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Mar

05

2010

The Law Firm iPhone App Comes To Canada – Torys LLP

Screencaps from the Torys iPhone App

Screencaps from the Torys iPhone App

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.

8 Comments to “The Law Firm iPhone App Comes To Canada – Torys LLP”

  1. Kevin OKeefe says:

    What happens when 100, then 200, then 300 law firms start iPhone Apps because they think iPhone apps are cool and inhouse counsel sitting at airports will start search for apps and stumble across their app. They become worthless.

    Imagine if we had a seperate RSS reader for each law firm blog. That’s what having a seprate iPhone App for each law firm is like.

    I just don’t see these things as having any value other than being able to say ‘look at us, we’re cool.’

    Reply

    Doug Replies:

    Kevin, I agree with you that there will be a first mover advantage – i.e. the first two dozen of these are going to get noticed a lot more readily than the 400th or the 4000th, but the same could also be said of websites, blogs, and most other forms of technology. That doesn’t warrant throwing out the entire category to my mind. In fact, if you replace the phrase “iPhone App” with the word “blog” in your first paragraph, you hear something that sounds a lot like the debate around law firm blogs five years ago. Rather than legal blogs becoming worthless as they proliferated, they have instead become better and more powerful over time.

    As the market matures and the field becomes more competitive with dozens or hundreds or thousands of law firm iPhone Apps, the standard for what constitutes a worthwhile app will also rise accordingly. (And I’m in agreement with you that simply converting a single blog into an App isn’t really much of an app even at this early stage, but that isn’t what Torys LLP did with theirs). Ultimately, there will be a large market of these things from which to choose, the best ones from firms of any size and the ones backed by the biggest firms will probably rise to the top of the heap and many others thrown together without much thought will no doubt die on the vine, just like their websites, their blogs, and the firms themselves.

    In any event, an interesting difference of opinion on this topic. Thanks for your input and we’ll look forward to seeing how it plays out.

    Reply

    Ian Replies:

    you could have said the same about websites 10 yrs ago – in answer to your question they’ll get better search engines for phone apps – 5-7 years from now every law firm will need phone apps as well as a website – get with it!

    Reply

  2. Ishan Ghosh says:

    I do believe that Smartphone Apps are the next channel for building Customer Relationships and dialogue – the effectiveness is how you use them and the value you bring to your user. Apps are at a stage where websites were about 20 years ago. People want to have them because they’re there. The role of Apps are still being explored and it is essential to understand what you want it to do for your brand. Air Canada, The Home Depot, Best Buy, Kraft are some brands that are leveraging the vehicle quite effectively to build customer equity.

    Reply

  3. Sameer Dhargalkar says:

    I agree with Doug. It doesn’t matter if 100, 200 or even 1,000 law firms launch apps. As Doug mentions, it is about providing another access point for existing clients/contacts of the firm who value the information provided (whether articles, news briefs, event notices, etc.). Increased competition will spur law firms to improve the content they provide and the feature set/usuability of the apps. The fittest will survive. Junk will get weeded out. Law firm apps, initially, will likely be fairly basic but they will improve as we learn.

    Reply

  4. Zena Applebaum says:

    Boomers are retiring and the up and coming GCs are Generation X with Generation Y on their heels. Smart phone apps will become as ubiquitous as websites. People won’t notice the addition of the 1000th law firm app, but they will notice in time if the law firm they are looking for has no app. Apps should be part of a smart, tech savvy generational profile building strategy. Think about how much time the average person spends on a smart phone, let alone those in the legal industry. As Sameer rightly points out, how the apps will be used and evolve remains to be seen but since I doubt smart phones will be going the way of the dodo bird any time soon, expect to see many more law firm firms apps for that 24/7 client service advantage.

    Reply

  5. you could have said the same about websites 10 yrs ago – in answer to your question they’ll get better search engines for phone apps – 5-7 years from now every law firm will need phone apps as well as a website – get with it!

    Reply

  6. [...] an interview with Legal Marketing Canada, Torys’ Chief Marketing Officer Stuart Wood remarked that [...]

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