Friday, December 1, 2000

Handheld applications for legal eagles


By Robyn Pekowski

With the thousands of handheld applications on the market today, designed specifically for legal needs, it's no wonder legal professionals are jumping on the wireless bandwagon in increasing numbers. Of course, doing so is a dubious proposition without some foreknowledge of the handheld space and how it fits into a legal practice. As a director of legal services for an international handheld software publisher, that's where I come into the picture. I guide firms through purchase decisions on devices and applications they need. I then show them how to set up a support network for the technology.

Through my interactions with law firms both big and small, I've found most organizations don't have a plan or budget for this new technology. The rapid, almost stealth adoption of handhelds by their attorneys, paralegals, and support staff has left senior partners, management, and IT teams somewhat in the dark. Their first sign of a grassroots handheld movement appears when employees start calling the firm's IT support desk, which is unprepared to help with things like synchronizing, broken screens, and so forth.

At that point they start looking for help in finding the best handheld enterprise solutions for their team.

Finding the right solutions

When I consult with legal firms, I'm usually working with the IT staff. They're the ones bombarded with the support issues and the ones who will have to figure out how to integrate their current system with the handheld technology. I usually start, by asking questions like, "What is your current handheld technology status? Some support? No support? Organization?" or "What percent of your firm's population has adopted handheld devices individually?" Most importantly, I ask, "What is the main goal?" After we work out the answers, then we move onto software solutions and implementation.

There's one firm I worked with that can serve as a model for what can be done with Palm devices in a legal firm. This firm is one of the largest in the country with 900 employees nationally, 400 in their headquarters alone. After suddenly finding they were in the middle of a handheld crisis, they took a poll to see what handheld units most of their employees were using. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of Palm units, but Visors, Windows CE devices, and RIM devices were also being used.

When they called us, we were able to arrive at the following goals:

  • Find a way for the firm to install applications from one place;
  • Prevent applications they didn't want on their team's handheld computers from being installed;
  • Gain the ability to HotSync information to the team everyday.