By KRISTI TOUSIGNANT
The Daily Record of Baltimore
BALTIMORE (AP) — Personal injury attorneys could be moving away from flashy ads on the sides of buses and spots on daytime television. Several firms in the region have launched apps for smartphones as a way to market and streamline their business.
“When you don’t want to be on the back of a bus or some cheesy commercial in between Jerry Springer and Oprah, you need to come up with innovative ways to help clients and help market your services,” said Steven D. Silverman, managing partner at Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin ,White LLC in Baltimore. His firm started offering its app, “Crash 911,” to internal clients more than a year ago.
Michael A. Freedman launched an app for his personal injury practice, the Law Offices of Michael A. Freedman P.A. in Owings Mills, just last month.
“We see so many situations where, when an accident happens, the scene cannot be recreated accurately by the client,” Freedman said.
For Freedman’s app, an “Accident Intake” button prompts the user to a screen for collecting all necessary information — witness phone numbers, the name and badge number of the responding police officer, license plate numbers and more.
The app asks if air bags were deployed, what damage was done to the cars, which insurance companies cover each car or driver and what the policy numbers are. There are even two buttons at the bottom of the app’s welcome screen for taking photos and video of the site.
And, of course, once the app form has been filled out, all the information, including photos and video, can be sent directly to Freedman’s email account.
“We can get so much information now,” Freedman said. “Clients can email me directly from their smartphone. Theoretically, by the time they get home from the hospital, we can have already contacted the insurance company.”
Beyond bringing in clients, Freedman said, the app will also make constructing the cases less expensive and help in establishing liability.
With photos, videos and other information already compiled, he may not need to hire an investigative photographer or accident reconstruction expert, he said.
“So many times, the clients will call us with insufficient amounts of information to establish liability right off the bat,”
Freedman said. “What this will allow us to do is not only prove the case with data, but provide pictures of the scene, the car, the point of impact, witness testimony. It’s neatly wrapped up in a gift box.”
While his nascent app hasn’t brought him any clients yet, he expects it to change the way his firm does business. Right now, 85 percent of his clients call him on the phone and the other 15 percent come to him via email, he said.
“Everyone always goes to the phone to call,” Freedman said. “Now, when you take out your phone, all the information you need is on the app.”
Freedman said he thinks apps will soon stretch across the industry.
“There is no question that it is the future,” Freedman said. “The question is how quickly the future gets here.”
For Silverman’s firm, the future arrived about a year and a half ago. It just hasn’t gone public yet.
Right now, the firm has only marketed its Crash 911 app internally, through email to existing clients or in-person at
meetings, Silverman said.
He is planning to tweak some of the text — in part, to ensure there’s no risk of confusion about when the firm’s representation of a new client begins — before advertising the app through the firm’s website and Facebook soon.
The firm also plans to launch a criminal law app with numbers for bondsmen and basic advice for clients who have a run-in with police.
Like Freedman’s app, Crash 911 has a camera option to take photos and record video. It has a GPS for marking locations and a form to fill out all the relevant information in a car accident.
All this can then be directly emailed to the firm. The app has phone numbers for emergency services, tow trucks, hospitals, auto repair shops and taxis, Silverman said.
Clients “don’t need pen and paper,” Silverman said. “Everything is laid out for them in stressful situations when they
don’t know what to do.”
The firm spent less than $2,000 to create the app, and Silverman said clients have already used it, though he was not sure how many.
Silverman said the firm would receive a return on investment even if it receives only one case per year through the app.
“We try to stay cutting-edge with technology, and the under-30 generation is 100 percent technology-based,” Silverman said. “Those are the clients of the future, and if you don’t amend your practice or marketing to cater to them, you are going to turn into a dinosaur.”
Freedman’s app was designed and produced by a Houston-based company, Stratopy. The company contacted Freedman three months ago asking if he wanted to create an app for his firm.
