Law firms adjusting to app opportunities
For many people, the smartphone has become almost a new appendage.
According to the Pew Research Internet Project, as of January 2014, 58 percent of American adults own a smartphone. In addition, in April, CNET reported that average U.S. users spend 2 hours, 42 minutes on their phones each day.
Given that, smart marketers are leveraging smartphone possibilities to spread to their messages. Initially, that meant adaptive websites, but now it means the proliferation of mobile apps.
The really critical statistic appears to be what smartphone users do while on their phones. According to the CNET report, 86 percent of the average smartphone owner’s time is spent using mobile apps, and 14 percent using the mobile Web.
For now, it seems just a handful of Wisconsin-affiliated law firms have launched mobile apps.
Former Milwaukee attorney Kelly Twigger, now of ESI Attorneys LLC in Colorado, launched an app as an educational/practice tool for attorneys. Twigger, whose concentration is e-discovery, launched her “eDiscovery Assistant” for the iPad in 2013, and it offers, among other things, access to e-discovery rules, case digests sorted by issue tags, checklists and templates.
Developing a law firm app can be pricey, in the thousands of dollars, though Twigger didn’t get specific about cost. There also is the time/money cost to update the app. Twigger, for example, reviews every digest.
But she said users have told her the app quickly pays for itself. Users’ reviews have been universally positive, and the app earned her recognition as a Wisconsin Legal Innovator 2014 from the State Bar of Wisconsin.
It appears, though, that the more common purpose for offering a law-firm app, at least in Wisconsin so far, is to direct people to the firm’s website and attorneys. The downloads are free, and while the features tend to be simple and limited, they also are less expensive.
Attorney Scott Rechtschaffen, chief knowledge manager for Littler Mendelson PC, which has a branch office in Milwaukee, said his firm launched the Littler app almost four years ago.
“With a firm of 60 offices and 1,000 attorneys, a lot of clients appreciate the ease of access,” he said, “so that they can go onto the app, and when they’re visiting one of our offices they can find out where it is, or which attorney is in which office. A lot of our clients are national clients who deal with various offices across the firm.”
But the app’s primary purpose is to help people access attorneys. Rechtschaffen said the firm used to publish a directory of contact information, which became outdated almost as soon as it left the presses. Now, with the app, contacts are current.
Apps are not just for boutiques such as Twigger’s, or mega-firms such as Rechtshaffen’s.
Two years ago, Vanden Heuvel & Dineen SC, West Bend, released the “Wisconsin DUI Defense Attorney” app. Similarly, Green Bay solo attorney Gregory Holbus released “Atty Greg Holbus” in April.
His app is fairly straightforward, with basic descriptions of his practice areas, hours and contact information, including ways to contact him through the app.
“I just saw a lot of utility in passing information off through the app,” Holbus said, adding that analytics reports from his website showed most people were viewing his site from mobile devices.
Attorney Linda Vanden Heuvel said about 40 percent of the firm’s website visitors get there via the app. Considering it cost the firm just $60 to develop, plus monthly fees, it has been a wise investment, she said.
Holbus, similarly, said he did not pay much. He used Conduit Mobile, a web-based platform that creates an app using existing content.
“It was fairly inexpensive,” Holbus said, “and if, over the course of a year, I got even one client off of it, it would pay for itself.”
Holbus, a debtors’ bankruptcy lawyer, was careful to include in the app that the firm is a “debt-relief agency,” pursuant to federal law. It also is important to remind people that downloading the app does not create an attorney-client relationship. The disclaimers that apply to websites apply to apps.
The apps, Rechtschaffen said, are going to become prominent in the legal field.
“I think an app is just as essential as a website or, going back 20 years, an advertisement in the Yellow Pages,” he said. “It’s just another calling card for the firm, And going forward, firms will look sort of out of it if they don’t have an app.
“Look at our kids and think about when they’re decision makers. They’re used to doing everything on their phones.”