My Firm Has an iPhone App

by Erik Cummins on June 14, 2011


A few weeks ago, a chairman of a large law firm told me that he wanted to get an “app” for his law firm. At the time, I didn’t have a lot to say in response, so I asked several well-known San Francisco law firm marketers what they thought about the concept. I posed my questions like this: “Why would a law firm need its own app? And can we make a business case for getting one?”

When I asked those same questions to the law firm chairman, he gave me some vague answers about how all the “kids” (the Millennials) use apps for their iPads and iPhones and that we need to “get with the times.” But his real answer was that he had heard that some technology-oriented firms like Morrison & Foerster have apps and he wanted one too. Of course, most law firms are risk averse and not inherently good at marketing. So, they mostly play follow-the-leader and do what everyone else is doing. And that was the case here.

During my conversations with my marketing friends, I came to understand that an app would essentially be a portal to a law firm’s website and would simply save a step or two for those wanting to access the site on their smart phones. The cost, they estimated, would be about $50,000. That’s because unlike other apps for things like online games, social media sites and retailers, a law firm app wouldn’t need constant upkeep and tweaks. Those changes provide a steady income to developers so initial fees typically start a little lower for evolving apps.

For large firms, this price isn’t unbearable. Still, we need to answer the question of whether it makes business sense to spend that money and get an app for a professional services company. Most useful apps are used to market actual products, communicate online, play games and deliver coupons and other helpful updates to consumers. However, the buyers of professional services like legal advice and accounting don’t need to visit their vendors’ websites often and don’t need coupons or other marketing gimmicks. In fact, they are already bombarded by client alerts and other marketing materials, and express great irritation at those marketing practices. As I’ve learned over the past several years when writing , most in-house counsel rely on phone calls and emails when they need answers from their outside counsel. One GC told me last week, for instance, that picking up the phone to call her trusted legal advisers is her “visceral” reaction when something challenging comes up. Why would she go to a boring law firm website? (Let’s be honest, most law firm website are deadly dull and only useful for their bios. There are exceptions, like regularly updated blogs with original content — but that’s a story for a .)

Of course, if the firm is trying to use an app to appeal to its younger attorneys and recruits, I suppose they might get some bragging rights if those associates and summer clerks can say to their friends and classmates, “My firm has an app. Does yours?” Again, I’m not sure what use they would have with an app beyond that unless it connects them to the firm’s extranet. But even that is a bit of a stretch as most firms have dedicated sites that connect to those internal word processing, billing and time stamping tools. If the associates wanted to play games on their iPhones, why the heck would they need games generated by their law firms? Again, see the MoFo app…

So, can anyone tell me why a law firm needs an app? Seriously.

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Latham & Watkins popular “Book of Jargon” apps that provide a mobile gloossary of key terms in capital markets, project finance, etc. See:

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