Since the advent of iPhone applications in July, 2008 over 134,000 iPhone applications have become available at the Apple App Store. Over 3 billion of such applications for news, information, entertainment, and more have been downloaded by iPhone users.

With ESPN, The New York Times, Facebook, LinkedIn, CNN, and MLB all having applications, why not our law firm? Everyone could read our blog posts, articles, and alerts on an iPhone. It would be so cool. We’d look so hip.

I’m in agreement with online PR and social media professional, Niall Harbison. Forget about building an iPhone App.

Couple reasons. First your law firm’s app will never get found or used widely. Follow Harbison’s analogy of a European football stadium.

Cork stadium

Every single one of the 80,000 people in this stadium is an iPhone app that does something that it’s creator thinks is amazing and will deserve your attention.

Among these 80,000 are some of the really big boys including Google, Facebook, Twitter, News organizations, game manufacturers, professional publishers and huge brands to name but a few. These huge companies will be putting massive amounts of cash/labor and marketing dollars into just one of the 80,000 people (iPhone App’s).

The app store is very much like the stadium in that it is closed off by the people who own it. They don’t want all 80,000 people getting the attention equally. Just like the 30 players who will line up on the pitch, a small select group of apps will be featured by Apple to be showcased to the wider public. There is very little guarantee that it will be your app.

Although many people will have a huge interest in the stadium and what happens there, they are not going to come along and pay every single day of the week for a ticket. This will reflect how people use the app store. Sure people will stop by and make purchases, but they will choose the bigger apps and the trusted brands and they won’t be doing it every single day.

Second, the logic motivating a law firm to develop an App is flawed. Consider Arnold & Porter’s iPhone app for their Consumer Advertising Law Blog, the launch of which is outlined at Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog.

Arnold and Porter’s iPhone requires that iPhone users download and install a separate application to get their blog. Arnold and Porter is presuming such an App would make it easier for their blog readers to follow their blog while on the go and to get their blog’s content more widely disseminated. Doesn’t work that way.

Following Arnold and Porter’s logic, iPhone users would download a separate application for each entity and publication distributing content. I want to stay up with a couple hundred blogs, something I easily already do with my newsreader, on my iPhone or at my desktop computer. Arnold and Porter would have me download 200 iPhone Apps. That’s nuts.

Look at widely successful iPhone Apps such as Yelp, a user review site with 25 million users, ESPN with millions of sports fan users, Urban Spoon with millions of users in major cities receiving restaurant reviews, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal disseminating edited news stories covering hundreds of ‘topic channels’ to millions of readers. Each one of them aggregates content into one iPhone App making the App an attractive one for you and me.

You are not going to see successful iPhone Apps for each restaurant, each NY Times column (already with a 1,000 times the readers of 1 law blog), or for each college sports conference. Why? Because we don’t consume content that way. You aren’t going to get more people to your restaurant by getting off Yelp and Urban Spoon and having your own App, you’ll get less people.

Having a separate iPhone App for each law firm and their blogs is akin to a law firm developing a separate RSS reader for their content. How crazy would that be?

What’s the answer? Get your law firm’s content where content is being aggregated. That’s where people are consuming content.

Consider getting your blog on Kindle so it can be read on the Kindle. Apple’s upcoming iPad is run on an iPhone operating system so the Kindle App will presumably run on the iPad as well.

Get your law blog into edited law blog networks such as the LexBlog Network or the Law.com Blog Network. These networks which are aggregating content from leading lawyers are producing hundreds of law blog posts a day across various subjects. JD Supra is also aggregating content by subject.

Such networks are apt to develop iPhone Apps aggregating blogs allowing users to select the type of content they want ala what ESPN does with separate sports, teams, and conferences.

The way we consume content is changing at lightening speed. I expect Apple’s iPad to be a game changer making us laugh at how we used to consume information on a computer. We may have any number of iPads laying around our office or house for easy access to more and better content than we have today. Many of us will add the iPad to our must haves when we leave the house each morning.

Sure it sounds sexy and cool to say you have an iPhone app for your law firm – and it’s easy and cheap to get an App developed.

