chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
Vol. 36, No. 3

Bars increase their app-titude

by Dan Kittay

Study after study shows that more people are using mobile devices to access the Web, and they seek out the sites and apps that are most useful to them. This trend has not been lost on bar associations, which continue to develop ways to ensure that their members who use mobile devices will have apps and websites that improve their experience with the bar, and help them get more benefit from membership.

“You’re seeing apps in the bar world among the early adopters,” says Erik Mazzone, director of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Center for Practice Management. “I personally expect it to be mainstream in the not-too-distant future.”

Some of the early adopters cited in a previous Bar Leader article (see “Is there an app for your bar? Should there be?” fall 2011, page 21) have advanced to having their apps released or ready to be released, while other bars have ramped up their efforts.

For example, the New York State Bar Association has released an app that contains the bar’s database of more than 800 ethics opinions, says Richard Martin, assistant executive director. The free app, which is available for iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, and BlackBerry, can be downloaded from each platform’s respective app repository.

NYSBA built its app on the DUB platform, which is compatible with the iMIS system that powers the association’s IT functions, says Barbara Beauchamp, NYSBA’s website editor, who was involved in the app effort. DUB allows for the bar to update the app’s database with new opinions without having to go through the whole development and approval process each time. DUB will also allow the bar to build and distribute more apps in the future, Beauchamp says; the ethics opinion app was developed by Astegic Inc., of 

The app-building process took about six months from RFP to finished product, Martin says. Much of the work that NYSBA staff did was taking the older ethics opinions and converting them so they could be added as text to the app. The bar’s in-house design department worked on the look and feel of the app, and a staff developer contributed coding and also was liaison to the outside developer.

NYSBA spent about $50,000 to license the DUB platform and develop the ethics opinion app, Martin says. “We’re very pleased at this point,” he notes. “We’re glad to be functioning in the world of mobile apps. We can say, ‘We’ve got one,’ and now we’re looking at what comes next.”

Florida starts with publication

At press time, The Florida Bar’s app-development process was about to bear fruit. Its app features top recent articles from the Florida Bar News, which members can download and read offline, says Francine Walker, director of public information and bar services. The app, like New York’s, is a native app, meaning users download it from an app store, and different versions are developed for each device platform.

“There is a long wish list of applications that we’d eventually like to integrate into The Florida Bar’s app,” says Chris Pollan, the bar’s chief information officer.  The bar decided that working on the Bar News articles, which involves simply sending information out to app users, was the easiest way to start. Features that may later become part of the app include “transactional” functions, such as tracking CLE credits, and an online member directory, that require users to supply passwords and/or interact with the bar’s databases. The bar envisions having one main app for members to open, in which available functions are contained.

The Florida Bar chose Brandt Information Services, based in Tallahassee, to develop the app.  The bar needed to change some formatting of existing materials in order for them to work well with the app process. There are also changes to the workflow of those who edit and process the articles, as they will have to add information that allows the app to include new articles in the list it presents to app users.

Cost for the app, which includes versions for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry, was about $47,000, Walker says. It is expected to serve as the basis for the bar’s future apps.

ABA section adds meeting apps

The American Bar Association has increased its app offerings since our last look. The Section of Real Property, Trust & Estate Law has begun developing apps for its meetings, says Lee Swanson, the section’s meetings and CLE manager. The first app was used for the 2011 fall leadership meeting.

The idea for an app came about at the section’s spring meeting, says Robin Roy, the section’s director. “We noticed that about 60 percent of our attendees were using iPads at the conference,” she explains. “We thought that an app would be a good way to distribute meeting materials.” The app serves as a supplement to other forms of electronic distribution, such as flash drives and the Web. The section stopped printing meeting materials several years ago.

The leadership meeting, which has fewer attendees than a conference, served as a test for the app, Roy says. The section developed versions for iPhone, iPad, and BlackBerry. The developer was Association Applications Group, based in Des Plaines, Ill.

The section provided a flash drive of what content the final version should contain, and the developer used that as the basis to come up with the app, Roy says. She and Swanson particularly liked the app’s ability to search by speaker and topic, and the ability to highlight and recognize sponsors by displaying logos and links to websites. The section was also able to update meeting details and have them sent to app users.

