SCL Event Report: Apps within Law Firms

April 7, 2014

This SCL event, part of the programme of events organised by the SCL Knowledge Management Group, was hosted by Berwin Leighton Paisner and chaired by Melanie Farquharson. The speakers were James Holyday of Linklaters LLP, who focused on what law firms were doing in the apps space, and  Andrew Dey of Barclays Legal, who considered apps from the clients’ perspective.


UK smartphone penetration and tablet use continues to increase. According to ‘UK Mobile Insights Report 2013 Q4’, the UK smartphone audience currently stands at 31.7 million users (60.4%) and this number is expected to continue to rise.  By 2017 smartphone users will account for nearly 81% of all mobile users and two-thirds of all people in the UK.  Tablet sales have climbed 106% in the past year and one third of the UK population now uses a tablet.  By the end of 2013, the total number of apps downloaded worldwide reached 102 billion, more than doubling the 2012 total of 49 billion.

In light of this, how are law firms embracing the app culture and what should be considered when deciding whether to develop an app?

District features of an app

An app is a self-contained piece of software designed to meet a specific purpose. In contrast to a web site, which can be heavy, all-singing and dancing and internet-dependent, an app should be:

·                       simple, easy to use, intuitive

·                       lightweight, with content accessible offline

·                       focused to a specific purpose

·                       bug-free and stable

Current law firm apps

Law firm apps are not prevalent at the moment: of 25 top firms fewer than 10 have apps available on the Google PlayStore or Apple AppStore. The apps that are available are of three types:

Type 1: contain static data such as directories and events (eg A&O Connect app)

Type 2: contain generic information, such as legal updates (eg Linklaters knowledge portal app)

Type 3: contain processing or decision making capability (eg BLP UK tax residence test app).

What are clients using?

There are a limited number of apps which are of use to in-house legal teams. Andrew Dey warned against firms developing lots of apps. An app of real value would offer clients access to a firm’s systems and knowledge (such as the Linklaters app). The app should be able to bypass a client’s systems and firewalls and must be available offline. The most important piece of advice Andrew offered was to listen to what clients would find useful and to make sure that the clients actually used smartphones or tablets before offering them an app!

Other professional services are ahead of law firms in app development. One of the Big 4 accountancy firms has more than 30 apps publicly available to download. It was acknowledged that useful tax apps where calculations were the key feature were easy identify.

The attendees at the event were then invited to consider the challenges of creating an app. The following checklist is the result of the discussion:

Checklist: what should be considered when deciding whether to develop an app?

1. App or website? Web sites are easily accessible on any browser and from the desk or mobile. As more websites use HTML 5, which allows a device-responsive layout, do you really need an app? There are some functions we prefer to do on a website – research from a number of organisations, including Deloitte in their research ‘Beyond the hype: ‘the true potential of mobile’ clearly shows using a web site is preferable for search, and apps are preferable for maps. As internet access (particularly on the move) gets wider and better, there is an argument that the benefit apps have over websites (in being able to access content when offline) falls, although this will take a while yet in emerging markets.

2. On what device is your app going to be used? There are different formats available for smartphones and tablets; you will likely want to design for both.

3. On what platform will your app sit? The two main players are of course Apple (IOS) and Android – and of those reviewed on the evening, only one law firm app (UK tax residence app from BLP) is designed for Android at the moment. Smart Process Apps, which offer an alternative to IOS and Android, are starting to emerge (in the legal space, from companies such as Onit).

4. What is the purpose of the app? This is key – you need to be clear at the outset on what you are trying to achieve with the app and not just create an app for the sake of it. Is the app intended to be:

·                       a general marketing tool

·                       a way to more directly bring introductions (ie the app gives the basics on an area of law and then advises contacting the firm for more)

·                       a revenue generator

·                       a client service.

5. How much will it cost and is it worth it? Type 3 apps can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Developers tend to offer a fixed fee, but check that a maintenance arrangement is also included to upgrade the app as required and that you have rights over it.

6. Is the app going to be useful? It might look attractive but it won’t ‘stick’ if it isn’t useful. Think about users of the app: what functions and content must the app have to make it useful for them?

7. What is the app going to look like? The app needs to represent your brand and to fit with your web site and any other apps to be developed. The first app can be the hardest in this regard and you’ll save lots of time by agreeing ‘look and feel’, colour schemes, layout and the icons to be used well in advance of starting the actual development.

8. How will you keep the app up to date? This includes adapting to new platforms or devices but also, of course, maintaining the content. Users expect apps to be current. The maintenance arrangement with the developer should support this. Aim for content that will not change too often or can be easily (and preferably automatically) updated.

9. Where does the copyright sit? Ensure the arrangements you have with the developer give you rights over the app.  Currently, copyright tends to be with the developer (who registers the app), who can obtain detailed stats on the number of downloads, and you need to think about what happens in the future if you want to use someone else to update the app, or even remove it completely.

10. How long will the app last? Some apps only have a limited lifespan (for a specific event for example) – consider how you can re-use them or expand them for future events.

11. How will the app reach your target audience? They might not expect to find it on the AppStore/PlayStore – consider adding a link to your web site, an e-mail blast and other such promotions.

12. How do you prevent the app getting to your competitors? For some apps, particularly Type 3 ones, you may want to set up registration requirements for users before they have access to any, or most, content. A limited trial period, or free access to only limited content, are other options to be considered.

13. How do you measure the success of an app? Reporting the success of an app can only be achieved through measuring how many download requests the app has received.  It is currently not possible to analyse how the app is being used.  For Type 3 apps that require a subscription, feedback could be requested by conducting a survey.

Claire Andrews is Director of Knowledge Management at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP:

Lucy Dillon is Director of Knowledge Management at Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP: