Written by: Nicole Black
Free Online and Mobile Tools for Lawyers
It used to be that there were set expenses for running a law office. Free alternatives to traditional law office staples--such as legal research tools, legal and word processing software, and office hardware--were few and far between. Every office required a phone line with conference call capabilities, a fax machine, at least one copy machine, word processing and practice management software, and legal research capabilities, whether in the form of books or online platforms. And, every single one of these tools cost money up front and were expensive to maintain and keep up to date.
Nowadays, lawyers have more choices and many basic law office functions that can be had for free, from fax services to conference call capabilities to legal research tools.
Of course, jury rigging a law office system using only free tools would be a mistake, since free tools also come with their fair share of headaches, including software bugs, lack of customer service support and, sometimes, short lived availability, since oftentimes, free platforms either go under due to lack of sustainability or eventually transition into a paid service.
Even so, selectively utilizing a few free tools can save money and help newly established firms get their practice off the ground while limiting upfront expenses. So, for those interested in taking advantage of some of the free tools out there, here are some of your options.
First, legal research Google Scholar now provides free access to many legal journals and the full text of legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts. And for research on the fly, the Fastcase mobile app provides free access to cases and statutes from all 50 states and from the federal government.
Other free mobile apps useful for legal research include: 1) LawStack, which includes, among others, the U.S. Constitution, the Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and certain state codes; 2) LawBox, another app that is very similar to LawStack; and 3) the PocketJustice app and 4) the OyezToday app apps, both provide access to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, news and summaries of cases, among other information.
Additional free online legal research resources include Law.com’s free online access to a legal dictionary and the vast assortment of legal information available at the Cornell Legal Information Institute, which includes access to federal and state laws and regulations, cases, international laws and a legal encyclopedia.
Moving on, there are a number of very helpful, free online and mobile tools that assist with practice management functions. First, you can receive faxes for free using eFax, although if you would like to have a local number or the ability to send faxes, you’ll need to subscribe to the service.
Additionally, there are a number of other free or low cost communication tools available, including Skype and free conference call capabilities, as I discuss in this Xemplar post.
Finally, there are a number of free online tools available to assist in the creation and sharing of word processing documents. Two of the most popular free online word processing systems include Zoho Office Suite and Google Docs.
And, if you need to convert a file from one format to another, look no further than Zamzar. This free online tool converts uploaded files into any number of formats, for example, Word to WordPerfect, and sends the converted file right to your email inbox.
So, free tools abound, if you just know where to look. You won’t be able to run your practice using only free tools, but it never hurts to keep an open mind and give some of them a try. “Free” isn’t always perfect, but it works in a pinch.