Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
The emails come in to the device without the user having to do anything ("always on, always connected") due to the built-in wireless modem.
The BlackBerry is made by a Canadian company called Research In Motion (RIM) and they can be purchased from the moblie phone carriers, Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile, or from resellers, such as Isis Telecommunications.
To integrate with the main firm's or chambers' system, a "BlackBerry Enterprise Server" (BES) is run on the network. The BES server encrypts arriving emails and sends them on to the users "on the move". Emails prepared by these users are sent back to the BES (encrypted by the BlackBerry) and sent out from the main system in the normal way. The BES cost depends upon the size of the organisation and what "deals" are available but it typically costs around £2,500 plus the cost of the computer.
The purchase cost of the device is typically £200 to £300, depending on the model and the additional features required by the user. There is also a charge of around £30 per user per month to Vodafone, O2 or T-Mobile, which operate the respective wireless networks.
Another version of the service is available for individuals, using an ISP; in this situation, the service is not "push email" and is not encrypted but the device automatically rings into the server every 15 minutes to collect the mail.
Other applications are available on the BlackBerry, including time recording, expenses recording, billing and financial information alerts.
Most law firms of any size now use email and it has grown to become a critical business communication tool for most if not all law firms both large and small. This is certainly the case for our firm.
But don't you need a PC, or laptop, or the latest mobile phone to send and receive email? What do you do when you are on the move, in a train, a taxi or in an airport or waiting to take a meeting out of the office? This is "dead time" in terms of sending and receiving mail and this is where, in my opinion, the BlackBerry comes in to its own.
In simple terms it is an "always on" mobile email device that links users to their networks remotely.
We initially looked at the BlackBerry about two years ago and we were very impressed by its "always on" wireless functionality. However we were put off by the cost of the individual units and the monthly tariff structure so we did not proceed with its deployment.
We looked at it again about twelve months ago when the unit price had dropped to around €240 although the monthly charge remained high, in our view, at €60 per unit per month. (We pay this to O2 Communications (Ireland) Limited, the operator of the communications network).
We took some units on trial for a month. Within that period we became convinced that we could benefit from it notwithstanding our reservations about the level of charges.
Five of our lawyers have been using the BlackBerry for about a year now, very successfully, and our experience has been very positive overall.
We can send and receive email while on the move which allows us to keep in touch with essential client and internal office communications. It has proved to be a useful alternative means of communication to our mobile phones. We can also check our appointments calendar because the device replicates with our desktop calendar automatically.
That said we are not probably not using them to their full potential, e.g. we do not use them to send and receive document attachments. This is mainly due to the fact that we have found the screen size and keyboard to be quite limiting and neither would facilitate ease of working with documents of any length in the manner that a laptop would.
In essence you type using both thumbs and strange as this may sound you do become quite used to this quite quickly. It is quite useable for typing reasonably short messages.
We are also not using the devices for mobile phones yet although we do make some savings in our mobile phone charges since we often now send an email (which does not incur additional charges since it is on a fixed monthly charge) instead of phoning.
The BlackBerry is not a full substitute for a laptop but if you need a mobile email and calendar device then it is an excellent piece of technology.
Each device can connect to the user's PC by means of a small desktop docking cradle, which allows it to replicate with the user's email platform and desktop calendar. It also operates to recharge the battery. The details of your email address book are automatically replicated to the device, as are any updates that you make.
Typically you would carry the device in a cradle that clips to your belt in the same way that you would with a mobile phone. The device is not heavy. A discrete vibration alert notifies you of incoming messages.
A wheel embedded within the side of the device facilitates navigation between the various functions and I have found this to be both very easy and intuitive to use.
On receiving an email notification, you press this wheel, which prompts you to "open" the message. If you press the wheel again the email then opens up on screen and having read it when you press the wheel once more, you receive a prompt to "reply". You can save the message, forward it or delete it.
If you press the wheel to reply, a message screen automatically opens with the sender's original message and email address inserted for you to reply to. Having written your message (and you would be amazed how proficient you can become with both thumbs) on pressing the wheel again you are prompted to "send" your message which you can do by simply clicking the wheel once more.
Its other main function that we use to great effect is the calendar function. Any appointment entered in our individual PC calendar will automatically replicate to our individual BlackBerry. Similarly any entry on our individual BlackBerry calendar will replicate automatically to our desktop PC.
The battery life is quite good and in stand by mode it will usually last several days. If used heavily the battery will typically discharge within 4 to 6 hours. The device has a backlit screen function, which allows you to read your messages in poor light conditions although I have found that it is not that suitable for prolonged use.
My colleagues and I have found it to be a very useful communications tool. It has allowed us to use the "dead time" that I mentioned earlier to send and receive emails and to make and check calendar entries.
Our clients now quite like knowing that when any of us are out of the office they can still send us an email, which they know we will receive while we are away from our desks. This gives them an alternative to leaving detailed messages or to trying to contact us by mobile phone.
