Law Firm Apps: Useful Tools or Useless Promotion?

Does your law firm or solo practice need a custom iPhone/Android app? These apps are popping up through various law firms and solo practitioners across the internet. Online software has opened the door for people to create their own customized apps without any coding knowledge. But they still take time, energy, and creativity to create. Is an app worth the investment?

The Age of Aggregation

I literally can’t walk down the street without every business I pass asking me to like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Why? Companies, law firms, and individuals have realized that these platforms work. People visit the sites. Moreover, people use the sites for a lot more than status updates and photos. People play games on Facebook, share news stories, and follow the bands, tv shows, and companies they like. The social media behemoth has become a center for daily information consumption, regardless of the medium employed. This speaks to a larger trend that has been growing over the last five years or so. As we are asked to digest more infomration on a daily basis, users are looking for a way to get through the information as fast as possible. As Kevin O’Keefe points out, “[t]he way we consume content is changing at lightening speed.” Today, many users rely on some sort of aggregation service to stay up to date with all the websites they want to follow. Gone are the days of visiting twenty websites a day and scrolling through their latest content.

Despite the current shift towards aggregation, law firms are creating apps to showcase their content, the publications from their attorneys, and their business’ successes. In other words, they want users to have an app solely dedicated to the firm’s content. These law firm based apps are a step away from aggregation. At first blush, the idea of a BigLaw, LLC iPhone app could sound like a good idea. “Look at us, we are cutting edge! We have an iPhone app!” sounds good. But we already know that’s not what people want. These kinds of apps are not a good idea. Law firms should focus on creating good content that users can enjoy according to their own terms.

Room for Innovation

When I started researching this post, I was mostly looking at negative reviews of the type of apps discussed above. Then I discovered the website Law Firm Mobile, and I was pleasantly surprised by the range of ideas coming out of law firms around the world.

The app that really caught my eye was from The Kelly Law Firm, LLC out of Arizona. The app is focused almost entirely on the client and giving the client access to the things clients need. Through the app clients can live chat with firm personnel, make payments with PayPal, view case information via Basecamp, and access their files stored in Dropbox. Unfortunately, I’m not a client of the firm so I couldn’t get the full flavor from poking around the app, but Law Firm Mobile’s review is very flattering: [t]his law firm has set a technology bar in the production of its app. Other small firms are sure to follow. The app also includes access to the firm’s social media portfolio, but that is far from the focus.

This kind of innovation is exactly what the legal industry needs. Instead of trying to use new technology to recreate old media, law firms and attorneys should make apps that serve a purpose for their clients or the industry.

The Niche App

In line with apps that could serve the industry, I took a look at several niche apps. The first one, named for its creator, is the Monique Altheim Esq app. According to Altheim’s press release, the app will “keep the user up-to-date on the latest developments in privacy, EU and international data protection, data breaches, social media, cloud and ediscovery laws, regulations and best practices (sic).” I used the app for a couple days, and it has some potential. At the moment, it looks very similar to an anti-aggregation law firm app. It gives the user access to Altheim’s tweets, blog posts, YouTube videos, etc. She does share a lot of content from other people, but not nearly enough.

Yet apps like this pave the way for more innovation. Sure, this app mostly focuses on the creator’s content. But when app developers look at smaller markets, there is a lot of room for creativity. MacRoberts is a Scottish law firm that developed an app to calculate unfair dismissal compensation and other UK employment law payments. This is an app that very few people will use. But its targeted audience isn’t the general public. Instead, the company is targeting human resources professionals in the United Kingdom. Similarly, the Rosen Law Firm from North Carolina developed a child support calculator. This is great for attorneys in that area.

Conclusions

There is a lot of room for innovation when it comes to law firm apps. Attorneys need to move away from the idea of an app solely as a marketing tool. Instead, creators must focus on providing a service to whomever downloads the app. As this trend develops, it looks like there will be some exciting apps for lawyers and by lawyers.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/3408649524/)