Law firm Apps are still few and far between. Kim Tasso looks at the Apps that are out there at present and some of the factors to consider.
Are you App-Aware, App-Agnostic or App-Happy? Having monitored the introduction of Apps by UK professional service firms (PSFs) in the legal, accountancy and property markets over the past few years (and having built a spreadsheet analysing key features and relative strengths and weaknesses), I produced a 19-page White Paper in June containing the key findings. It appears that this is an area with huge potential for the professions if addressed early, or a major threat if ignored.
The Mobile Revolution
There is ample evidence that the mobile revolution is here to stay:
• there are now more mobile phones in the UK than people
• Barclays Corporate suggests UK shoppers are predicted to spend £19.3 billion using mobile phones and tablets within the next 10 years (compared with the £1.3 billion today)
• Ofcom research says 27% of UK adults now have a smartphone
• globally, more people now have mobile phones than have bank accounts and in some Asian countries phones are rapidly replacing cash and credit cards.
Where clients go, their advisers must follow. Respondents to KPMG's recent Legal Pulse Survey found that 45% suggest their clients are showing an increase in demand for outsourcing services. When asked to identify the top functions where outsourcing demand is high, the development of Apps (62%) topped the list.
There are already plenty of examples of firms adopting a defensive 'me too' strategy – rushing out an ill-conceived, 'off the shelf' App for fear that they may lose clients to other firms who already have one. Whilst some firms may fear that Apps are simply just another way to commoditise their services and wipe out their markets and profits, others look at ways to use the technology to add real value, enhance the client experience, lock clients into their systems, enter or create new markets, truly differentiate their service and generate new sources of revenue and profit.
Mobile Web Site or App?
Commentators have suggested that in 10 years' time there will be no perceived difference between mobile and web – the phone will be the technology we use almost all of the time. E-commerce is being replaced with m-commerce. Whilst some law firms still have yet to realise that their web site needs to be mobile enabled, others have already begun to exploit the opportunities by developing an App.
As many early PSF web sites were little more than online brochures, so it is with Apps. But the process of identifying and developing a suitable App is not so much a marketing communications exercise but more akin to innovation in new product development – with considerable management and technical input - not an area that the professions have excelled at in the past.
Current Legal Apps
As there is no 'law' category on the main App sales platforms, legal Apps can be found variously under categories such as reference, business, finance and lifestyle.
Not surprisingly, as the legal market deregulation gathered pace, the earliest Apps were for consumers – but many were not produced by law firms. The Sunday Times has a separate category for legal Apps which mentions:
· Which? Your Rights A pocket-sized legal guide FREE
· SpeedUp Conveyancing Keep track of the house-buying process £1.19
· Divorce UK Helpful, jargon-free legal guidance FREE
· AutoWill A DIY will kit for your iPhone £4.99.
Early legal Apps were not great. There were various personal injury Apps – offering limited functionality in the hope of catching leads and some simply listing out the range of financial awards for different types of injury, fuelling the compensation culture. There were one or two which provided a helpful prompt for the information to collect and photos to take after an accident – and the ability to send this information direct to a solicitor.
The first will Apps were worrying – they presented high level categories and expected the user to know what to write. There were no explanations and no guidance. Very poor.
There are a number of family law Apps – and these fare somewhat better. Some are silly but some are jolly good in terms of providing helpful information. £1.49 secures a LegalAid divorce video – not much use now that the rules have changed. Lawyers might like to check out the Jordan Family Law Reports which is free. Early free Apps were from The Family Law Solicitors and Pannone.
Mills & Reeve's DivorceUK has nice photos, a good FAQ section, questions about finance or divorce that lead you to the relevant information (sometimes presented as a video) and the procedure section is nicely presented as a satnav journey.
Divorce? by OGR Stock Denton costs £9.99. It has well organised and well written information on a range of common topics (legal basis for divorce, divorce procedure, claiming costs etc) but probably most helpful is the budget which prompts you through detailed budgets for housing, car, leisure etc. although this could be extended for what if and comparative analyses.
WorkRights by 36 Bedford Row (barristers) is designed for employees who have been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against or treated badly at work and provides a series of simple diagnostic questions with embedded definitions.
Commercial law Apps
Employment law is well served. Eversheds Guide to International Employment and Pensions Law for HR Professionals allows comparisons across jurisdictions. There are four steps – choose a category (including pensions, family rights, TUPE, restrictive covenants, employment contracts), choose a country, choose an issue and finally you are given your information. The ability to e-mail the information obtained is useful – and a lot of Apps fail to provide this most basic functionality.
However, my favourite employment App is from Squire Sanders. It has legal facts, practical checklists and pay calculators. I really like the automatic push alerts for changes in UK legislation and the ability to register interest in numerous (paying) training events although there are lots of areas where you are pushed out of the App onto the web site.
As you would expect, the Penisular A-Z guide to UK employment law is good – a list of common topics (eg ageism, self-certification, social networking etc) with clear explanations and advice and a separate section on leave entitlement.
Allen & Overy has two Apps. The first is A&O Connect which bears an attractive red molecular design on the front; this allows you to search its people, offices and practices from menus. It is pretty basic. The second is A&O Investment Perspectives, which is about global investment flows from publically available data. You are presented with a world map with attractively animated bubbles indicating the world ranking for 2005 to 2010 (GBR ranked 7th) and some short key trends. There are options for table and chart views also and a good filtering facility. You can also download some publications. Excellent.
As a patent coach, IP Guide provides a whole lot of well structured (but not searchable) technical US legal information on copyright and patents, taking you through the steps and legal definitions and tests. It is difficult to read as it has tiny, tiny print and no diagrams. There doesn't appear to be an App for UK trademark, copyright and patent law – which seems an obvious choice.
There are various litigation support Apps – most for the US and many linked to the online services of specific firms. Although it lacks real functionality, I like the App from US firm Valorem Law – and not just because it starts with the message 'other attorneys would be billing you for this time'. It has nice photos and I like its 'tip of the day' (even if you can't search the tips). There's a cute clock picture where you can tap it to smash it – there's a gratifying noise and, with a sense of humour, it directs you to their web site for help with your anger management issues. The lawyer profiles (including one for Atticus Finch!) are clear, have humour and real information about the people and their work.
Corporate Counsel (WestLaw) is based on the magazine – and you can do simple searches – but it only relates to US law. The same with the Litigation Management magazine App.
Developing your own App?
The remainder of the White Paper offers help for those considering the development of an App. It looks at App categories and types of professional firm App and the range of current functionality. I've also provided a number of ideas of the sorts of Apps that could be usefully produced using the knowledge and expertise of law, accountancy and property firms to differentiate, add value, innovate, lock in existing clients and generate new revenue streams.
There's also a section – produced in conjunction with award winning App developer Fresh 01 – that looks at the costs, planning, design and management challenges of a typical App development project. See the dowload panel for a pdf of the planning chart.
The final section offers guidance to firms to ensure that any App development projects are undertaken in a strategic fashion and properly integrated into other business, investment and marketing plans.
Please email email@example.com if you would like a copy of the White Paper 'Apps by UK law, accountancy and property firms – Are we missing the mobile revolution?'
Kim Tasso is a management consultant to the professions and freelance writer. www.kimtasso.com