A review of the “Black’s Law Dictionary” App

October 27, 2011

black's iconIf you’re anything like me, you don’t want to be caught off guard when someone uses a word you aren’t familiar with.

This becomes even more important in legal settings, where it’s almost (and sometimes literally is) like learning a new language.

The first solution that may come to mind is, of course, Black’s Law Dictionary.

Again, though, if you’re like me, you don’t like lugging around a large dictionary nor flipping through it to look up a word on the fly.

Enter: the Black’s Law Dictionary App.

The app has actually been around on Apple’s App Store for several years now, but it was just released for the Android platform.

Black’s digitalization brings the expected technological features – ease-of-use, an intuitive search function, the ability to adjust font sizes, etc.

Although this alone would be enough for me to pick the app over the print version (if I had to choose) since my bias is usually toward the technological, the Black’s app has several additional advantages over the print version.

For one, it provides audio pronunciations for words that are less common or in another language.

For example, it offers three different pronunciations of the word “certiorari” (probably one of the more commonly mispronounced legal terms).

Android black's

Android version

While there are already written pronunciation guides, the feature does add an extra level of certainty to pronunciations, which is indispensible to attorneys and other legal professionals.

In fact, an incorrect pronunciation could be disastrous in some circumstances (imagine having the court reporter interrupt you to ask for clarification on the word you just mispronounced).

Plus, it’s kind of fun to hear the app say “lucre nuptialia” and “restitution estracti ab ecclesia.”

Despite how much I’ve spent talking about it, though, the audio pronunciation isn’t the most significant feature of the app.

One deceptively minor trait is the provision of page numbers that correspond to an entry’s location in the print version of Black’s, which is important for, among other reasons, citation purposes.

In addition, the app addresses a major aspect in both the print and Westlaw versions of Black’s that always got on my nerves.

Have you ever looked up a term only to have the dictionary tell you to see another, broader entry that your searched term is organized under (for instance, you want to look up “mail fraud” but the entry only says “See FRAUD”)?

I realize that there are organizational reasons for arranging entries in this manner, but it remains cumbersome nonetheless.

The app, as mentioned earlier, fixes this by listing the reference to the broader term along with the specific definition side-by-side, so no cross-referencing is needed.

Also found in the app are links to statutes and KeyCites in Westlaw (obviously something absent from the print version), making for an excellent springboard into legal research.

These links are, however, found in the Black’s on Westlaw, which may raise the question of whether the app’s version offers any advantages over Westlaw’s.

To me, though, there’s no question.

One of the app’s biggest advantages is its being a self-contained database unreliant on an Internet connection.

Black's iPad

Apple iPad version

Besides bringing increased mobility, this also allows the app to be much faster, both in searching for and retrieving an entry.

The app also has links to dictionary entries for other terms within a given entry’s definition, eliminating the need to copy and paste the term into a new search.

Also reducing search time is the bookmarks function, which lets you add individual entries to an easily-accessible list of favorite entries.

Taken together, all of these features make the app far and away the superior medium for using Black’s Law Dictionary.

In fact, given what Black’s is meant to be – a quick reference on a wide range of legal topics – the app would seem to be the work’s perfect incarnation.

I would recommend it not only to those who are already regular users of Black’s, but also to any legal professional except those who spend all of their time behind a desk.

While you may think, as I did, that Black’s isn’t that pertinent to your routines, you’ll find that your practices and processes becomes faster and easier once you start using it.