Mobile Legal Marketing: Considerations Before Moving In

Volume 40 Number 1

By

About the Author

Greg Siskind is an immigration lawyer known for creating one of the first law firm websites in 1994, the award-winning visalaw.com, as well as the first lawyer blog three years later. He is the author of four books, including the ABA’s first book on law firm Internet marketing, Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet, 3rd Edition.

Law Practice Magazine | January/February 2014 | The Management IssueNINETEEN YEARS AGO I BOUGHT an HTML guide and, with the help of some techie friends who opened the first Web hosting company in my region of the country, I launched a pretty simple website. There were just two other law firm websites in the U.S. when my site launched, and the vast majority of Americans had never been on the Web. So, it took a while for people to grasp what I was doing.

Fast forward two decades, and something similar is happening with mobile devices. A small number of firms have waded into the world of smartphones and tablets and have created mobile websites and applications (or apps, as nearly everyone knows them) that are changing the way firms market their services and interact with their clients.

This month, I focus on mobile marketing. But, unlike in 1994, I don’t have to educate you on smartphones. That’s because you very likely have one. Fifty-six percent of Americans do, and I’m guessing the percentage of lawyers is even higher. Given that more than a million smartphones are activated every day, and smartphone sales now exceed computer purchases, chances are if you don’t have an Android, Apple, BlackBerry or Windows phone, you will soon.

And those who have smartphones are pretty busy with them. Between Android and Apple, nearly 100 billion apps have been downloaded. Of American smartphone users, 69 percent report using them daily to access the Internet. Sixty-five percent of all searches conducted on the Web are started from smartphones.

Convincing you to start a mobile site is probably going to be more about what type of content would work for you, how much of a pain it is going to be to set up and how expensive it will be.

WHAT TO INCLUDE

Let’s start with content strategies. Before getting into specifics, I’d suggest simply observing for a few days how you use your smartphone or tablet. Obviously you’re making phone calls. But you’re probably using GPS, the camera and apps that let you shop, chatting via text or maybe a social media site such as Twitter or Facebook, consuming news, making appointments, answering email or even reading a book. My point is that you will want to deliver content that people are comfortable with seeing on the go rather than in front of a large monitor on their desktops. We’ll get to changing the way content shows up on a phone or tablet later, but for now, let’s just think about content.

Obviously you will want to attractively present information about the firm, just as you would on your main website. So lawyer biographies, practice area descriptions and news about the firm are easy and useful forms of content to consider. And why not have a link to a map delineating the location of your office, which can then launch a GPS program to help viewers get to your doorstep? It also helps to set phone numbers to automatically dial when tapped. 

Feed in your social media content. Tweets, blog posts, podcast feeds and YouTube videos all can easily be incorporated into your mobile site or app.

Some law firms have moved beyond this conventional content. They are set up with features that

  • allow clients to see their bills and pay them from their phones,
  • allow clients to view case reports in Basecamp,
  • provide live chat functionality,
  • allow clients to view documents in their files via shared Dropbox folders  and/or
  • request appointments with a lawyer.

Firms have even developed calculators for determining child support or calculating the costs of global sourcing. Cameras are being incorporated to allow clients to upload images to their attorney or videoconference. And firms with lots of content are incorporating e-books to deliver longer content in an optimized way.

HOW TO SET IT UP

But even if you come up with a nice list of features for your app or mobile site, the really tough questions still need to be answered. Chief among them is what type of mobile presence you want. You’ve got four major options, namely,

  • native app,
  • Web app,
  • responsive design, and
  • hybrid design.

Native apps are applications that reside on the device and don’t necessarily require Internet access to work. The code required for native apps is going to be specific to the device of the user. An app designed for the iPhone will have different source code than one designed for a Windows phone.

Web apps use a mobile device’s Web browser and can function on any type of smartphone. They don’t require downloading, and most have a unique address like “m.yourdomain.com” rather than the typical “www.yourdomain.com.” The site is designed specifically for mobile devices and tablets, and the coding for the mobile site differs from that on the firm’s main site.

Responsive design sites use coding that detects the type of screen being used. If a phone is being used to access a website, the content will be delivered in a way best seen on a small touchscreen. The same content will be presented differently on a 21-inch monitor.

Hybrid apps use traditional Web coding inside an “app shell” so that it runs like an app instead of a website. These apps can use a one-size-fits-all design so it is not necessary to have a completely separate app for each of the major types of devices. The chart on the next page reviews the major advantages and disadvantages of each type of design. No matter which you choose, each can help establish your presence in an ever-burgeoning marketplace.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF MOBILE PLATFORMS

Native AppWeb AppResponsive DesignHybrid App
Advantages

No internet required

Graphics usually better

Usually runs faster than websites

Can better incorporate phone features, including camera and GPS

Users typically prefer the look of an app to a website

Can better handle features such as personalization and user accounts

Better integrates touch

One design

Much less expensive than an app.

Users can get there through search engines or links on social media

Can incorporate some phone features such as phone numbers dialing via touch and GPS

No need to push updates to viewers

One set of coding for both the regular and mobile  site

One web address for both desktop and mobile versions

No Internet required

One set of coding to get much of natives app’s functionality

Cheaper than a native app developed for each type of device

 

Disadvantages

Pricier than other options

More time-consuming to design for multiple platforms

Users have to download from an app store

Search engines won’t see the content

Viewers need to manually update

Graphics and speed slower and inferior to an native app

Requires Internet

Search engines may be tougher to get noticed in than app store

Requires second set of coding (as opposed to responsive design)

Can be tricky to convert existing site and optimize and  optimize for touch and integration with phone features and GPS

Can end up requiring a major redesign of existing site to achieve the desired functionality on both desktop and mobile

Won’t have the look of apps designed for a particular device

May not run as fast as a native app

Users have to download from an app store

Viewers need to manually update

Search engines won’t see content

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU BUDGET?

This is a little like asking how long is a piece of string. It really depends on what approach you’re taking. But know that in terms of budgeting, native apps are going to cost the most because you need to develop custom code that’s different for each of the major devices. Responsive design sites are next highest because you’ll have to redesign your desktop site in order to get your content to work on all types of screens. Mobile websites and hybrid apps should be the least expensive options because you can develop one set of code for any device and shouldn’t need to significantly alter your existing website.

CONCLUSION

An easy way to begin thinking about your mobile plans would simply be to start paying attention to your own habits online and how you use your devices. You will no doubt encounter businesses using each type of app or site I’ve described and can start to see who’s succeeding and who is not. Also spend some time viewing your existing site on a smartphone and see what works well and what makes you wince. Finally, talk to your clients about what they might like in a mobile site or app and how they would use it if it were available.

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