Mobile apps: a new age of “self-service” law?

Eversheds’ Andrew McManus shares the highs and lows of the firm’s mobile app journey
When Andrew McManus joined Eversheds Sutherland in 2014, the firm’s IT strategy was focused purely on the delivery of major applications.  “It was all about the classic IT projects that took for ever to come to fruition,” he said, speaking at Fliplet’s Apps & Law event earlier this month.  “There was no agility and no flexibility.  We were in the same position that most law firms were in five years ago but there was a clear sense that there had to be a better way.”
For McManus, that better way began to take shape following a client conversation with a major UK bank a year later.  “We thought we were there to pitch law, but they just wanted to talk about technology,” McManus recalled.  “They were interested in how our data could be linked to their own data to make decision-making around the management of their high street branches more effective.  And they didn’t want that information in an Excel sheet, or a monthly Powerpoint presentation.  They wanted to see it live.  That was a difficult proposition back in 2015 but it got me thinking about the power of the information we hold and how we should be doing more with our data.”
Since that initial conversation, client demands for “self-service on the fly” have grown at pace and McManus believes that fulfilling these demands has the power to disrupt the legal business model.  “I am pretty certain than in five years’ time we will be charging clients on a monthly basis for services involving access to knowledge and data.  We have already been up against small specialist law firms doing just that with mobile apps.”
In developing Eversheds’ own mobile app strategy, McManus went against his own best advice.  “I always say IT departments shouldn’t run these initiatives.  It should come from the business.  But we ignored all that and just got on with it.  There was no presenting a business case or asking for money to buy an app development platform.  A lot of people still don’t really understand apps and the benefits they can bring.  If we had gone with a business case we would probably have been told to spend the money on upgrading the email system or sorting out the document management system instead.”
Eversheds’ debut app was an internal knowledge sharing platform, “Client Conversations”.  It enables partners to access information about expertise in other parts of the business immediately.  It was launched with a fanfare at the firm’s partner conference last June and now McManus and his team are inundated with ideas for apps from the business.
McManus is conscious, however, that apps are not always the answer.  He also believes it is important not to end up with “app overload”.  “I am very keen to get down to a small number of powerful apps,” he said.  “You just need to get rid of any others.  They shouldn’t even be on the app store.”  Brand consistency is another priority, and something McManus wishes Eversheds had focused on earlier.  It is important to consider app support, he added, particularly if that app is being developed for a client.  “Who does that person ring if they have a question?  Is it the IT support desk?  Is it the person who came up with the idea?  It’s a tricky one.  You need to have 24/7 support, you need that infrastructure, especially when you are potentially charging for the advice that comes through that app.”
But McManus’s biggest concern rests around the quality of advice the app provides.  “When you have a lawyer going into a client conversation you know that lawyer is brilliant at what they do.  They work incredibly hard to get their knowledge to where it is.  But the moment you start using technology to present advice it is risky.  You have to make sure you control the data within it and that that you don’t just input it once and forget about it.  We have all seen apps die because the data deteriorates and becomes less relevant.”
Nonetheless, McManus is excited about the speed and agility that mobile apps offer.  “They allow you to ‘play’ with an idea, without having to pursue a full launch,” he said.  “Lawyers hate waiting.  They work in a very agile, iterative way.  When a client asks for an opinion they will work overnight and have a next step for that client by the morning.  If you can turn something around quickly in a way that matches the way your legal teams operate, it adds to client relationships.”
The Fliplet view
Fliplet founder and CEO Ian Broom gives his take on the future of apps in the legal industry
“The number of apps firms have been producing has increased significantly.  This is due to firms being comfortable with mobile apps as a medium, additional staff receiving training about how to produce apps and IT teams relaxing control over no-code app creation tools like Fliplet.
The biggest change we have seen in the past six months is that clients are asking firms to produce apps for them.  This is leading to new opportunities and business models for law firms to deliver content.  The more sophisticated firms are introducing their clients to the technologies available and inviting the client to be a stakeholder as the firm produces the app.  The result are high-value apps that deliver significant value to clients.  Successful apps can be quickly cloned, customised to a client’s specific needs and delivered in weeks instead of months enabling firms to quickly scale their success.
The days of apps being produced for fun are over.  Firms realise that smartphones are a powerful channel for delivering assistance and guidance to clients, but the apps must offer real business benefit and be easy to use.  Firms that understand how to use mobile effectively are gaining valuable feedback and data from their clients that can be used to further optimise the delivery of information and services.
The most sophisticated firms have begun to employ dedicated internal teams to produce apps and integrate apps with existing databases and systems.  The result is a new in-house rapid app creation competency that can produce high-quality apps that are always up to date with the latest firm information for internal and client needs.”