Many law firms have failed to ensure their websites can be read by mobile devices, while others have produced “horrendous” applications (apps) for smartphones in their rush to be seen at the cutting edge of technology, a report has claimed.
In a paper on apps used by UK law, accountancy and property firms, well-known business development consultant Kim Tasso also advised larger firms to control the range of apps produced under their brand or risk “reputational damage” as a result.
She advocated that smaller firms collaborate to develop own-brand apps to reduce overheads. App technology has potential for firms “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”, the report said.
It suggested a number of possible future apps for the legal sphere, including one that provides clients with access to their key legal documents – which it said has the added advantage of “locking in” clients to a particular adviser. Other ideas included a “reputation monitor” for defamation and IP lawyers to assist clients, for example, in tracking mentions of their brand’s name on the Internet. Another would help non-resident fathers to record and monitor child contact arrangements after an acrimonious divorce.
Ms Tasso reviewed existing legal apps across a wide range of practice areas, from personal injury and will-writing to family, employment, commercial law and litigation support. She highlighted as particularly successful an employment app by global law firm Squire Sanders. As well as providing legal facts, checklists and pay calculators, the app has “push alerts” which actively advise the mobile device user of UK legislation changes.
Employment law apps from Eversheds and employment consultants Peninsula were given the thumbs up, as were family law apps from Mills & Reeve and OGR Stock Denton.
Endorsing predictions of a convergence in the use of online devices within 10 years – meaning “there will be no perceived difference between mobile and web” – Ms Tasso said many law firms were unaware of whether their websites are compatible with mobile devices.
She told Legal Futures: “As an absolute basic minimum… make sure your website – your most basic information about your lawyers and your services – is viewable on a mobile device.”
It is also increasingly important to ensure that a website’s mobile version works on such devices as Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads, netbooks and Kindles, she said.
Ms Tasso, who previously worked in a senior role at City law firm Nabarro, assessed the quality of apps produced by professional service firms and while she judged many to be worthwhile, some legal apps were “horrendous” – especially in the personal injury field. In part this reflected a tendency among “early adopters” to “shoot-from-the-hip [and] be seen to use a new technological platform” without thinking about what clients might find useful or having a strategy.
“The app space in the professions is crying out for some strategic planning, careful research, innovative thinking and proper investment,” the report said. While simple apps – for instance a PDF of a brochure in app format – might cost around £7,000, a “complex and more bespoke” app can cost £150,000-£200,000 plus.
“Apps have to be treated as software engineering – they are not websites or intranets. There is no ‘off the shelf solution’ that will be a cheap way of creating an app successfully.”
Large firms have risked reputational damage by failing to control the development of apps, the report continued. “The bigger firms seem to lack control over their brands as they have numerous apps with different offerings in different geographical markets and sectors – it is simply not joined up.”
The problem of firms producing worthwhile apps was compounded by a lack of research into how business people use technology, the paper cautioned. “It is hard to see why someone would take the trouble of searching for and downloading an app when they can reach pretty much all the information they require by searching the Internet instead.”
It recommended that firms considering developing apps talk to clients first and bring older and younger members of the firm together to “brainstorm” ideas. Firms should also examine such things as the business objectives, strategic reasons, cost implications and project management issues before going ahead.