I started to use smart phones about a year after the original iPhone was introduced in 2007. At that time there were plenty of feature phones around that had some smarts,but the iPhone opened up the category. Applications came shortly afterwards, and now the application stores for android and IOS have hundreds of thousands of mostly useless applications to choose from. Some law firms contributed to this mire of uselessness by creating so-called applications that were really just brochures. To some extent this is a reflection of the quality of law firm websites.
Quality apps have started to appear, although there is a fundamental limitation based on screen size. There is a simple app for AustLII which might be useful on tablets, but firms have woken up to the potential. Large USA law firms such as Latham & Watkins releasing useful apps. There is little about these that utilises the unique features of a mobile device – AB&C Laws is a library of antibribery and anticorruption laws in 13 economies. O’Melveny & Myers has a similar app, and Baker & McKenzie has an app that shows key requirements of listing securities around the world and another is the global equity matrix setting out tax on legal consequences for employee shareholdings.
I recently mentioned the application by Corrs Chambers Westgarth to assist in document triage. Aon has recently licensed Navigator by Stroz Friedberg which delivers compliance information and real-time data and analytics. It answers questions in relation to policies and can automate approval processes, and it can store all of this activity for later compliance verification. It is easy to see the product like this could be valuable for a global organisation. King & Wood Mallesons has a well-developed iOS app which delivers matter information to clients, as do a number of other Australian firms.
There are many application developers who can tailor an existing framework application to contain your content, or develop something from scratch. However, like any software development process this will require significant resources to produce something worthwhile. Those resources include lots of time from subject matter experts, business analysts, project managers and testers. A glorified brochure in the form of an app should be cheap, but is anyone really get to keep it on their device? They won't, so don't make one. If you haven't already, one day you will receive a call from a mobile application developer offering to build one of these for you.
Your firm may find that a well designed website that provides content suitable for mobile devices will be cheaper, easier to maintain and probably more useful. Many website hosts will automatically re-purpose your information from a desktop web page to a mobile web page automatically.
What could a mobile application do that takes advantage of things such as the camera, GPS location, ready availability (it's in your pocket) and the other features of a mobile? If you're an insurance company your app might be useful if you have a car accident — the application leads you through taking photographs, stamping the location and time on them, collecting the correct information from the other driver, what not to say, phone number links to preferred towing companies and if necessary, phone number links to a solicitor.
If you're a busy sole practitioner then you might allow existing clients to book conferences with you during your designated conference hours. That could save a lot of time in making callbacks while you're in court. Your app could allow clients to photograph multiple pages of documents into a PDF which is mailed to you for your review. For certain matter types such as conveyancing or leasing you might collect the essential information from an app before you even see the client.