Law firms offer mobile apps to attract new clients

Two FCPA apps may buck the trend of law firm mobile products that have met with mixed success

Law firms, big and small, are increasingly creating apps. The latest entry is Global AB&C Laws, a mobile app from Latham & Watkins that focuses on global anti-bribery and corruption laws. It provides information about the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and similar laws in 12 other countries.

O’Melveny & Myers beat Latham to the punch, issuing its FCPA app in November 2012.

The two apps are quite different from each other in scope and content. Latham’s is international, with the content focused on organizing and easing access to statutes and regulatory guidance according to specific fields of interest, from legislative frameworks to extra-territorial application to enforcement and potential penalties. It also includes official guidance such as (where available) steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of liability for bribery and corruption.

By contrast, the O’Melveny app concentrates solely on the FCPA and is primarily a new vehicle to distribute content it already makes available upon request. This content includes O’Melveny’s FCPA Handbook and O’Melveny’s In-House Counsel’s Guide to Conducting Internal Investigations. In addition, the O’Melveny app features five resource sections that serve as an interactive, illustrative directory with titles ranging from ‘O’Melveny Authored Client Alerts’ to ‘DOJ Opinion Releases.’

For its app’s focus, Latham ‘chose global corruption laws because the app would have repeated use for due diligence in an acquisition,’ says Steve Bauer, global co-chair of Latham’s white collar defense and investigations practice. ‘If you’re the acquirer, and you’re picking up a business that has overseas business, you might use it to help evaluate the disclosures by the target.’

The FCPA has global reach because of how its jurisdiction is defined, adds Bauer. Still, ‘we’ve also found it is important to know the bribery laws of other countries. This app covers the top dozen or so jurisdictions that our transactions typically touch,’ he says.

O’Melveny chose the FCPA as the focus of its first app because the firm has ‘a leading practice in this area, and had already developed a lot of substantive content that we wanted to give wider distribution,’ says Dan Shallman, a partner in O’Melveny’s white collar defense and corporate investigations group. Rather than engage in typical law firm marketing, the firm ‘intentionally tried to make it not gimmicky,’ he says. ‘We wanted to demonstrate our substantive depth.’

Both apps are free and available through iTunes. Neither is intended to be a direct revenue producer. Instead, they are indirect business development tools and value-added services for existing clients. In addition, Latham sees its app as a resource for its own lawyers as they work on deals.

The substance of both apps will require regular updates. For Latham, that means every six months, and whenever else events dictate. O’Melveny’s app is slated for an update this fall, which will include the latest version of the handbooks plus updates to the popular enforcement action section. Separately, O’Melveny is compiling an Asia-region version of its handbook, which will focus on local laws and enforcement and will eventually be integrated into the app.

Developing apps has become a trend among large law firms more because firms tend to follow each other than because apps are seen as a significant business development tool, according to Micah Buchdahl, a former head of the American Bar Association’s law practice management group who now runs a law firm marketing consultancy.

While most firms have found that apps are initially downloaded by people within the firm, friends and clients, encouraging external downloads and getting those who do so to return to use an app with any frequency have been less successful, says Buchdahl.

Bauer is sanguine about the eventual success of Latham’s app and the firm intends to keep developing new ones based on favorable response to prior apps dealing with corporate transactions.

Despite very positive feedback from clients and others, O’Melveny isn’t developing new apps for now.

The substance of the content in Latham and O’Melveny’s apps that isn’t already available on their websites may help them buck the trend of apps that are poorly conceived. Apps that lack a real purpose other than letting their creator keep up with competitors are ‘a waste of time and money,’ and law firms would be smarter to make sure they have a truly mobile-friendly website, Buchdahl says.

Given the amount of website traffic currently coming from phones, ‘if your site does not provide a user-friendly experience (versus just showing an unfriendly picture of the regular website), you are failing your online visitors,’ he says.

Latham & Watkins does not currently provide a mobile-friendly version of its website, while O’Melveny offers one that ‘renders well on a range of mobile devices,’ says Shallman. O’Melveny plans to implement responsive design, which would make it even more user-friendly on mobile devices.

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