Legal applications are being developed for Research In Motion's BlackBerry 10 smartphones, which recently began shipping in many European countries and will reach U.S. shores this spring.
BlackBerry 10 is RIM's new operating system designed to bring its phones up to par with Apple Inc. iPhone and Google Inc. Android devices. The software evolved from an industrial system called QNX, used in everything from nuclear power plants to Porsche sports cars. The first phone is a touchscreen model called Z10, due to be followed by a keyboard model called Q10.
Now, the Waterloo, Ontario-based smartphone maker is helping legal technology companies build versions of their applications for its new operating system, said Gregg Ostrowski, senior director for enterprise developer and technology partnerships. Ostrowski said he and BlackBerry understand that law firms are among its major markets and that competing devices such as the iPhone are enticing to attorneys. In the past few years, "I've done a fair amount of work with a lot of the law firms and I've been a speaker at ILTA," he noted, referring to the annual conference of the International Legal Technology Association.
Companies such as BigHand Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Autonomy unit, and LexisNexis are building versions of their existing software for BlackBerry 10 devices, Ostrowski said. "We work strongly with the folks at LexisNexis and Autonomy," he said. "Their strategy is to move into an HTML5 path versus developing native applications. ... We help them understand how they can take that code that's already been written and port it over," in ways that work equally well online or offline, he said.
LexisNexis and Autonomy representatives both said their development staff were unavailable to comment. BigHand's John Sibly, software engineering manager, said his team decided to rewrite its dictation workflow software for BlackBerry 10 rather than adapt its versions from older BlackBerry devices. That's because previous BlackBerry software was built in the Java programming language, while BlackBerry 10 software is made using the C++ language. It was feasible to adapt Chicago-based BigHand's Android version, "But it kind of made sense for us to write it from scratch, so we could get lower-level access to the audio side," Sibly explained.
"In terms of our customers, BlackBerry is used by the majority," Sibly said. "It is our number one mobile platform."
Practice management companies may also find BlackBerry 10 to be a useful platform because it has new features that assist with time keeping, Ostrowski said. "What's very prevalent in the current device deployment of BlackBerry is just the ability to track your phone calls and your emails," he explained. Applications can be written that detect whether a call or email involves a client, and then automatically bill that time based on the phone's logging feature, he said.
In the meantime, there are already stand-alone applications in BlackBerry's App World, found through searches for 'attorney', 'law', and 'lawyer'. These include apps for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal Rules of Evidence, law dictionaries, Mexican law, and not surprisingly, lawyer jokes.
BlackBerry officials publicly introduced version 10 in January and this month embarked on a 14-city road show to demonstrate it for enterprise customers.
A chief technology officer at an Am Law 100 firm, who asked not to be identified, said his firm's associates and partners have been impressed with their initial examinations of pre-release Z10 and Q10 phones. "There is nobody who hasn't liked it. Everybody is enthusiastic about it," he said. The firm's younger, iPhone-friendly associates also had positive responses to it, he said. "I think this is an amazing device."