Legal Ethics? There's an app for that...

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In a sign of the times, the New York State Bar Association recently launched its Mobile Ethics App, a smartphone application that provides legal professionals instant access to ethics guidance.

The app hosts the catalog of nearly 900 ethics opinions published by the Bar's Committee on Professional Ethics since 1964. It's searchable via keyword, topic or opinion number.

"For example, if someone was wondering: What are the ethical rules about how a certain real estate closing can be handled," says Bar Association President Vincent Doyle, "you could enter the keywords 'real estate closing' into the app, and it will generate the opinions that have interpreted all of the rules regarding real estate closings. You can read the opinions. You can download them. You can send them to your printer [or] email them to yourself."

Doyle, on the New York--Upstate Super Lawyers list since 2007, says the decision to create an app was spurred by the Bar's increased focus on using the most current technology to get members the services they need. "Increasingly that's mobile devices," he says. "I walk around my office, and it's more common for the younger associates to be on their mobile devices than on their desktop computers."

A partner at Buffalo's Connors & Vilardo often representing attorneys in legal ethics issues, Doyle suspects the most common keyword searches will be those dealing with conflicts of interest and attorney trust accounts.

Two more apps are in the works for 2012: a member directory, and one tracking CLE credits.

And how soon till we start conducting court cases via smartphone?

"I've been in court and used my mobile phone to do research on some topic that comes up in court," says Doyle. "It's already happening."