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With Apple Watch, Local Mobile Searches Are Even Local-er

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Apple (again) heralded the release of the Apple Watch on Monday, promising more than a prototype this time. The smart watch will go on sale starting April 10 and be available in three different models, ranging in price from $349 to a staggering $10,000 for the Apple Watch Edition, which comes in an 18-karat-gold alloy.

With the arrival of a new "smart" device comes the arrival of new methods for letting potential clients know you exist -- and potential ethical issues. Here's what you need to know about notifications, geo-fences, and professional responsibility:

Advertising a Location

Local-mobile searches generate a huge amount of traffic to lawyer websites, but there's an even local-er way to attract attention: geofences.

A geofence is a "virtual barrier" that describes an area using GPS coordinates. iOS currently allows for applications to send a user notifications whenever he or she is near a point of interest. For example, the Yelp application can alert a user when he or she is near a restaurant.

The same can work for a law office: A user walking or driving by can receive a notification on an Apple Watch that your office is nearby. Hopefully, your practice is listed on Yelp already, but if it's not, you can add it yourself. You can also use Apple Maps Connect to add your business information into Apple Maps. At launch, the Apple Watch will definitely support Apple's own Maps application, but there undoubtedly will be other third-party maps, like Google's, down the road.

Being on Apple Maps is important because the Apple Watch lacks a Web browser. When a potential client tells Siri, "I need a personal injury attorney," it will probably pull local results from Maps.

Professional Responsibility

It's uncertain what the ethical boundaries of such a technology are; as far as we know, no state bar has addressed whether geographically bounded notification pop-ups qualify as attorney advertising. It's likely that they do, but other than that, no one can really say whether, for example, such notifications run afoul of laws prohibiting advertising to recent accident victims.

The popups themselves are passive -- reacting to anyone who walks by -- but placement of the geofences could present ethical dilemmas. For example, a criminal defense lawyer could create a geofence near a local hospital advertising his personal injury practice. Such a notification seems clearly designed to advertise to accident victims, and while state rules don't cover exactly that scenario, it seems designed to at least skirt the rules.

All of this will take years to get through, probably, but at the very least, you can make sure that your Yelp listing is accurate, you're listed on Apple Maps, and your Web page has address and contact information for easy routing on a mobile device.

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