by Jasper Ward
Editor's Note by Evan Schaeffer: For the most part, this is a non-commercial website. On the other hand, I have a history of pushing ideas I like, e.g., The Anonymous Lawyer, so I thought it would be appropriate to allow Jasper Ward, a 1L at Brandeis School of Law, to pitch his software product, which he allowed me to download and test. He's not paying anything to appear here, but I endorse his idea that law students themselves might have good ideas about how to make life as a law student easier.
I’m a 25-year old 1L at the Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville. Evan has allowed me to post this guest column about how I use technology as a law student and how my experiences before law school helped me develop software that has been very helpful to me in school.
My generation has grown up with computers in every aspect of our lives. The technology grew up a little ahead of us, so that by the time we needed to do something, the computer had a tool for it. Adults knew computers had lots of tools, but they oftentimes use them wrong and actually make things more complicated. For instance, during my first week of school, we were introduced to three websites that professors could use to communicate with us. Each professor used a different site, and the school itself actually used a fourth site for announcements and information. It’s as if a dean had read an article that said online announcements were great ways to communicate with students, and figured that if one was good, three must be golden! But for someone our age, having to check multiple places for all the information we needed, instead of having it all in one place, was wildly foreign and inefficient. Which makes me excited when people our age design software. People who have grown up using existing software to make their lives easier will be much better at designing software for specific tasks that actually make other people’s lives easier as well.
Before law school, I worked on political campaigns doing research and communications. As late as 2001, one campaign I worked on was still literally cutting newspaper articles out of the paper, copying them, and placing them into a big filing cabinet. Finding an article from two weeks ago that you KNEW existed was hard. Finding general information that you weren’t sure was in those monster cabinets was nearly impossible. And that was just the news – campaign research offices also deal with legislative votes, contributions (mostly kept in spreadsheets or databases), financial information, web pages, text of bills, press releases – all sorts of information. So when you’d see a name and think, “where have I read that before?”, you had to check literally five sources of information.
The office had also started a project of scanning each article in and saving it on the computer -- but without the ability to search the text of the articles. Again, an adult misused technology in a good-faith effort to make life easier. So we came up with a new system of copying and pasting text, and storing it in a searchable database. It wasn’t perfect, but we were using the tools we had.
Last year, I decided that in order to maximize the efficiency of this process, there needed to be a specific piece of software designed for this task. So I came up with ResearchPro (www.researchprosoftware.com). Basically, it’s a database that looks like an email inbox. You copy and paste text, categorize, give each item a date, and can view everything you’ve posted in one screen. You can search it, either by looking for words or phrases in the body, headline, in posts that are in certain categories, posted on certain dates, and so on. Campaigns liked it because it made their job of finding information fast a lot easier.
When I started law school, I realized that it could be helpful to me there, too. So after briefing cases in a word processor, I would copy and paste into ResearchPro. I typed my class notes directly into ResearchPro. When it came time to outline, I easily called up all my notes on, for example, consideration, and went from there. Our study group would be meeting and someone would say, “what was that case with the dog?” I would type “dog” into the quick search function and have an answer two seconds later. Or if you are sitting in class and a professor mentions a concept from last semester, just open one file and find notes, cases, and outline sections about it. It was a lot easier than keeping 50 word documents with each case brief and class note, and having to navigate those.
I also used ResearchPro to store all my secondary and case law research for memos and appellate briefs. When I needed to find which case first used a certain phrase, I just searched and went to the oldest case, instead of having to log back onto Lexis® or WestLaw®. I could also read and brief cases without access to the internet. I typed in my memo’s outline, random thoughts and ideas, copied and pasted quotes from cases I wanted to use -- generally just kept all my work in one place. My research group, which used ResearchPro, was able to share cases and law journal articles in the ResearchPro file format. It saved time, and we made sure no one missed any cases.
It’s not the most complex piece of software ever invented, but it is easy to use and has made my life a bit easier. I’m excited for a time when more people in our generation, especially lawyers, come up with some software of their own. I imagine it will make all our lives easier.
About the Author: Jasper Ward, a 1L at Brandeis School of Law, learned to work with computers at an early age from his dad, and has used computers and technology to modernize political research during his career. After college, he worked for 4 years on political campaigns and as a political consultant. He wants to work in products liability or labor law after graduation. Finally, Jasper says to please check out the software at www.researchprosoftware.com, and send any questions or comments my way through the Contact Us page on the website. Current students can get the professional version for only $99 using the promo code Student_P67. Non-students can get a 25% discount using the promo code Underground_P25.