App development case study – Mills & Reeve lawyers

Posted on: June 16, 2012

Following the publication of the White Paper on Apps in legal, property and accountancy practices http://kimtasso.com/white-paper-apps-by-uk-law-accountancy-and-property-firms-are-we-missing-the-mobile-revolution I received lots of (positive) feedback (thank you!) and some more information about suppliers which I have added as an appendix to the White Paper. Please email me (kim@kimtasso.com) if you would like a copy of the updated document.

I thought that you would be interested in reading the case study provided by Mills & Reeve solicitors about their App development experiences.

Background

In August 2010, national law firm Mills & Reeve decided to develop the Divorce UK iPhone/iPad app to build on what its family law practice had already achieved with its renowned www.divorce.co.uk website. The decision to divorce is a huge step and many people involve lawyers too soon, without having had enough time or guidance to make an informed decision. The main aim of the website and the app is to provide free advice and guidance about the divorce and separation process to help people to consider what their choices are. The content also guides them through what they will need to think about from a personal and emotional point of view alongside any legal considerations.

Key features of the Divorce UK app

The app offers several key features not available on the www.divorce.co.uk website including: an adviser section that asks a series of questions and then presents useful information according to people’s circumstances, videos in which senior family lawyers offer answers to frequently asked questions, a contextual glossary explaining a range of legal terms, virtual walkthroughs of the legal and financial processes involved in a divorce, a GPS court finder map to help pinpoint the nearest court to the user’s current location and an enquiry form.

Planning, development and resource

Delivery of the Divorce UK app took almost a full year from the time the decision was made to develop an app up to the point of its launch. It was an extremely intensive project to undertake and more complex to deliver and execute well than, for example, a targeted microsite. The app went through an indepth scoping and planning process as well as several rounds of testing, adapting and bugs fixing.

The project involved various people within the firm at different stages as well as a team of external developers. It was crucial to have a dedicated person in the marketing team spending a large proportion of their time scoping and managing the project including adapting the content, liaising with the developers on a day to day basis and carrying out all the testing. Two of the firm’s family lawyers (one of them a partner) wrote the content and outlined the overall concept for the app, which was a significant investment of time for them. The lawyers also created a series of videos, with the help of the marketing team and a video production agency, for inclusion in the app and to be used on a dedicated YouTube channel as part of the app launch. The launch,  promotion and messaging for the app also had to be carefully planned and co-ordinated, bringing in the help of the firm’s communications team and PR agency.

Challenges

Work on the app carried a number of unique challenges:

  • Choosing which devices and platforms to target for the audience is not easy – mobile users are still fragmented between a range of major operating systems and devices. Developing for multiple platforms and devices is hugely expensive if you want to take advantage of native functionality as opposed to going for a web based app.
  • Testing can be very difficult and limited. Unlike a website, where you can do extensive user and bug testing on any device with internet access, testing for this app could only be done on a total of five enabled iPhones.
  • Changes, even minor ones to content, all had to be made by external developers. This inevitably involved time consuming email exchanges and change requests, especially when there was a change in legal terminology just a few months before launch.
  • Content had to be written and reviewed to optimise it for ease of reading and use on a mobile device.
  • Concepts had to be carefully mapped out using wireframes and process diagrams. What may seem logical when talking in abstracts usually requires several drafts and input from various people before it works in practice.
  • An app has to offer something a website wouldn’t, ideally taking advantage of the unique features offered by the targeted device. This involved a lot of time consuming planning, creative thought, process mapping, user experience testing and adapting.
  • The nature and content of the app required sensitive planning around messaging, targeting and launch activities. Divorce is a very sensitive subject and can also be a legal minefield at a time when people have more than enough challenges to deal with on the emotional side of things.

Results and reception for the app

The app has received very positive feedback from the firm’s own clients as well as the press and a number of app reviewer sites. It has had over 2,800 downloads in its first year since launch. It also has an average rating of 4.5 stars out of a possible 5 on the iTunes App store. Users have commented: “This new app is truly innovative. Provides excellent advice to those considering divorce in a non-judgemental, supportive manner with authority” and “Helpful and straightforward and nice to see that not all lawyers go to court!”

In January 2012, the Divorce UK app was one of only four legal apps to be included in The Sunday Times App List, which annually recognises 500 apps that their expert reviewers consider to be the best in the world. According toThe Sunday Times, the app can prove a cost effective solution for those considering the implications of divorce. “Given the cost per hour of legal advice, this app could save you a great deal of money if it reduces the amount of time you spend speaking to a solicitor,” it explains.

Roger Bamber, head of Mills & Reeve’s national family law team, commented: “The Divorce UK app has been very well received, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of providing free legal guidance in an easily accessible format. Divorce is a very sensitive subject, and most people need time to absorb all the legal information and explore their options before speaking to a solicitor. Our aim with the app is to help people cut through the jargon and make an informed, unhurried decision without the pressure of mounting legal bills. It’s great to hear that it appears to be doing just that.”

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the development of the Divorce UK app has been a successful venture for Mills & Reeve. Client feedback and recognition such as The Sunday Times App List inclusion confirm that it is the helpful and informative resource that the firm intended it to be. It has also delivered secondary benefits, raising the profile of the firm’s family law practice and demonstrating the expertise of its lawyers.

However, the development of an app is not something to be undertaken lightly. There needs to be something to differentiate it from a straightforward mobile website and to take advantage of the unique functionality offered by smartphones. Advice to anyone considering an initiative like this is to carry out thorough scoping and research to ensure that an app really is the most appropriate tool for the intended objectives and audience before committing to the significant investment required in time, money and resource. But, if done for the right reasons and with the proper amount of thought and planning put into it, an app can prove to be one of your most valuable online resources.

 

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