With nearly half of all American adults now using smartphones and a quarter using tablet computers, businesses must develop products catered to the mobile experience. Smartphones and tablets are being used to browse the Internet, access data remotely, draft/share/collaborate on documents, email, connect socially, and much more.
Optimizing your law firm website for mobile use is old news, as smartphones and tablets are being used more and more to access the Internet, with predictions of mobile Internet usage set to bypass desktop Internet usage by 2014. Further catering to mobile trends, law firms have begun to delve into custom app creation for smartphones and tablets.
Law Firm Apps in the Marketplace
Law firm apps vary in their purpose and functionality. Some firms have produced apps exclusively for marketing purposes. For example, Kevin O’Keefe shares the case study of Arnold & Porter’s app, which he dubs a failure because it only provides access to the firm’s blog and gives users the ability to share the firm’s content, but otherwise has no utility. Mr. O’Keefe queries why a user would download an app to track one blog, when aggregated blog reader tools are plentiful (i.e. RSS readers) and commonly used to read and share blogs on smartphones and tablets. Law firms creating apps should heed Mr. O’Keefe’s warning and seek to design apps that have greater functionality. To attract potential clients and referral sources, and engage current clients, a law firm app must not sacrifice value for marketing purposes.
With an eye toward business development rather than purely self promotion, a number of law firms have created apps that serve as functional tools. For example, Gabriel Cheong, a Massachusetts divorce attorney, created a Massachusetts divorce app that is used by his clients, potential clients, and other attorneys. At a mere $0.99 for a download, Attorney Cheong doesn’t stand to make millions from downloads only, however, through dissemination of this app in the legal community, he has enhanced awareness of his firm and likely generated new business as a result.
More recently, yet another genre of apps has emerged. These types of apps serve as client portals, integrating tools such as the ability to access clients, make online payments, contact personnel, access court resources, view calendar deadlines, receive reminders, and more. One example of this type of app is Kelsey & Trask, P.C.’s personal divorce assistance app. The app, made for the iPad, is offered to clients free of charge. Through this app, the firm provides value to its clients and nurtures client relationships while also giving itself a competitive marketing edge over other firms. A similar type of app created by an Arizona law firm is reviewed in this article. Moving with the current pace of technology, I suspect that these types of apps will become the norm for firms. To track the process of new developments in mobile apps for firms, take a look at this website devoted to the topic.
How to Build a Law Firm App
The progression of app development is similar to website development. Initially, only a trained website developer could design and program a website. Now, with the advent of user-friendly do it yourself programs, laypeople can build their own websites from scratch. The caveat, however, is that if you want a highly customized site, you may still require the assistance of a website developer. The same is true for app development. With products such as Kleverbeast, which Forbes.com touts as the next “WordPress of Mobile Apps”, individuals with no technical knowledge can produce apps for their businesses, and at a free or low cost. However, advanced customizations and sophisticated client web portal setups may require expertise. Bob Ambrogi has reviewed two legal specific smartphone app builders on his blog: MyPocketAttorney and Barrister App. If you need a custom app built, there is certainly no deficit of mobile app development professionals and companies to choose from (that number ever-increasing). One final note on app development: when endeavoring to build a law firm app, whether DIY or via a professional, attorneys should contemplate security issues and ensure that their app meets any state and federal data privacy requirements.
As smartphone and tablet use increase, so too will law firm app development, as well as new development tools. If you aim to keep your law office technologically current and are enthusiastic about innovation, then get out and join the law firm app party.