Development time from contract to app delivery was about six weeks, Swanson says. The cost came to $15,000 total for the two apps. Included in the cost is the backend system that allows the section to enter the meeting information that’s used for the app.

While the iOS version worked well, the BlackBerry version ran into compatibility issues on some models, Roy said. There are also a number of section members who use Android devices, so for future apps, the section will develop iOS and Android versions, and not a BlackBerry version.

Alabama’s Web-based app

One bar that entered the app fray recently is the Alabama State Bar. The ASB has put its member directory, directory of elected officials, and ethics opinion database into a single app that allows a user to search any of the three.

The idea for an app came from Dolan Trout, the bar’s director of information technology. Trout noticed that the member directory and ethics opinion Web pages were the most heavily used, and thought members should be able to easily access the data through mobile devices without adjusting the browser to show all the information.

Alabama took a different approach from those mentioned earlier. Instead of native apps that run on a single platform and require development of multiple versions, the bar developed a Web-based app, where one version is created that allows all mobile device users to access the app through the device’s built-in Web browser.

“We originally thought we had to go iPhone native. And then we saw what the cost was, and talked to people who said, ‘Why don’t you do something Web-based?’ We were initially skeptical of it, but we’re not a large bar,” says Brad Carr, the bar’s director of communications. “With finite resources, we asked, ‘What’s the best way to do this?’ ”  The bar came to the conclusion that a Web-based app made the most sense, Carr adds. (Full disclosure: The ASB hired the author of this article to develop the app.)

Since the bar already had the search functions on its website, the main part of app development was having the developer create the app interface and navigation, and then connect the app to the ASB databases.

Development took about three months, and cost $10,000. Carr says the bar expects to continue offering technology solutions to members, whether in the form of additional apps or other products. Decisions will be based in part on how well the current app is received and used.

Maryland: From a CD to an app

The Maryland State Bar Association’s app features its rules of professional conduct, code of civility, ideals of professionalism, and similarly themed content, as well as the Maryland Rules of Evidence. The app came to be when the bar was looking for an alternative to paper distribution, says Erek Barron, chair of the Young Lawyers Section, which oversaw the project.

The MSBA used to produce a booklet with some of the information that’s now in the app, Barron says. A year ago, Executive Director Paul Carlin asked the section to digitize the content, to reduce costs. The first version was a CD mailed to all bar members.

That led Barron to think, “Why not make this available to everyone, on their phone or mobile device?” After some research, the section decided that ethics and professionalism guidelines were a natural fit for a widely distributed app, since they apply to all lawyers. Then some section members had ideas to put in other rules to make the app even more useful.

“We thought it was a cool way to add some spark to what the bar does, to show the members some benefits from their dues,” Barron says.

Barron searched online for developers, and hired TenPearls, based in The company worked for other local clients and was proficient in iOS, Android, and BlackBerry app development, the three platforms for which the MSBA chose to develop apps.

The development took about four months and cost $12,000 for four versions, with iPad and iPhone getting separate treatment.

The app has been well received, Barron says. As for future apps, he adds, that will be up to others to decide, but “the groundwork has been laid for others to build upon.”

A hybrid approach for Arizona

The State Bar of Arizona took a hybrid approach to mobile development: It  has developed an Android app that serves as a gateway to key areas of the bar’s website. The SBA also created an iOS version of the app, but for technical reasons, the app was rejected by Apple’s App Store, says Rick DeBruhl, the bar’s chief communications officer.

The SBA decided to optimize certain portions of the website so that any mobile device user would have a similar experience to that of those using the native app. In addition, any mobile device user who visits the bar’s home page is automatically taken to the mobile-optimized area, DeBruhl says.

Content on the mobile page includes Find a Lawyer, Rules of Professional Conduct, Career Center, and a link to the full website.

DeBruhl says the bar is considering how best to ensure that the rest of the site is optimized for mobile users. “The problem is that that is kind of a moving target,” he notes. “Are we optimizing it for all mobile devices? Are we optimizing it for smartphones, versus tablets? The reality is that once you open this can of worms, you discover that there’s about 20 more cans below it.”

Development for the app and for the mobile optimization is done by a member of the IT staff. DeBruhl says that by keeping it in-house, the bar learns a lot about the process that it can use for future projects.