Thursday, July 10, 2014

Developing an App for Your Law Firm

By: Laura Powers

We have been studying the landscape of law firm apps closely this past year. Many firms are reluctant to invest the required time, resources and energy into app development - and with good cause. Most apps developed for law firms are simply an extension of the firm's website. This neither benefits the user, who can access the same information just as easily online, nor the law firm which inevitably will have invested heavily in the app's development and marketing.

The key to building successful apps for the legal industry is in the strategic development of the idea that makes the app useful to the firm's target audience. Firms that are interested in apps need to think critically about what makes an app valuable for users and different from existing apps.

This year, at the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference, I attended a superb presentation by a team from Bracewell & Giuliani. The team described the planning, development, design, integration and marketing of their ShalePlay app, a resource for news and information related to shale gas and hydraulic fracturing. The process took two years of hard work, many hours of critical thinking and in-depth strategic planning, but it has been tremendously successful for the firm as a result.

As I typically do at the presentations I attend, I live-tweeted information from the session. Below, I've distilled some of the main points from these tweets.
  • There are two primary areas of concern in app development. The first is targeting the right market - knowing the audience for the tool. The second is "doing mobile right" - considering that, to app users, mobile means immediacy, simplicity & context.

  • The team from Bracewell & Giuliani recommends that if you're not going to enable push notifications, don't bother with an app at all. You need to ping users in order to keep the app top-of-mind. If you do plan on sending out push notifications through your firm's mobile app, it should be at a frequency of three to five times during the week.

  • The team from Bracewell & Giuliani also recommends that the firm take into serious consideration how the app will fit into the overall brand. In considering what direction to go in the planning phase, start with what the firm knows best. In Bracewell & Giuliani's case, it was their environmental strategies work.

  • When developing an app for a law firm, always start with a content plan. Ask yourselves, what content do we usually generate and what is lacking in the app marketplace?

  • A critical concern for law firm to consider is that apps need to be useful for potential users, fit into the context of each particular firm and provide a unique value.

  • Creating an RFP (request for proposal) for third-party app development is a process that will involve many teams within the firm: marketing, business development, knowledge management, IT and procurement.

  • Careful consideration must be given to content management platforms, graphic design and creating the name of the app.

  • The extra benefits of mobile apps for law firms include the opportunity to reach out to your audience with a useful tool through direct outreach, article writing or speaking publicly on the benefits of using the app.

  • Just like your website, your firm's mobile app is an evolving tool that serves the business – it works to promote the firm to various target audiences.

  • Don't overlook measurement and ROI. By measuring the app's performance, Bracewell & Giuliani can demonstrate how the mobile app has opened doors to new clients and generated beneficial conversations with current clients.

  • Paul Grabowski, from Bracewell & Giuliani, notes that firms must start looking at new ways to distribute information and ShalePlay is a primary example of this.

  • Three key elements of digital marketing to remember: target your market, generate relevant content and stay socially engaged. Launching a law firm app should support all three.
However, there is one caution to keep in mind when evaluating how an app would enhance your law firm's marketing plan. In order for the apps to be successful, people must already know the firms they belong to. In most cases, potential clients must know about a firm before downloading their app. This means that firms need to be reaching out to prospective clients through other marketing techniques first.

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