Torys LLP has launched what appears to be the first Canadian law firm iPhone application. Available as a free download via the iTunes app store, the app includes sections incorporating the firm’s twitter stream, publications, a lawyer directory, video content and firm contact information and maps.
While they may be first to market in Canada, this app is not something that has been haphazardly banged together – quite the opposite in fact. The firm has clearly put some solid thinking behind what information should be included and how it is presented. For example, the lawyer directory goes beyond a simple list to include the lawyers’ photos, short form versions of their bios and links to the full website versions. The contact information includes GPS functionality and live directions to their offices. As already noted on Slaw:
The GPS features might be useful for visitors to Toronto, or the hapless OCI student trying to find their way to an in-firm interview.
The app might even be useful for that cocktail party where you know the lawyer across the room works at Torys, and quite embarrassingly cannot remember their name.
Earlier this year well-known legal blogging and technology thought-leader Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog wrote on his blog about why firms should forget about building an iPhone App. To summarize his arguments, Kevin says: 1) in a sea of 150,000+ different apps, yours will never get found or widely used, and 2) the logic behind building a law firm app is flawed because that’s like asking people to download a separate app for every content source they follow instead of using well-known destinations where content is already aggregated. For those reasons, he concludes that developing an iPhone app is a waste of resources and time and makes your firm look silly by demonstrating a misunderstanding of how content is consumed online.
I have great respect for Kevin and he and I see the world alike more often than not, but on this topic I think he’s DEAD WRONG.
My position is that the goal of a large law firm iPhone app is not to be magically discovered by the world at large in that giant app-sea of games, productivity tools, and time-wasters. Rather, it is to provide existing and prospective clients that already have the firm squarely on their radar another access point and contact opportunity, and to strengthen their sense of connection with the firm. If I’m a new client sitting in the lobby in advance of my second meeting, I might very well appreciate having easy access to the names and faces of lawyers two, three or four that I’ve only met briefly even though I already know my primary contact well. If I’m a General Counsel sitting at the airport and find myself with a half-hour flight delay, I might well browse through my apps and decide to scan a few headlines from the firm’s twitter feed, which the app makes dead-simple for me to find.
As an end-user, the mere presence of the App on my phone also creates ongoing additional top-of-mind awareness for those firms that do make it onto my system, every time I scan through my phone, which is daily. Kevin himself points out in his post that the way we consume content is changing at lightning speed. That being the case, why would we presume to speak for whether or not it is “silly” for someone else to consume law firm content via a standalone app instead of via a blog, a twitter client, or a website? If there is one thing the 300 channel tv universe and the explosion of social media online has shown us, it is that we don’t all want our content in one homogenous fashion.
Kevin also writes that he thinks the upcoming iPad is going to be “a game-changer”. Well guess what – those standalone law firm iPhone apps he dislikes are going to work from day 1 on the iPad and could be great high-tech “lobby material” in lieu of the traditional printed firm brochure – that would send a pretty clear message to clients about the level of technological savvy they can expect from their counsel. My money also says that the firms building iPhone apps now are also going to be the early adopters in getting blackberry versions rolling as well and while there may be apps beyond count in Apple’s store, there certainly isn’t yet in the blackberry world, where a heavy concentration of lawyers, in-house counsel and corporate clients reside.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Torys’ Chief Marketing Officer Stuart Wood earlier today and he made several points that solidified my thinking on this topic even further. Mr. Wood pointed out that the project was neither expensive nor particularly time-consuming, and will provide the firm with real data about usage and adoption rates, which they can then use to make better decisions about further iterations, supporting other platforms etc. He also reports that initial feedback from clients in the first week has been both significant and highly positive and is frequently coming directly from the clients to their own lawyers as opposed to marketing or firm management. Other firms’ I.T. departments are also calling their peers at Torys to find out more about the technical aspects. When the client is taking the initiative to make contact with your lawyers directly to congratulate you on a new marketing initiative and have a chat, and the competitors are calling to see how they can replicate what you’ve done, my money says the small investment in developing that free app has just paid for itself in spades.