LawSauce – a new legal app


(By Delia Venables)

LawSauce is written by Ruth Bird (University of Oxford, Bodleian Law Librarian) and Natalie Wieland (Legal Research Skills Adviser, Melbourne Law School). It is an e-resource locator developed to quickly locate the right legal web resource for legal tasks, which can otherwise be a very complex task. LawSauce includes nearly 8,000 records covering case law and legislative sources for many jurisdictions. It is organised by broad geographical region, such as North America or Asia. The sources are then arranged by their jurisdictional location. For the UK and Europe, links are to the EU as well as to each individual country in greater Europe, extending to Russia in the east and Ireland in the west. The app can be downloaded from the Android Store and the iTunes store.

The contents are updated regularly and the user is prompted to sync the database when this happens. This will only take a minute or so and can be deferred.

How LawSauce came to be

(By Ruth Bird)

My friend and colleague Natalie Wieland and I first chatted about the possibilities of creating an app in December 2011. We lamented the ever-growing gap between what is available on the internet for lawyers and the ability to know about it, and locate it, in a timely fashion at the exact moment of need. Our experience of working with lawyers and law students for over 20 years gave us an insight into the shortcuts that might make them feel more in control of the overloaded legal information landscape. (For example, a minor solution was to provide a shortcut for some of these questions via a database on our library website, which I had created back at Melbourne Law School in the 1990s and extended at Oxford but that was limited to law reports and journals, and it was hardly portable).

Natalie runs CPD Interactive in Australia providing online professional development solutions for lawyers. She already had used an IT company to undertake the development work for the interactive courses provided by CPD; the same company also had experience in developing apps for mobile devices. Both Natalie and I have been keen users of technology and its sensible application to facilitate legal research learning and teaching in whatever way we can, and once we started to talk about the idea of an organised legal resource locator, the way it could look and operate started to take shape. When we first talked about the lack of an e-resource locator in the market, we wanted something that was comprehensive and wide ranging in the geographical coverage it provided, so we started from a perceived gap in the legal research area. We were aware that there were apps being created to meet quite specific needs, and we turned our minds to using that technology as the platform that would meet this gap.

Setting a structure

We started with a structure based on a spreadsheet layout, to ensure consistency of data and labelling. We were gathering data on different sides of the world, so we needed to set rules for the sake of long term consistency and usability. Initially we wanted to identify locations for law report series and journals which are provided by key aggregators such as Westlaw and Lexis, but which are frustratingly buried in the design of these enormous resources. At first we thought to list titles and the resource, but then it was a short leap to decide to go further and include jurisdictions, and also the website link for the resource, making the search result on the app far more immediate.

The decision was made early on to extend the range of tasks to legislation, gazettes, law reform commission reports, and treaties, in addition to caselaw and journal sources. Despite starting with lists from subscription databases, the challenge was soon seen as to locate and record as many free sites as we could. And later in the piece we thought the addition of blogs could also be a useful resource.

The technical side

Our development team at DOT Technologies have been fantastic. We provided them with the brief and the first outline of our requirements at the end of February 2012. Right from the outset we asked for the app to be suitable for iOS and for Android, because we could see both platforms being used widely by our students and lawyers.

The developers created a database on the web server, with an interface where we upload the data, and they started on the Android app first. Natalie spent a lot of time and effort on the details for these matters, and there were frustrations along the way. On the technical side, we had to set up accounts with a hosting site, then accounts with Apple Developer, the Apple store and Google Play, as well as an email account. At the same time, we agreed on a name, developed a logo and started to investigate the ways and means of working with the Google Play Android and Apple iTunes App store sites. We decided not to go further with lesser known app providers; Microsoft Surface was not launched when we started and we will wait to see how great the take-up is before we extend our provision. This also applies to other platforms such as Blackberry.

Time was also taken up with seemingly minor things like deciding on wording for the help screen, the colour scheme and the photos on the website Our first look at an almost finished version of the app was in July 2012. The next few months were spent refining and improving various aspects of the look and feel on the screen. This also provided the opportunity to source and evaluate hundreds of additional websites to add to the app.

To charge or not?

We decided early on that we would charge a small fee for the app to recover the development costs. We had planned to make the app a subscription based service, renewable annually, and spent quite a bit of time and effort to embed the technology in the app and the website to accommodate this. However we hit a brick wall when we submitted the app to Apple. They take a percentage of the cost of any app, and a subscription would be out of their control, and they would not reap the financial benefit. So while we could have a subscription for the Android version, we decided that both forms had to be identical in cost and so we abandoned the idea of the subscription. Our rate, $USD4.99, is split with Apple, though not with Google Play (not inconsiderable). However we are looking at options for creating a free version as well, with a charged-for premium version.

Platform blues and going live …

Google Play were easy to deal with. Apple, on the other hand, rejected our app several times, much to our frustration, for what seemed to be fairly arbitrary reasons. One rejection was because we had not specified that the app was in English ”¦ their rule book is quite a complicated document. By mid-December we were starting to fear that Apple would never approve it. Finally, on the 19th of December 2012, 10 months after we started working on it, we received the exciting news that 5th time around LawSauce was approved. What a great Christmas present. Now we hope it takes off!

As there is a sync every time we add to the database, we have decided to provide monthly updates of new data. We have plans for future expansion of the content to add breadth to the app. But we will be realistic as well, and if the anticipated market for LawSauce does not eventuate, we will review our plans. The app market continues to grow, and the legal apps cover many very specialist areas and areas of practice. Law firms are developing branded apps. Whether LawSauce can make its unique approach noticed only time will tell. Would we do it again? Certainly. We have learned a great deal through this experience, we have a great team of developers, and above all, we want to make e-resource locating easier for lawyers.

Ruth Bird is Bodleian Law Librarian, University of Oxford. Natalie Wieland is Legal Research Skills Adviser, Melbourne Law School. Both Natalie and Ruth have been in the legal industry in libraries and law firms for over 20 years. They are passionate about legal research and over the years have developed an extensive knowledge base and understanding of key resources available on the internet, both free and paid.