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BigLaw: How to Create a Smartphone App That Promotes Your Law Firm

By Dan Friedlander | Monday, November 15, 2010


Originally published on November 1, 2010 in our free BigLaw newsletter.

Apple's App Store offers more than 200,000 apps for the iPhone (primarily) and iPad. Apps run the gamut from games to social media clients to sophisticated document editors to flashlights. Yet there is a shortage of law-related apps, especially those developed by large law firms. In future BigLaw columns, I'll discuss the app development process as well as enterprise apps for internal use at large firms. Today, let's explore law firms apps as marketing tools.

Ignore Smartphone App User Psychographics at Your Peril

The iPhone — now in the hands of over 30 million users, many of them corporate executives — seems like an ideal platform for large law firms to advertise their legal services. However, most firms have not yet released an app.

App development is not cheap. Even the simplest of iPhone apps costs around $20,000 to develop — and that's just to write the code. The price can quickly escalate to upwards of $50,000 once you include the costs to maintain the code, house and run the servers necessary to feed information to the app, and the need to keep the app up to date with Apple's iOS operating system releases. While you can spend less to develop an app, the cost savings is usually apparent in the resulting quality and utility of the app.

Despite the high costs of entry, some law firms — big and small — have ventured into mobile advertising by releasing iPhone apps. Did being first to market help these firms? Probably not. Most of these apps don't offer significant value, which means that those who download them quickly abandon them.

Mobile industry analysts and Apple's own software engineers have stated that the most successful mobile apps are those that do one thing and do it well. Generally, users of mobile technology have a short attention span. They want to click on an app, use it, and move on. They don't want to spend ten minutes drilling through attorney bios, case law updates, and legal news it as if they were sitting at their desktop computer viewing a Web site.

This psychographic profile of a typical app user explains why the current iPhone offerings by law firms have failed. Most law firm apps consist of simplified regurgitations of their Web site. They try to squeeze too much information onto a tiny screen and do not offer anything to motivate users to return to the app a second time. So, what should your app contain?

The Recipe for Law Firm Smartphone App Success

To succeed, advertising your law firm should be incidental to the primary purpose of your mobile app — not the other way around. Ideally, it should offer frequently-updated information or a tool that makes users want to return to the app again and again. Also, incorporating game dynamics can help make a useful app even more addictive.

Morrison & Foerster's free MoFo2Go app is probably the best of the law firm apps currently available. In addition to attorney bios, legal news, press releases, and firm newsletters, the app also provides some entertainment value by including a small labyrinth game. Although a step in the right direction, the game is not compelling enough to persuade users to return.

Obviously, developing an app that corporate executives download in droves is easier said than done, but not impossible. Eventually, a large law firm will release such an app. It may as well be your firm.

Written by Dan Friedlander of

How to Receive BigLaw
Many large firms have good reputations for their work and bad reputations as places to work. Why? Answering this question requires digging up some dirt, but we do with the best of intentions. Published first via email newsletter and later here on our blog, BigLaw analyzes the business practices, marketing strategies, and technologies used by the country's biggest law firms in an effort to unearth best and worst practices. The BigLaw newsletter is free so don't miss the next issue. Please subscribe now.

Topics: BiglawWorld | Laptops/Smartphones/Tablets | Law Firm Marketing/Publications/Web Sites
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