Every year our office has a small, quiet ritual. Your office probably does as well. Books containing the rules of court we use in our practice are replaced with the new year’s editions. When my new set of books showed up this year, I became a little irritated. When I started practicing law back in 1991, the rules of court produced by Thomson West could fit into a single volume–both Indiana and federal rules.
Now, we have five volumes that take up close to a foot of shelf space:
When I saw all these books and thought about how much paper they consumed, I wished that I had learned to write code so I could create an app that would let me carry all this stuff in my iPad or iPhone.
One lawyer must have had similar thoughts. Greg Hoole is an attorney in Utah, and he created an app for attorneys that I highly recommend: rulebook. The app itself is free, and from within the app you can purchase certain rule sets or download the Federal Rules of Evidence for free. The cost of a rule set is $.99, so it’s wonderfully cost-effective.
What helps set rulebook apart from its competition is the fact that you can treat it like you would a paper version of the rules. You can highlight sections (there are a few different highlight colors to choose from), make notes on sections, and bookmark sections. (By sections I mean blocks of text—from a few words to as many paragraphs as you want.) You can also search for terms, and the app uses hyperlinks to let you jump from one rule to another when rules are cross-referenced. You can also browse by simply swiping the “page” forward or backward, which is a nice touch.
One nice feature of this app is that you only need an Internet connection when you are downloading a new rule set. Otherwise, your rules are on your device to use whenever you need them. The app works on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and looks great on all of the devices.
If I have one criticism of the app it is that right now its rule sets are limited to largely the usual states: California, New York, Texas, and the not-so-usual state of Utah. (The federal court local rules for these states are also available.) If your practice involves regular work in the federal courts, the app is handy—especially if you practice in one of those four states. Because I practice in Indiana, the app is useful only for its federal rules sets. Greg Hoole indicates that more rule sets are on the way, which is good news. At the same time, of course, lawyers in various states are going to have to wonder when their state will become available. Until then, we will have to be content with PDFs of our rules I suppose.
Rule books (and apps) are only as useful if they are current, and the app’s producers say that they will add updates in a timely fashion. Keeping up with rule changes in 50 states and 92 federal court districts could be a massive undertaking, but it is something that will be necessary to keep lawyers continually using the app.
In a nutshell, rulebook gets one thumb up from me. If Indiana and the other states were available now, I’d give it two thumbs up. I understand, though, that it takes time to put the rule sets in, and you have to launch the app at some point even if it seems incomplete. Otherwise, you’d never get it out the door.
I will anxiously await the Indiana rule sets (hint hint hint) and use it in the meantime for my federal practice.