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Apps to Manage Lawyers

Open Law Lab - viewabill - app to manage lawyer

Here’s an article by Jennifer Smith in the Wall Street Journal on new crops of apps that help clients find and monitor lawyers.  It mentions Viewabill (tracking how much their lawyers are charging them, in real-time); Rocket Lawyer’s mobile app (create basic legal documents and buy plans for low-cost access to advice); Attorney Proz (lists area lawyers, who have paid to be listed); Ask a Lawyer (ask lawyers in Kalamzoo about basic legal questions and get free answers to your e-mail); and soon to be a LegalZoom app.

Now that people use apps to bank, order food and even monitor eBay auction bids, it was only a matter of time before they called in the lawyers.

Appearing in app stores are programs to help people keep track of their attorneys’ bills, draft legal documents and locate nearby lawyers.

Attorneys are doing more work on smartphones and tablets, and they have a whole host of apps at their disposal to help look up case law, track client calls and even assist with depositions and jury selection.

But until recently, few options existed for clients who wished to track cases or seek advice using mobile devices. This new crop of apps aims to add transparency, and a measure of convenience, to the process.

One new app, Viewabill, lets people track how much their lawyers are charging them in real-time. The idea is to head off sticker shock when business owners and company lawyers open up their monthly bills.

The app acts as kind of a client nanny-cam. It captures information as law firms enter it into their billing systems and transmits it to clients’ mobiles and desktops. Users select how often they want to get updates, set alerts pegged to certain dollar thresholds and can mark questionable items. The app can also be used to track hours logged by accountants and other professional service providers.

The app is now being used by a handful of companies and law firms on a beta basis, with a wider launch planned this month, said Florida-based entrepreneur David Schottenstein, who co-founded the enterprise with an attorney friend, Robbie Friedman. Firms would pay an annual cost of $25 to $40 per matter, depending on volume, or $25,000 for unlimited use, said Mr. Schottenstein.

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“It helps them to understand what we do,” said Brian Baker, a bankruptcy lawyer at Ravin Greenberg LLC in New Jersey, which has been testing the app.

Errol Feldman, general counsel for JPay Inc., a Florida company that provides payment transfers and other services to inmates at corrections facilities, has been using Viewabill to make sure firms working to resolve contract disputes do so in a timely fashion.

Legal consultant Susan Hackett said the app was the latest example of a push for greater communication between lawyers and clients, who increasingly want more involvement in the work they assign to outside law firms.

Some companies with big in-house legal departments have already invested in software programs that let clients track the progress of legal matters or monitor law firm bills from their desktop computers. Such systems don’t come cheap, and not many clients use them yet—fewer than 20% of general counsel, according to a 2011 poll by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Not all law firms may welcome the additional element of client control on the legal side of things. For Viewabill to work, for instance, lawyers have to enter their hours in a timely fashion.

“These technologies may scare people,” Ms. Hackett said. “But they are all productive parts of the march towards clients and lawyers having conversations in real time.”

This month online legal services company Rocket Lawyer Inc. is debuting a mobile app tailored to its customer base: consumers and small business owners who log on to the site to create basic legal documents or buy plans that provide low-cost access to legal advice.

Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer’s founder and executive chairman, said more site traffic is coming from tablets and smartphones these days, reflecting his customers’ increasingly mobile bent. Many are small business owners who spend much of their time on the road, he said.

“Their office is their dashboard, so we have to deliver the tools,” Mr. Moore said.

Customers can use the app to create a non-disclosure agreement (more forms will soon be available) or modify existing documents they have already created. The app itself is free, and users can access some functions gratis.

Users can also locate nearby attorneys from Rocket Lawyer’s network—the app is integrated with Google GOOG +0.53% Maps—and punch in basic legal questions, although the reply, which is supposed to arrive within one business day, may not be swift as some might hope.

A handful of other apps offer similar services. Attorney Proz also lists area lawyers, who pay to be included. Ask a Lawyer, an app linked to Kalamazoo, Mich., law firm Willis Law, also offers free answers to basic legal questions, with replies sent to users’ email addresses.

Not to be outdone, online legal services company Inc., a Rocket Lawyer competitor, also has an app in the works, a company spokeswoman said.

A version of this article appeared March 11, 2013, on page B5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Apps Help Find Lawyers, And Keep an Eye on Them.