SEARCH THE iPHONE APP STORE for the phrase “law firm” and, as of this writing, you’ll receive 219 results. By the time you read this, that number will undoubtedly be higher.
It’s 2013—and the law firm app gold rush is on!
That there is gold in them thar app hills has become an article of faith. Even a casual consumer of technology news is likely to be able to recite that Instagram was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion or that Yahoo! bought a news-reading app from a teenager for $30 million. People are getting rich on apps. Doesn’t it just make sense that law firms should get in on the action?
Most law firms should sit this one out, their time and money better spent elsewhere. Every once in a while, though, a law firm develops a truly useful app, one that finds its intended audience and has the user reviews to prove it. The rare lucky strike spurs on the all-too-common fruitless claim.
So, how do you know whether your law firm is wasting its time chasing app greatness or if you’re on track to be one of the lucky ones, lighting your cigars with $100 bills in
Here are 10 reasons, in no particular order, to forget about developing a law firm app. If more than a few apply to you, head back to town, partner.
1. You don’t know what you want your app to do. Screen real estate on phones and tablets is precious. For an app to find its way onto my screen and stay there, it needs to do something I value. Most of the law firm apps out there are just beefed up versions of the Contact Us and About Us pages from firms’ websites. If you don’t know what problem your app will solve for the user, you’re lost before you begin.
2. You don’t know the target market for your app. Unless your firm just invented the next Facebook, you will probably develop an app that serves a niche market—hopefully one related at least tangentially to the kind of work the firm does. Only that small group of folks is even potentially interested in your app, so the more you drill down into who those people are, the more that will inform all of your app development decisions.
3. You don’t have a plan on how to promote your app. There are close to 1 million apps in the iPhone App Store and about the same across the various Android app stores. Your one little app is the proverbial needle in the haystack—if the haystack was, say, the size of Texas. Without a well-thought-out and well-executed plan on how to promote your app to its target market and tout its value, there’s little chance it will ever get downloaded by anyone other than firm employees and blood relatives.
4. You want to charge for your app. Somewhere along the app development timeline, you started thinking, “This could really be something. We should charge for this!” If your goal is to make sure nobody ever downloads your app ever—including firm employees and blood relatives—then you are on the right track. Otherwise, give up on monetizing your app and look at it as a part of your firm’s overall marketing strategy. Speaking of which…
5. You can’t explain how developing an app fits in your firm’s marketing strategy. Whether it is formal or casual, brand-new or long-standing, your firm has some basic marketing strategy. Your app needs to fit into that strategy. Complete the following sentence: “Our law firm app helps us achieve our goal of A by doing B.” If you can’t complete that sentence, give up on the app.
6. You have no budget set aside for the app. Everything costs money, including developing an app. How much will depend on a host of factors, including the developer you choose, how informed a customer you are and how much customization you want. If you don’t have a budget set aside for developing an app this year, shelve it until your plans are serious enough to involve a dollar sign.
7. You have no time set aside for managing the project of building an app. If you are going to undertake developing an app, it needs to be a top priority on your list. Think of developing an app as building a small house. Your developer will be your general contractor, but you will still need to spend a lot of time talking with the contractor, explaining what you want, making sure the project is progressing on time and on budget, and so forth. If you don’t have time set aside for managing this project, it can turn into a debacle in a hurry. Independent iPhone developer Jeff Lynch informs his clients that just like building a house, going custom can be a cost killer: “Figure out which standard elements (buttons, scrolling, etc.) you can use and only deviate in extreme cases.”
8. Your firm’s current Web presence is anemic. If you haven’t done much with your firm website, stop. An app is icing; your firm’s website is cake. Put your time and energy into the cake first. Then worry about the icing.
9. You haven’t test-marketed your app. App developer Dan Kittay of Kittay New Media advises all of his clients to “do extensive testing with likely members of your target audience to make sure the app is designed for ease of use.” If you are not organized enough to test-market your app with your likely users, you haven’t done enough legwork to make the app investment worthwhile.
10. You can’t explain why building an app makes more sense than a mobile-friendly website. A lot of law firms would be better off foregoing the app and investing in a mobile-friendly website. There’s no hard-and-fast rule as to when a project becomes app-worthy, but here’s mine: If the app doesn’t do something your users will want to avail themselves of at least once a week, just go with a mobile-optimized website.
BONUS ROUND: You want an app because it seems cool. Hands down, this is the dumbest reason to go through the time, expense and hassle of developing a law firm app. There’s nothing cool about spending $12,000 on an app nobody ever uses or sees.
There’s some gold in them app hills, but if you’re going to spend your firm’s scarce time and money on staking a claim, just make sure it isn’t pyrite.