The Dos and Don’ts of Law Firm App Development

As digital becomes increasingly vital in business, law firms are upping the ante and differentiating themselves with the use of app technology.

As observed in the recent 2016 Australia: State of the Legal Market report by Melbourne Law School and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor®, large law firms such as Corrs Chambers Westgarth and MinterEllison are creating their own apps to serve as functional tools, improve processes, foster business development and delight clients by offering outstanding service.

Developing your own firm app – whether for internal customers (to improve efficiency and firm operations) or external clients (to stand out from the competition) – is a great way to deliver content. It can also help redefine the client experience and revolutionise the way you practise law.

We chatted to Corrs Chambers Westgarth and took a look at some other players to find out more about the recent rise of the law firm app, and what are some of the dos and don’ts when developing one for your firm.

DO: Understand why you need an app

The legal industry has traditionally been slow to adopt new technologies, but James Whittaker, partner at Corrs, describes the driving force behind innovation and app creation as a necessity for offering their clients better service.

“In the last 24 months, we’ve seen a profound and fundamental shift in the way in which legal services are provided”, he says. “There’s a growing frustration that law firms have been in the game as ‘order takers’ rather than focusing on productivity and efficiency. Clients are looking for legal services to be delivered in a better, faster way. They expect innovative tools that can offer superior service and efficiency.”

Virtual law firms and paperless offices are now a reality, so it’s no surprise that mobile apps are gaining popularity in legal services. There are different paths a firm can take when developing an app – depending on what it’s trying to achieve and what its customers (both internal and external) want.

Overall, however, there should be a solid understanding of what purpose the app serves, and how it adds value. Don’t just spend money developing an app because everyone is doing it.

DO: Prioritise the client experience

Creating a law firm app may require some technical know-how, but the concept isn’t that hard. “Identify a need and create something that addresses that need,” says Graeme Grovum, head of innovation at Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

CASEFOLIO, an award-winning app developed by the firm to harness the iPad craze, was born from a client need.

In another example, ME Taskflow – a software solution built by MinterEllison – allows clients to have clear visibility on the legal matters they have pending with the firm, and also assigns a matter to the most qualified member of the legal team.

Whatever your reasons for creating an app, keep in mind that a strong commitment to prioritising your user’s experience will help your firm deliver more value to your clients.

DON’T: Neglect the app production process

The actual creation process can be quite complicated, especially when it comes to designing an app that offers a delightful user experience. In terms of the overall process, Corrs worked with internal developers to create a minimum viable product, and then got extra assistance from external developers and contributors to refine and decide on a polished appearance –the user experience is after all, everything.

According to Graeme, the primary factors you need to consider to create an app with lasting value for clients and firms are:

  • Be quick, speed to market is important.
  • Recognise that outcomes will change along the way, so remain flexible.
  • Vendors, internal stakeholders and IT teams may not speak the same language all round. Expect ambiguity and clarify accordingly so no one gets lost in translation during the app development.
  • Stay open to all suggestions, and explore opportunities to co-create the app with clients if possible. Firsthand feedback from your audience can be vital in helping you create an offering that stands out from the myriad of apps out there.

DON’T: Close an eye to open innovation

Graeme and James agree that “open innovation” and collaboration and co-creation are critical concepts when thinking about app development.

“We decided to launch our first app in an open learning way,” Graeme says. “We put CASEFOLIO on iTunes initially and we were happy to give the technology to anyone who wanted to buy it.”

Users could also download the CASEFOLIO app for free for evaluation from the Australian, US, Canadian and UK iTunes stores. Giving users a chance to see what the app could do for them before buying allowed the firm to obtain feedback and make improvements continually.

Xakia, a legal tech company that started within NewLaw firm Hive Legal, also adopted a similar philosophy when it came to innovation. Xakia’s offering is a dashboard management app aimed at in-house counsel, but the prototype was extensively trialled with existing clients from Hive Legal.

Jodie Baker, who now heads up Xakia, commented in a recent Lawyers Weekly article that “companies are starting to recognise the value in collaboration and the benefits interfacing with one another can deliver for clients.”

“I don’t necessarily see other legal technology as competition; I see our product more as an interface for all those different technologies. It’s a very small industry and it’s very important to know what other people are doing and to work with it,” she said.

Law firm apps are not new, but they are getting more sophisticated. As tablet and smartphone use soars in Australia and globally, firms and clients alike can expect to see further advancement in the development of legal apps and other tech tools to help make access to the law simpler and more intuitive.

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