There are currently about 1.5 million apps available in the App Store. Many of these apps are completely and utterly useless (why would anyone want to drink an iBeer?). Over the past several years, law firms have been rushing to cash in on the trend by developing their own applications—some more useful than others. The truth is that home screen real estate is a precious commodity, and unless you offer a product that people can’t live without, developing an app may not be worth your time and money.
So what kind of legal apps are out there? Here’s a run down of the good, the bad and the useless…
Functional Tool Apps
Some law firms have developed useful apps that serve an important function for potential clients, current clients and lawyers. For example, the Stellute Law Firm has really made a name for itself with its app for Virginia drivers. The app (see pic) assists drivers who need help at the scene of an accident. It instructs drivers on how to gather photo evidence, and allows them to record witness statements. It also advises users about traffic conditions, weather conditions and provides daily updates of the cheapest local gas prices. Who doesn’t want to save money on gas? Sign me up for that. But the real reason this app is worth the install is not because someone just might need it if they’re ever in a car accident—that’s great, but hopefully it’ll never be used for that; what Stellute Law did by aggregating several app functionalities (i.e., traffic,
weather, gas prices) together is to make the app more useful on a daily basis. In the world of apps, use it or lose it is the mantra for users.
Another example of a successful functional tool app is offered by the Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina. This firm offers a child support calculator that helps users determine the child support to be paid under the state’s guidelines. These kinds of apps provide a useful service to the public, while keeping your firm’s name in the front of people’s minds.
Client Portal Apps
Another trend is that law firms are now offering apps that integrate tools for existing clients. Client portal apps allow clients to make online payments, contact firm personnel, receive reminders, view important dates relative to their case and view files stored in Dropbox. For example, the portal from the Kelly Law Firm, LLC in Arizona allows clients to chat live with firm personnel, pay legal bills via PayPal, access their case files and view the firm’s social media pages. These apps cultivate existing client relationships and set the firm apart from the competition.
Apps that exist solely to market your law firm are unlikely to be successful. For example, legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe has critiqued Arnold & Porter’s iPhone app, which requires users to install a separate application on their phone to access the law firm’s consumer advertising law blog. O’Keefe has questioned why anyone would download an app that only takes users to your firm’s content—and he is right. Home screen real estate is precious, and there are hundreds of news outlets producing interesting content. So smartphone users have turned to aggregation services. Aggregators (like RSS feeds or Flipboard) compile your chosen subscriptions, publications and blogs, and funnel the content through a single app.
Some firms offer apps that aggregate content from a wide variety of sources to keep users up to date on niche practice areas. For example, the Monique Altheim, Esq. App keeps one informed on recent developments in the fields of privacy, e-discovery, social media and information governance by aggregating a mix of content—some her own, some not. The app links users to her own blog, tweets, YouTube and Vimeo videos, as well as content aggregators, blogs and Summify’s daily Twitter summaries.
Bottom Line: Look before You Leap
When developing a custom app that can cost between $2,000 to $250,000, law firms shouldn’t jump on the marketing trend bandwagon without understanding how consumers are really using technology to find legal help. In the absence of some due diligence, the ROI on a legal app just might not be there—and in fact, you may get more bang for your buck with other lead gen tactics.
If you have any thoughts on the value of law firm apps, add to the conversation by commenting below.