But you’d much better served to think things through than to waste resources and time on an iPhone App and, in my mind, look silly by demonstrating that your law firm doesn’t understand how content is consumed online.

  • Hi Kevin, I completely agree with what you are saying. However, I believe there is a completely different reason for having an app developed for your law firm that hasn’t been addressed. And that is – to promote good will with local business owners and cultivate professional referrals through community. I did a short video on it a few months back if you want to take a look: Scroll through the video to the 4 min mark and listen to the part that says: “here’s where I see the benefit.” http://www.viddler.com/explore/CindySpeaker/videos/10/

  • Well now should they consider a BlackBerry app instead?
    Given there are far more of them in the hands of proffesionals in norht Amweirca than Iphones?
    And a lot less useless apps to scroll through.

  • Hi Kevin –
    With all due respect, I don’t agree with you here. Having an iPhone Application has no more ill effect on the appearance of being social media savvy for lawyers, anymore than having a profile on both Facebook and Martindale Hubbell does.
    Additionally, having an application built is extremely cost effective, for small and mid-size firms. During a special promotion, my app was only $50.00 and without any publicity other than the 5-Tweets I published containing the link, according to my Google Analytics, it’s still generating traffic to my site on a weekly basis.
    Don’t forget, only a few months ago, Facebook was considered “suitable for personal use only, and look what this platform it has morphed into for law firms in an extremely short time period.
    My point is, you may want to tread lightly with such strong opinions just yet.

  • Kevin:
    This is a perfect example of why you are so annoying at times ;) You are assuming that all law firm iPhone apps can do is distribute a firm’s content. I suppose that makes sense if you are looking only from the perspective of someone that sells blogs.
    But I think there is opportunity if you think bigger. What about an app that a plaintiff’s firm gives their clients after they’ve been retained? It can track just how often they go to rehab, they can take specific notes about their ongoing treatment and it can help prove to a jury just how much their lives have been altered.
    What about an app that allows you to document the treatment of a loved one during a hospital stay? Or, a checklist for safety issues at local playgrounds, complete with pictures of hazards? Or, using GPS to report any safety hazard to the proper city department?
    Sure these apps are more difficult and costly. Sure there are still distribution problems. But, someone could create and distribute any of them (or dozens of others) effectively and in a way that provides a positive impact to their firm.
    I’m not sure anyone will. It is possible though, and your post doesn’t really leave that door open.
    Just my two cents.

  • Kevin,
    Aren’t you worried about being considered an old fuddy-duddy because of your views on this issue? Or worse, sheepishly announcing in a few months that you’ve decided Lexblog will have its own iPhone app? I might have detected a slight hint of a “get off my lawn” tone in your post. ;-)
    Seriously, though, my thought is that if you already have a solid base in other web marketing efforts, it’s definitely worth considering some experimentation with mobile Apps as part of the mix. I always like diversifying your approaches. However, since some of the success I’ve seen in the world of Twitter and social media come from people who didn’t blog or otherwise have an Internet presence before jumping into social media, I can imagine that someone could hit a home run going right to an iPhone/mobile app while ignoring the other traditional Internet/social media venues because they see the world and the potential for apps in ways that we old-timers simply can’t. Nick Carroll’s ideas in the earlier comment, for example, are eye-opening.
    I think that you have to experiment with these channels. Admittedly, though, my perspective is skewed because I’ve always wanted to have my own iPhone app since the day the Apps Store opened. When I priced the development costs then, it didn’t make any sense – perhaps prices have come down drastically since then. Kara Smith’s mention of a $50 app in the earlier comment takes three zeroes off of what my initial investigation with apps designers suggested. I’d like to learn more about that.
    BTW, I thought many years ago (in Internet time, that is – but at least in 2004) that law firms should have considered giving clients branded RSS readers and create an information channel to and for their clients. Believe me, I often thought I probably was the only one who thought that. John Kerry’s campaign did something really interesting along those lines (the “John Kerry Reader”), but it didn’t seem to help him much.
    We’ll have to catch up one of these days. It’s been a while since we’ve had the chance to sit down and talk.
    Dennis

  • Dan

    It cost me $50 and five minutes (literally) to get our blog on an app and since there are those who think it cool and think it conveys that we “get it” when it comes to technology, I say it was worth it. And hey, I sometimes use it myself.

