  And the experience was pretty terrific.

We wanted to try an apps lecture given the likelihood that our students will practice in a legal world that will increasingly move to paperless.  And since our vendors had mentioned that they do not teach students their apps, because they’re “self-explanatory,” I saw an opportunity for a practical, informal discussion with the students about how mobile research and mobile law practice might look.  Because our class is almost entirely 3Ls, the timing of this lecture, at the end of their final semester, seemed appropriate.

In this first iteration of the lecture, I kept things pretty simple, focusing on the WestlawNext app, the Lexis Advance app, the Bloomberg Law app, and the HeinOnline app.  I then referred them to research guides on law apps, good law tech blogs to follow, and a few articles.  As a guest lecture, there were no assignments; it was just an opportunity to provide a little advice on a subject that they were unlikely to touch on in any of their other courses.

And the reaction, overall, was very positive.  It’s a small course, with only fifteen students, and the majority appeared deeply engaged with the demo.  The librarian in me couldn’t help but furnish them with a handout, which I limited to bulleted pros and cons lists for each demoed app, as well as a recommended readings and blogs list.  I thought I would get a lot of smirks about sharing a paper handout at a lecture on going paperless, but I noticed that many of the students were jotting down notes on the handout as the lecture progressed, so in the end I was glad that my librarian tendencies had prevailed.  I even had students coming up to me afterward to ask questions, not only about legal research and practice apps, but also about cloud case management software, like Clio.  Having only held my position as Educational Technology Librarian for a couple of years, this positive reaction was very affirming for me – it’s so hard to exact enthusiasm from law students sometimes!

My geek-out moment came at the beginning of class, when, for the first time, I used my Lightning-to-VGA adapter to plug my iPad into the classroom technology cart.  As was intended, this allowed me to project my iPad, rather than having to use the document camera for the same purpose.  I had seen this done in vendor demonstrations at conferences, but doing it myself for the first time was a geekily blissful moment for me!

I have plans to replicate this lecture for the fall, and I hope to structure it similarly, but I would like to take it further.  For instance, I did not actually show any law practice apps, such as for managing depositions, displaying courtroom exhibits, etc.  We talked about them, and I showed them the page in my legal app research guide that lists several, but I couldn’t go any further in-depth without purchasing the apps, and some can be quite expensive.  So for next semester’s lecture, I hope to at least find some short demos of these legal practice apps that I can show in class, or perhaps even talk to the developers and see if there is a way to get their app for free, or at a reduced rate at the very least.  From the reaction I received, there is clearly interest in this subject, and the more I can show them, the better.  This presentation will undoubtedly expand to other audiences as well, such as my colleagues in the library and perhaps a lunchtime brown-bag for students who are not in ALR.  I might eventually do a similar presentation for the faculty as well, given how often many of them are traveling to and from conferences.

I am certain I am not the first librarian to give an apps lecture, so if you have given a lecture like this and have any suggestions, pass them along!  I would love to hear about what apps you have demoed and for what audience, what kind of reaction you have received, and whether you know of a strategy for procuring some of the paid law practice apps for educational purposes.  Comment on this post, or contact me directly –  Thanks!






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