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A savvy marketing strategy, an impeccable reputation and the best legal minds are vital ingredients for the success and longevity of any law firm. But even these characteristics do not guarantee profitability, particularly given the growing competition from niche practices and severe cost-cutting by the most lucrative corporate clients. As a result, law firms are increasingly realizing the need to leverage technology as a way to raise billable hours and improve overall productivity. The wireless revolution is here, and today’s legal professionals must be armed with PDAs and other wireless devices. Certainly the willingness of firms to fund such a potentially large capital expense is a critical first step. But once this commitment is made it becomes vital to maximize the effectiveness of this investment. There will always be a steep learning curve, but avoiding a few common pitfalls will go a long way toward harnessing the benefits of wireless technology. PROTECT YOUR DATA All too often law firms sacrifice security for convenience. Certainly mobile devices are meant to facilitate communication and save time, but the primary focus must be security. Tech administrators must ensure that mobile devices and the wireless infrastructure do not compromise the firm’s data. Data theft of key firm information can range from embarrassing to financially devastating. If devices are lost or stolen, the mobile administrator must have the ability to remotely lock down the device, delete all the data and disable the device. Failure to do so can be ruinous. IMPLEMENT STANDARDS Mobile devices often reflect one’s personality. Some people are early adopters of technology and seek all the latest features. Others dread the thought of learning a new gadget and reading another owner’s manual. Ultimately, one wireless standard must be chosen for the entire firm if the technology rollout is to be successful and cost-effective. The devices and technology must be user-friendly enough to encourage use. And the technology must adhere to the strict requirements of the firm’s security model. Rollouts fail when a single standard is not enforced and it becomes necessary to support multiple back end platform servers. Trying to please everybody or catering to a few individual partners’ whims is a sure path to spiraling help desk, maintenance and other support costs. It will also undermine the communications effectiveness that the wireless rollout is there to improve. Along the same lines as implementing a standard, firms should choose one airtime provider, perhaps two at the most for large, geographically dispersed firms. This makes it easier to manage the account given the trend for firms to absorb costs of all or a portion of the monthly bill. In addition, the firm can leverage gross monthly billing with a single carrier to generate volume discounts. Carriers should be chosen for coverage, reliability and cost. Wireless data coverage is especially dynamic and confusing, often differing significantly from voice coverage. Having a key reseller partner that understands the nuances and follows the changes in these markets can be invaluable. INCREASE RETURN ON INVESTMENT The primary reason most firms adopt wireless technology is to improve e-mail efficiency. While this may be a key catalyst, it is important to explore additional benefits to maximize the firm’s ROI. There are many more quality applications to consider, including time and billing, remote document access, document management, expense reporting and even network management. All these features, often overlooked at the outset, can help your firm increase productivity and recapture lost billing hours and expenses. It might also benefit the firm to examine applications already running on an existing intranet, which often can be pushed out to mobile device users with little or no modification. CENTRALIZE SUPPORT Once the rollout is complete, the real fun begins. Centralizing all support and infrastructure services can help address this challenge, particularly if a large firm has many disparate end users. Having a department or group of individuals within the IT department who focus solely on issues related to the wireless rollout will speed client resolutions and assure that any problems are addressed quickly. Smaller firms with limited administrative overhead may be better served by outsourcing support and help desk features. As with any desktop application or traditional network, end users and clients will demand the same reliability for their mobility solution. When something is not working, expect to hear about it quickly. Make sure that you have a plan of action for carrier outages and infrastructure failures. And a good disaster recovery plan is a necessary part of any rollout. ANTICIPATE BILLING CHALLENGES If you are deploying a system that supports a hybrid device like a PDA/phone product, some users will want to add voice services for the convenience of carrying one device. If the firm’s policy is to only pay for data service, you need a plan to accommodate these users. Today, most carriers are still unable to split billing, where data service is billed to one party and voice services to another. Some firms solve this by having clients pay for all airtime and subsequently expensing it back to the firm. Others choose to make a payroll deduction if the firm is paying the airtime bill. Either way this will increase costs for back-office processing. Therefore, it is important to identify the firm’s policy upon the rollout. Split billing is expected to be addressed by all major carriers later this year or in 2005. PUSH DON’T PULL Pulling data down to the mobile device, which requires users to manually click on an icon to retrieve information, usually makes the end user wait for the data to be pulled across the network. By contrast, push technology keeps the device constantly connected to the network and proactively moves messages and data to the device, usually within seconds of the data’s arrival at the office. If the user goes out of the network, push technology stores data and sends it to the device as soon as the user re-enters the network coverage area. Ultimately, push technology makes slower networks seem faster and provides a better end user experience. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS Understand the true throughput of the wireless network you are using and what the end users should expect based on the solution you are deploying. For instance, if you are deploying Pocket PCs on a General Packet Radio Service network and users are accessing large file attachments, help them understand that they will be waiting to get the requested file because of the “true” speed of the network. Some mobile solutions effectively transcode messages and attachments to clear text as a way to minimize the file size. Blackberry ,for example, offers a solution that limits e-mails to the first 2,000 characters, thereby allowing users the option to defer downloading the entire e-mail. This ensures a faster and better end user experience. A logical and thoughtful rollout can go a long way to ensure that all end users will adapt to their new wireless technology with ease. In time, the costs of the wireless solution will pay for itself, assuming the network is reliable, secure and enhances communication. There was a time when e-mail and Internet access was a novelty. Today, most attorneys cannot function without them. The same will be true for wireless applications. Firms will look back in amazement at how they conducted business without the benefits of mobility. David Bean is the president of eAccess Solutions Inc. in Palatine, Ill. He can be reached at [email protected]. • Practice Center articles inform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact News Editor Candice McFarland with submissions or questions at [email protected]or go to www.therecorder.com/submissions.html.

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