We found the implementation to be very straightforward, reasonably inexpensive and thus far, trouble free. Our IT supplier is a reseller of the BlackBerry so they looked after the full implementation for us.
All communication is encrypted so it is very secure and each device is password protected. That said if you loose it and it is switched on the finder would have access to your email until the device is locked out so you do need to take care. If it is switched off it cannot be activated unless the password is keyed in. After three attempts you are locked out in the same way as with your mobile phone.
In my view this is not a device just for the bigger commercial law firms. Any lawyer who spends any time away from the office and who needs to be able to communicate by email with clients and the office with will find this device to be a very useful business tool. I would recommend it highly.
Patrick Ryan is a partner of Kilroys (www.kilroys.ie),
practising primarily in the areas of e-business, information technology, telecommunications and public
We introduced BlackBerries following the problems we were experiencing keeping in contact with some of our partners and fee-earners as they were travelling to visit clients, particularly those abroad. We are in a number of relationships with clients where we provide secondees to assist their businesses and we have had difficulties in connecting our laptops into multi-nationals' networks. That is where the BlackBerry has come into its own.
Different lawyers use the device in different ways. I like to think that most of the people in this firm who are using the Blackberries are those that really operate a 24hr practice. There are also those people that find it difficult to switch off, where the device manages to take a great deal of stress out of their lives, by letting them know what is going on at a time when they are out of the office. Basically it is their "office in their pocket". Interestingly, we have had some very positive comments from clients about emails being responded to promptly, indicating that it says something very good about the firm, that we are leading edge etc.
The costs are minimal. The units themselves are about £50 each and then there is a monthly charge of £30 regardless of use. We do not currently use them as phones, but we are looking at the costs associated with merging mobile phone and BlackBerry technology. We are also investigating time recording on the device and O2 are helping us with this.
The skills that are needed are very basic. It is extremely easy to navigate around the main screen and whilst the keyboard is a little small, basic emails can be sent and most attachments can be opened. We have experienced problems with password protected attachments and one or two other specialist pieces of software including our Axxia time recording system and Zeta fax, which unfortunately (as yet) do not interact with the technology.
In terms of the changes to the network that are required, it is very basic stuff with the software just being loaded onto the server. In terms of costs, providing the figures stack up, then most providers are prepared to install the software for no charge, but if numbers are low, then I think it is someone in the region of £1,000 to get things up and running.
Most firms should have the expertise needed already within their IT teams. It is pretty basic stuff and we were up and running within 24 hours.
I asked for feedback from my group and got a good response. Here are some of the comments I received:
Laptops still have a place in what we do. However, for the price of a laptop you can kit out your "sales force" with mobile connections.
Once returning to the office, the simple little cradle that connects to the network, synchronises the two machines.
One downside though, is that certain items sent and deleted on the Blackberry do not appear on the main screen, so you do have to be carefully that you keep copies of things that you have sent, when you are out and about.
In terms of security, there are always problems with small devices and it also seems that, the smaller the device, the more easily it is damaged. I remember one of my first Nokia mobile phones being practically indestructible and phones now seem to break as soon as you drop them.
The BlackBerry is fairly robust and I have dropped mine on a number of occasions without problems. There is the danger that they are left on trains or in airports and we have got a security pin code entry system to keep people out, but if the device is lost while in "on" mode then individuals would have access to our network. The BlackBerries can be controlled centrally, so as soon as somebody notices that there is a problem, then access can be denied.
As a firm, we are very conscious about security and we treat it very seriously when things go wrong. However, so far, we have had no problems at all with security, loss of equipment or indeed breakdown.
In terms of the time saving, then it depends on how the person operates. For our busiest Partners I think it is saving around an hour per day. If we are able to sort out our emails and order our lives before we enter the office, then we can get straight into fee earning work when we arrive.
Having a piece of equipment like this sends out a good message to clients and indeed potential clients. I attended a meeting with a good client of ours recently and, within 15 minutes of leaving, I had been able to email a detailed note to one of my fee earners to sort out one of the problems and also send a thank-you to the client for spending the time with me. The client was amazed that we were able to do this. This kind of thing makes a very good impression.
We are still trialling the system. The good thing though is that centrally I am able to see who is actually using the device and who is not. These are not toys, they are proper business tools and they should be used accordingly. I think it is likely that we will have a number of these devices for those Partners and fee earners who are out and about and probably have one or two "pool" devices per group. If we merge our mobile phones with our BlackBerries, then that becomes a different story.
Jonathan Fox is the Chief Executive of Collyer Bristow
My BlackBerry worked well in Italy and saved me the bother of having to go in search of an internet cafe whilst on holiday. It did not work in Lithuania but I would have been rather surprised if it had!
I have been looking for something like this for years. I tried an O2 XDA but found it very difficult to access emails, it didn't work more times than it actually worked. The BlackBerry is far better for simple communication on the move and can be used as a phone as well. The applications that come as standard on it are pretty useless but the "always on" email facility is great.
Jennifer Buckle is a solicitor. She ran an employment law practice as a sole
practitioner and is now a Tribunal Chairman.
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