Smartphone Mobile Apps for Law Firms: Designing for the Client

Internet law attorney and legal marketing entrepreneur Aaron Kelly made headlines this summer with the launch of a smartphone mobile app for his clients. Unlike the initial wave of gimmicky marketing apps that amount to glorified speed dial, Kelly’s app is designed as a productivity platform, providing clients online communications and collaboration tools.

The iPhone- and Android-compatible legal app incorporates interactive features such as secure online payment through PayPal, live chat and Basecamp project management integration. From Basecamp, clients can view their case to-do list and monitor the status of their lawsuit. Additionally, clients have 24/7 access to their own legal documents via secure Dropbox folders.

Aaron kindly shared with me some of the backstory on the genesis of his firm’s mobile venture.

Q: What was the initial impulse to do some sort of legal app for mobile devices? How much did your concept for it change over time?

A: I can see that mobile is the wave of the future.  I wanted to make it easier for my current clients to reach me and to stay current with their case, and for new clients to connect with me.  We live in an era where information is available at the touch of the button, and we expect communication to be fluid and efficient.


Q: Before undertaking development, did you test the idea with colleagues/friends/clients? How much beta testing did you do before you officially launched?

A: I had tossed around the idea with a few friends but it never really got off the ground.  My biggest concern was Return on Investment and the costs.  We did beta for about a month before we launched.  There are always going to be bugs, and even now there are a few.  Thankfully, my developers are great to work with and have made updates on the fly.


Q: How long did development take, from initial inspiration to launch?

A: I think it took about 3-4 months total.  As we were going along I had a few more ideas (like adding basecamp) so we made a few changes. We had the initial framework done in less than a week, as I knew exactly what I wanted.


Q: What was the biggest challenge in bringing your app to market? Cost? Finding a suitable development vendor? Getting it approved for the iTunes store?

A: Cost, without a doubt.  Something like this is not cheap, and I had to have it written for two different operating systems.  To me, however, you cannot put a price on increasing communication and efficiency.  This app will save my clients time and money, something you can’t put a price tag on.


Q: In a previous conversation you mentioned that your development vendor actually found you. Did you consider other vendors? What evaluation criteria did you use?

A: I had looked at a few other vendors and even put some ads up on freelance work sites like odesk/elance.  None of the applicants were able to offer what I wanted….which was someone I was comfortable working with.  I’m big on working with people I trust and can relate with.  The developers that I hired had the same sense of humor as I did, took the time to answer my questions, and even put up with my numerous requests for changes.  They were awesome.  In evaluating the applicants I looked at their portfolio and their desire to innovate.


Q: Your practice focuses on Internet law, so presumably the app is immediately understood by and relevant to your current and prospective clients. Do you think a similar app would be useful for practice areas like family law, criminal defense and small business?

A: Whether the app works for a specific practice area depends on what the app does.  For example, many lawyers have simple apps that just have information about their firm or a map to their office.  That’s fine and all, but what would motivate someone to download that app?  You need to come up with a unique idea that provides form and function for the current or prospective client.  For example, a criminal defense lawyer could have an app that calculated blood alcohol level (within reason) provided a direct line to the lawyer in case of emergency, or offered incentives to use the app (aka a free consult).  There are a number of things that it could be used for, it just depends on how you market it.


Q: Data security for cloud-based storage — let alone collaboration platforms — is still a bugbear in legal circles. How to you address the issue with clients? Does it even come up?

A: The issue has never come up to be honest.  When I explain how cloud storage works, the client seems more relaxed.  I believe the data is safer at a facility that is SAS 70 compliant and has all the safeguards that a physical office doesn’t (I.e. 24/7 security, redundancy, biometric scanning).


Q: How are you measuring your return on investment? Number of downloads? Client comments? Number of active users?

A: So many people get caught up in ROI these days.  People try and measure the ROI of social media, SEO, etc.  I”m a firm believer that you just can’t measure the complete ROI of these things.  The fact that my existing clients can use it makes ROI irrelevant in some aspects.  If it gets me new clients, great….but that wasn’t the biggest consideration I had when I developed the app.


Q: Since you own the IP for this application, have you considered licensing it?

A: Yes, absolutely.  I’m working with the same firm that developed my app to work on developing it for other attorneys.  My background, both in law and marketing, helps me to develop new concepts that other attorneys can utilize in their app.


Q: What’s your key piece of advice for solo and small firms considering development of a mobile device app?

A: Don’t just develop and app for the sake of developing an app.  Think about what you’re going to use it for.  Test it with your current clients.  Ask them what they would like to see in it.  See what types of phones they are using, or whether they are using tablet based computers.  Invest more time in flushing out how the current client could use the app, rather than prospective.  It’s always better to keep the current client happy.


Have you launched a mobile app? What are your best practice tips in smartphone mobile apps for law firms?

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