Need legal help? There's an app for that

Apps accessible to anyone with a smartphone are putting access to justice and legal help in the hands of folks who may not be able to afford a lawyer.

These apps give people online resources to help with their legal problems and educate them about legal topics, ranging from traffic violations to arrests to advance directives in healthcare. Lawyers, too, are finding expanded business opportunities with these legal apps, some of which allow attorneys to find and pre-screen prospective clients through real-time chat via the app.

“The legal apps on a mobile smartphone are really an extension of companies that have websites that enable people to represent themselves. We haven’t seen a whole lot yet of legal apps but I believe we will see lots of legal apps because that’s a platform that can reach a great number of people who use smartphones,” said Richard S. Granat, CEO of DirectLaw and co-director of the Center for Law Practice Technology at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.

Granat founded The Granat Group in 1997 to develop innovative ways of using the Internet to deliver legal services. Today, The Granat Group publishes over 20 legal information websites that serve more than 10,000 users a month.

“There’s no question the smartphone itself replaces in some ways the desktop computer and is a way to reach people of more moderate income who use a mobile phone,” said Granat, who is currently working with others to develop a new “divorce-by-phone” app where people can complete an uncontested divorce through a smartphone app.

“Software has an impact in every industry and the legal profession is not immune,” Granat told WXYZ.

Here are 10 legal apps providing legal services and information:

1. Ask A Lawyer: People can get legal help in a variety of areas and ask simple legal questions using this free app. Users can message attorneys through the app and have a live chat. There’s an “Instant Representation” feature so the user can get a lawyer started on his or her case right away. For the attorneys associated with this app, the app can help them screen and find clients. One law firm associated with Ask A Lawyer is the Michigan law firm of Willis Law Attorneys & Counselor, with offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Paw Paw.

2. Bernie Sez: This mobile app and website, created in 2013 by a lawyer in North Carolina, is one of several legal bidding services. The app is an auction-style app where consumers upload a photo of their traffic ticket and lawyers from several states bid to represent the client. The attorneys can’t see bids made by other lawyers. Attorneys pay a small fee to be members on the site.

3. FBI Child ID: This free app created by the Federal Bureau of Investigations provides a place to electronically store photos and vital information about your child. The app allows people to show the pictures and provide physical identifiers like height and weight to security or police officers on the spot if their child is missing or kidnapped. The app also includes checklists and safety advice, as well as specific guidance on what to do in the first few crucial hours after a child goes missing.

4. Legal Aid News: This legal aid app provides news about legal aid and related programs nationwide. News is available for legal aid programs state by state and for national legal centers that serve low-income people.

5. National Legal Aid Finder: This app provides contact information and website links for legal aid programs around the country. If available, the app provides a phone number for the person requesting legal help and a link to the program website offering self-help information.

6. Sex Offender Search: Sex offender Search is a free app that lets people know where sex offenders are in their neighborhood, using up-to-date information from the National Sex Offender Registry.

7. My Healthcare Wishes Pro: The American Bar Association created this app as a management tool for advanced directives. People can carry their healthcare wishes on their smartphone, plus include key family and medical contacts, insurance information, and other health-related information.

8. My Attorney: This app is a communication forum for attorneys and their clients. Clients can get instant information from their lawyer or law firm such as settlement updates, free legal tips and advice. The app was developed by a Florida attorney who was a website developer before he attended law school.

9. Shake: This app is geared toward contractors and small businesses so they can create contracts, agreements and waivers using a contract template on the app. Shake was named one of the Top 11 apps to watch in 2014 by Business Insider.

10. Stop & Frisk Watch: This free app launched in 2012 is for New Yorkers who want to record stop-and-frisk actions by police and is one of several similar apps embraced by social justice advocates. A report can be sent from the app to the New York Civil Liberties Union. The app also allows the user to auto-alert others who are monitoring a police stop. The app further contains a “know your rights” section regarding police rights during a frisk stop. The Oregon ACLU also is watching the police through its ACLU Mobile Justice app, launched in 2014. This app also records police activities in public places and allows the user to report the video to the ACLU.