Stratopy started making apps for lawyers in October 2010. The company tapped into the market because it saw a need for law firms to find a new way to reach out to clients, said president Chris Reichard.
“Particularly for a law firm, it’s a very competitive environment in a digital space,” Reichard said. “In order for law firms to get new clients, they have to reach out to them in ways that make them look like the professionals they are.”
Now, 65 percent of the company’s business comes from law firms, Reichard said. The company has created about 80 law firm apps in different practice areas, but the most popular are personal injury and DUI and DWI, Reichard said.
Though the company started by reaching out to firms for business, Reichard said most of their clients are now calling in
after seeing other law firm apps.
“As the mobile device and mobile industry grows, people are going to turn more and more to those kinds of devices for basic information consumption,” Reichard said. “When they can get precise information they want in a format that’s clean and crisp and user-friendly, they are going to turn to those apps. That’s what encourages them to keep an app (like Freedman’s) on their device — because it’s one of those things where you never know when you are going to need it situations.”
Freedman worked with the Stratopy to create a customized app for his three-attorney practice, Freedman said. Freedman added his list of steps to take in case of an accident, the firm’s website library and a television ad for the firm.
He also customized the colors (gold and maroon) and put photos on it. Freedman’s app was one of their first to have a photo and video interface, Reichard said.
Stephen Heisserer, the vice president of operations at Bizness Apps in San Francisco, said law firms make up 15 percent of the company’s clients.
“We have noticed a growing interest,” Heisserer said. “It’s more of a luxury good for them.”
Heisserer said the company sells its apps to firms practicing all types of law. The company’s template is similar for all its
small business clients. The law firm apps have the ability to email photos, and users can fill out forms with information to send to the firm. The apps also often include coupons for a free consultation by the firm, Heisserer said.
The clients his company serves directly are charged a $1,200 set-up fee and then $59 a month after that, Heisserer said.
Most apps take about a month to complete, but Heisserer said it can sometimes take longer for law firms, which he said are often “not super tech-savvy.”
While Heisserer expects more business from law firms in the future, other industries — like restaurants, doctors and dentists — are more frequent customers, he said.
“As far as apps are concerned, we see law firms as present but not dominating,” Heisserer said.
AB Small Business Marketing in Kalamazoo, Mich., created “Ask a Lawyer: Legal Help,” for Willis Law, a business law firm in Michigan, said Martin Lyons, who works at the app company. With more than 10,000 downloads, it is easily the most popular law firm app on the Android system. Users can fill out a form asking the firm a legal question and the firm will either answer it or send it along to another lawyer who will take it on, Lyons said. The app also provides information about Willis Law.
The key to law firms or any business using apps successfully as a marketing tool is ensuring good search engine optimization, Lyons said. This means the app shows up first when people search for it in the app store, which is how “Ask a Lawyer” became the most-downloaded law firm app, Lyons said.
“Everything in the mobile app market is growing immensely regardless of your industry,” Lyons said. “Those areas where
lawyers can market are brutally competitive. Lawyers spend a lot more money than other industries on search engine optimization.”
Patricia A. Yevics, director of law office management assistance at the Maryland State Bar Association, said lawyers are
increasingly interested in using apps in their jobs, but said she had not heard of any in the area making their own apps yet.
The MSBA hosted a webinar on using apps in a law firm office last Wednesday. It was the third class in a series that the MSBA has hosted for lawyers on using the iPad or smartphones.
Though lawyers may not be creating their own apps, Yevics said, they are very interested in using the technology in their practices. The most popular apps for lawyers are ones that help with legal research, time and billing apps and apps for reading, sharing and storing documents, Yevics said.
Silverman said he did not envision the firm’s app making a huge impact on business, but said it was a necessary tool for law firms to have in the future.
“It’s another spoke in the technological wheel,” Silverman said. “We are trying to keep rolling. We want to be progressive
and hip, so to speak, and friendly to young people, as well.”
Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)