  • Brian

    How to not overcharge your readers for a useless app: Tell them to go to your blog in Mobile Safari and set the page as a home screen icon.
    These ‘apps’ are effectively doing the same thing but without adding any value and simultaneously costing people money in a completely unnecessary way.
    Why would anyone pay for an app that does exactly what going to the blog in a browser does? Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. Don’t ride the bandwagon. “All the cool kids are doing it” isn’t a valid rationale. Don’t go buy a fancy new screwdriver when you have no project or need to use it with. If you research and innovate in order to leverage an app to fill a legitimate need instead of building an app just because you can, you’ll be more than one of the, literally, millions of also-rans apps floating around.

  • I appreciate the comment Dan, but because something costs only $50, makes you feel like you’re cool and conveys that you ‘get it’ to the the people who don’t get it is not a valid reason to do an App. I just see no value here unless you are going to be the only channel of info on China law – now maybe you are. ;)

  • Appreciate all the comments guys.
    Kara, saying an iPhone App for each law blog could morph into something as big as law firms using Facebook is misguided. Facebook is in fact an operating system for social interaction online. Having an App for each law blog is the equivalent of each law firm having their own Facebook – wouldn’t make muche sense would it?
    Dennis, I’m not concerned of looking fuddy duddy. I think I have a better grasp of things than the law firms running off building apps. Doing things because you can and they’re cool doesn’t drive me or other smart business people. We saw that with the dot-com mania of the late 90’s – we can build cool web communities, we’ll draw large members, and we’ll figure out later if there is any value we are giving to anyone. Didn’t work.
    LexBlog also doesn’t have any plans for an iPhone App. Build them to your hearts content, you’re not getting on my lawn. I just think it’s a waste of time and of little value doing them the way law firms are doing them.
    A law firm’s doing an App offering some sort of solution – not distributing content like firms are building Apps for today – may have some merit. I agree with Dennis and Nick on that. I just have not seen one or heard of one yet.
    Law firms also need to figure out what they are good at and developing software in a strategic way that can be supported on a long term basis is not something law firms do well.
    Nick mentions some app examples such as reporting hazards. Maybe that makes sense, but sould would an email to the authorities. May also make sense for a law firm to sponsor such an app someone else develops. And from a business development standpoint, I can think of 18 other things a law firm could do that would work better for a business dvelopment.

  • I don’t know about law firm apps, but if every one of those 80,000 people would pay just one dollar to buy this really cool app that my 14 year old son and his friend designed, that would sure help pay for his college education.
    It’s called BPS. And it’s guaranteed to change your life (especially if you play paintball, but even if you don’t).

  • I agree – I haven’t taken a close look at many of the law firm apps, but my brief look at a couple indicated that while they satisfy the standard for “lawyer cool,” they’re nowhere near anything approaching “cool” or “useful” by normal people (i.e., client) standards.
    I guess it’s a way to push your content out, but I don’t think you really need to go to the trouble of building an app for this.
    Basically a lame marketing ploy and a way to waste some money paying an app developer. I’ll change my mind when I see a cool law firm app, but none of the ones out now are remotely close.

  • Eileen

    For those app developers that don’t know Objective-C and Cocoa Touch and don’t want to outsource development, check out localbeacon (an iphone app builder) at http://www.bigforge.com. Great for those who want to build just one app or developers interested in white label. Full integration of Twitter and Facebook.

  • MediaMentions

    Maybe so, but it would seen that at this point, pretty much everyone is dunking their app ideas in. Just look at this to see what I mean: http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/showlink.aspx?bookmarkid=UOMOU9PXFYB8&preview=article&linkid=8929f791-880f-4159-afde-5dfb852dc8de&pdaffid=ZVFwBG5jk4Kvl9OaBJc5%2bg%3d%3d

  • Agreed!
    Law firms would be better served by dumping those app development dollars into advertising on more popular apps.
    http://www.ctlawinfogroup.com/blog