Headed to jail? Birmingham defense lawyer Tommy Spina has an app for that

By Kent Faulk | kfaulk@al.com

BIRMINGHAM -- Believe you're about to be handcuffed and hauled to jail and need a lawyer real quick?

Birmingham defense lawyer Tommy Spina has an app for that.

Spina last week began offering a free app for iPhones _ available through the iTunes store _ that allows users to quickly contact him and a friend or loved one if they've been arrested or think trouble is headed their way.

Downloading the app puts a caricature of Spina on your iPhone. When the app is opened, a screen with a large red button in the center appears with the phrase "Unlucky Strike? It Happens _ Press this Button to call Tommy Spina."

Pressing the button dials Spina's pager.

The pager voice message is also converted into a text message and email to Spina. Users also can press "setup" to save a friend or loved-one's cell phone number so when Spina is contacted, it sends a pre-written text to that friend or loved-one.

The pre-written text states: "Hey - I'm texting you automatically from Tommy Spina's app and I probably can't talk right now. I need your help _ please call Tommy at (pager number)"

The other person also gets a link to a Google Map of your location so they can figure out where you were in trouble.

"If they have the wherewithal ... In less than 10 seconds they can notify me and contact a friend," Spina said. "If nothing else, it would allow a loved one to know when and where things went bad."

"It was intended to be a quick, efficient way for a client, or potential client, to be able to reach me in a way that is culturally relevant," Spina said.

You don't have to have a prior relationship with Spina in order to get and use the app, Spina said.

Having a lawyer isn't usually the first thing you need to worry about if headed to jail.

Spina also has a "know your rights" tab at the bottom of his app where people can find a one paragraph statement he calls his "Reverse Miranda" rights. That statement begins: "My lawyer has told me not to talk to anyone about my case, to not answer questions..."

Another tab includes information about the types of bond usually available and his recommendation and contact number for a bond company.

Two other tabs at the bottom of the app include information about Spina, more contact information, and a link to his website.

So far the app is only available for the iPhone. But if it's successful, Spina says he may have one developed for the Droid.

An app isn't the first unusual or off-beat advertising avenue Spina has explored.

He sponsors the radio segment "Trash on the Table" on sports talk station WJOX. He's had a bobble-head of himself. And he's given out items including "keep your lips sealed" lip balm, "there's a light at the end of the tunnel" flashlights, and "don't get burned" matchsticks that was part of his Unlucky Strike ad campaign.

The idea for the app came up while talking to a local TV station executive, Spina said. "She suggested an app to be culturally relevant," he said.

At the TV executive's suggestion, Spina said he contacted Jay Brandrup, principal at Kinetic Communications in Birmingham, to develop the app.

Spina said that he and Brandrup looked to develop an app that was novel, convenient, and effective.

Brandrup said he enjoyed working with Spina on the unorthodox and novel approach. He said they couldn't find an app, at least around the Birmingham area, that did the same thing.

"The uniqueness kind of fits Tommy," Brandrup said. "We tried to make the app fit his own personality and uniqueness."

One example of incorporating that personality into the app is inside the tab to learn more about Spina. When you tap Spina's photo, the caricature of Spina used for his bobble-head appears in its place.

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