Bits & Bytes: Two small-firm apps typify divide in how lawyers use new way to reach out

A number of smaller law firms are embracing smartphone applications as a new way to advertise their services to the public. There are many different ways to do it, and two Ontario firms in the midst of rolling out their own applications typify the divide in how the profession is approaching this opportunity.

Fight the Charges, an exclusive application offered by Aitken Robertson, functions in much the same way a business card or pamphlet would for a lawyer. Ten of the 14 main-menu options are variations of contact information for Aitken Robertson while the other four are fairly straightforward. If users want to find the closest courthouse, the application directs them to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s web site. If users were in an accident, the application gives a plain-text summary of what to do and provides emergency and non-emergency numbers.

Fight the Charges is the sort of application users will download and forget about but will remember to pull out when they need it most. Its lack of fancy bells and whistles means it will do its job even if the user is in a remote area without great cellphone coverage.

The second legal application launched recently is by Windsor, Ont., law firm Goldstein DeBiase Manzocco. The smartDRIVER application has a tagline: “Use this app everyday for savings, safety, and peace of mind.” The firm tries to make this vision a reality with gas-price listings and links to traffic reports and cameras.

Smartphone users generally only use about 3-4 applications on a daily basis, so smartDRIVER has some really steep competition for that position. So it’s likely most people who really want an application that tells them the gas prices every day or provides updates on the morning traffic will find a simpler one that better fits their needs. Where the application shines, however, is in its accident-reporting functionality. Instead of a quick and simple solution, smartDRIVER offers users the ability to take pictures of the accident and record witness statements while giving advice as to what they should be documenting.

Both schools of design have their strengths, and it’s hard to decide which is better. On the one hand, Fight the Charges follows the advice that most successful applications follow: Do one thing for the user and do it well. On the other hand, smartDRIVER manages to do more than Fight the Charges even if it’s carrying a bunch of extra weight.

Monica Goyal is a lawyer and technology entrepreneur. She’s the founder of My Legal Briefcase and Simply Small Claims. You can follow her on twitter at @monicangoyal.

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