What if you could review a dictionary of legal terms, research statutes of limitations, look up information about visa types, investigate crime rates and history for specific crimes, as well as state and national average comparisons, get closing cost estimates, and information on square footage, home sales price, and utility prices from one iPhone app?
These are some of the ambitious calculations being attempted by Wolfram Alpha’s Lawyer’s Professional Assistant for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Features listed on the site include:
- A dictionary of legal terms; statutes of limitations for each US state; and information about visa types, including requirements, common issues, and extensions and limits
- Calendar computations to quickly determine the end date of a specific term
- Financial computations, including fee calculations, settlement calculations, current interest rates, historical value of money, and federal US tax rates
- Crime rates and histories for specific crimes, as well as state and national average comparisons
- Demographics of population and economy for specific cities and international information about currency, country economies, and languages spoken, as well as time zone conversions
- Investigative information, including weather, company information, IP lookup, and blood alcohol calculator
- Damages and estate-planning computations for occupational salaries, costs of living, life expectancies, and present or future values
- Real estate law, including mortgage calculations, closing cost estimation, information on square footage, home sales price, and utility prices
That’s a pretty impressive feature list. If you can truly access all of the information listed and perform accurate computations with this app, I would imagine that this will be a hot item for many lawyers.
Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant is currently available for download from the iTunes App Store for $4.99 (up from $2.99).
$4.99 seems like a small price to pay for this feature set consolidated into one app. Looking at definitions of legal terms alone, Thompson’s Black’s Law Dictionary app is going for $54.99. Of course, you could also just search Google or Siri it for, ahem, free…
Should I Buy the Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant App?
Not every aspect of the app is perfect. For example, although this app can perform date calculations, the interface is better on a focused app like DaysFrom. This app includes a legal dictionary, but so few terms are included that I doubt most attorneys would consider it very useful, and it is certainly no competition for the other legal dictionary apps in the App Store. On the other hand, most calculations are done very well, and the amount of information you get from your search terms can be simply amazing.
Is the app worth $5? One might say no considering that all of this information is available on the free Wolfram Alpha website itself or the $3 app that provides an iPhone interface to the website. If you have an iPhone 4S and use Siri, Siri often uses Wolfram Alpha to provide answers to questions. Indeed, you can even instruct Siri to search Wolfram Alpha just by saying “Wofram” before your other words. For example, you can ask Siri “Wolfram weather in New York on January 2, 2000” and you will get lots of information from Wolfram Alpha, including the high of 54º and the low of 38º on that day.
On the other hand, the Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant app includes specific fields that can make it easier to formulate a query. Moreover, as much as I’ve used the Wolfram Alpha website before, it never even occurred to me that the website could make some of the computations listed in this app, so just seeing the menu items is helpful as a reminder of what Wolfram Alpha can do.
I strongly recommend that every iPhone-using attorney be aware of what Wolfram Alpha is so that you can remember it when it might be useful. Whether you use the website in Safari, Siri, the $3 app, or this new Lawyer’s Professional Assistant, you can tap into an incredible database of knowledge.
At MacLitigator, Peter Summerill writes:
The date calculator can calculate business (i.e. court) or calendar days between two dates or forward from a specified date. But, if you want to count backwards… sorry, despite the fact that this App is provided by the world’s most famous online calculation machine, WolframAlpha, it can’t count backwards. Counting to a huge number of decimal places Pi? Check. Counting backwards on your iPad. Meh, not so much.
Similar to the above-reviewers, my take is basically that if $5 won’t crush you this month, it’s worth taking a look at. However, I’d be careful to limit uses to “non-life or death” computations (i.e. statute of limitations calculations).
If you have an iPhone 4S (the one with Siri), then it’s probably worth holding off until the app becomes a bit more robust.
For the Geeks
If you’re unfamiliar with Wolfram Alpha, here’s a little about the project:
Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.
We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.
Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels.
Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.
Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come.
With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.
Wolfram Alpha, or computational technologies like it, may very well be the next giant technological leap for mankind. On the other hand, these technologies may take many of us a step closer to the obese, chair-riding morons from Wall-E:
Or perhaps, as the singularity approaches, they’ll just make us obsolete. In any event, the ability to efficiently and reliably perform complex computations by talking into a smartphone has some real promise and exciting applications for lawyers.