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Whether you’re on the playground or in the boardroom, it pays to have better toys than your peers. Kenneth Chernof, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C. office of San Francisco’s Heller Ehrman White and McAuliffe, knows that feeling. At a recent meeting in New York with a dozen or more lawyers from large firms, his BlackBerry — a wireless pager that instantaneously receives e-mail — was the envy of the room. While the meeting was under way, several significant developments occurred, but he was the only one who knew what was happening — thanks to his BlackBerry. “Everyone was amazed by this device,” recalls Chernof. “They wanted to pick it up and check it out.” The BlackBerry is one of several new personal technology devices that Washington, D.C. area lawyers are using to stay in touch with their clients and each other. One factor driving firms to invest in BlackBerrys, Palm Pilot organizers, Pocket PCs, and other pricey hand-held gadgets is the perception — particularly among technology lawyers — that they have to keep up with their clients. “Part of the business is looking the part,” says Mark E. Plotkin, who runs Covington & Burling’s e-commerce practice. “Clients expect you to be technologically savvy.” “Our tech clients are working with a BlackBerry in one pocket and a Palm in the other,” says Thomas Sharbaugh, managing partner for operations at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. “There is a widespread sense in the firm that unless we keep pace with our clients, we won’t be doing their work.” Another driving force is growing client demand for attorneys who are accessible 24/7. “We’re all working at Internet speed, and you have to be able to connect from anywhere in the globe,” says Stephen Roberts, chief information officer at Covington. “We have recognized that technology is a strategic advantage to Covington.” Likewise, Harvey Pitt, a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, which has been testing the BlackBerry, notes: “We’re a firm that really likes to be in touch with our clients and each other. This is an effective way to maintain proximity with people and clients with minimal imposition.” The full-time accessibility — made possible by the latest gizmos — is also important for those lawyers with old economy clients. “My clients are mostly financial institutions with complex antitrust problems,” says Chernof of Heller Ehrman. “They don’t have these devices, but they benefit from me having them.” GADGET GAP As one might expect, West Coast firms have embraced personal technology devices far more quickly than their Atlantic counterparts. In a recent nationwide survey of the nation’s 100 firms by The American Lawyer, 17 reported that they were using the BlackBerry, while 15 indicated that they were using Palm devices. “Most law firms are 10 steps behind,” says one consultant, who explains that firms are focusing more on improving their internal infrastructure than investing in personal technology. “They’re too busy to take these steps forward.” Several representatives of D.C. firms insisted that their firms were “technologically savvy,” but they also said they had not heard of the BlackBerry. Indeed, not all Washington firms are adopting new gadgets as quickly as their attorneys would like. “It’s kind of embarrassing,” says an associate at Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman. “We’re supposed to be a tech firm. We’ll be in a meeting with clients — while they check their e-mail, we sit there and stupidly look over their shoulders.” He notes that there is some tension between gadget-savvy associates and firm management. “There’s almost an old-school mentality that these are just toys and that there is no value added.” While hand-held devices are popular among younger attorneys, D.C. legal recruiters report that they’re not yet a primary factor among associates looking to switch firms. Nonetheless, some firms consider gadgets a valuable recruiting tool. For Memphis-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell — which is arming its lawyers with laptops, BlackBerrys, Palm Pilots, and cell phones — technology is a key part of its effort to recruit from law schools and other firms. “We need the best technology in place before we can become a regional firm with a national presence,” says Charles Tuggle Jr., the firm’s chief executive officer. And young lawyers along the East Coast were buzzing in June with news that Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom had given every summer associate a new Palm V as an “arrival gift.” “They were very well-received,” recalls Jodie Garfinkel, Skadden’s director of associate development. WHAT TO BUY? BlackBerry aficionados are raving about the new Internet Edition — the 957 Wireless. Unlike the traditional BlackBerry, which resembled a pager, the 957 is Palm-sized. The 4 1/2-by-3-inch device sports a 15-line, 2 1/4-inch screen, which makes it far easier to read e-mail than the original BlackBerry, which has only a six-line screen. The BlackBerry’s main attraction for lawyers is its ability to instantaneously receive (and reply to) messages that are sent to their office e-mail address, without the hassle of turning on a laptop and dialing into the firm’s system. “People wonder how I’m communicating in real time when I’m not at my desk,” says Chernof of Heller Ehrman. Like most new gizmos, the BlackBerry is not cheap. Its Canadian manufacturer, Research In Motion, quotes a price of $499, plus $39.95 a month for wireless service. But the BlackBerry is not the only tool for the tech-savvy attorney. It only works well with certain e-mail programs, like Microsoft Outlook, and it can’t read attached documents. It does not work well as a calendar or contact organizer and lacks the large library of software applications written for the Palm devices. Meanwhile, Morgan, Lewis has “embraced” the Palm, says Sharbaugh, noting that the firm’s new chairman recently purchased Palms for the management committee. The firm has designated an information systems staff member to support Palm devices and has purchased hundreds of Palm applications. Palm offers seven different hand-held models. The Palm IIIe wins praise for affordability and ease of use. “You can get one for $150 and it will do just about everything you need,” said Bruce Davis, a partner at Bean, Kinney & Korman in Arlington, Va. “I like to be on the cutting edge, but the Palm III will do me just fine.” If you want an active matrix color screen, there’s the Palm IIIc, which has a suggested retail price of $449. The Palm V ($339) and Vx ($399) have a sleeker design and weigh just 4 ounces, compared with the other Palms, which weigh around 6 ounces. The newest gizmo is the Palm VII ($449), which offers wireless access to the Internet. Sharbaugh says Morgan, Lewis looked at the BlackBerry, but has decided to go with the Palm VII because it is compatible with the firm’s new Lotus Notes e-mail system. PALM VS. POCKET PC But not everyone thinks the Palm, which controls more than 75 percent of its market, is the way to go. Covington’s Plotkin is sold on the Pocket PC, which uses the Microsoft Windows CE operation system (essentially a miniature version of Microsoft Explorer) and can read e-mail attachments. “It beats the crap out of the Palm Pilot,” says Plotkin. He now has a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 548 ($599), which is heavier (9.1 ounces) but features more memory (32 megabytes of RAM, compared with the 8 MB capacity of a typical Palm). To Plotkin, the Pocket PC is superior to the Palm VII because it allows him to surf the Internet with a full view of Web sites, rather than just snippets of text. More significantly, the Pocket PC allows him to securely send and receive e-mail and attached documents through a company or firm fire wall. This is far safer, explains Plotkin, than using a Web-based e-mail server, like Hotmail or America Online, which can be hacked into. “To me, it’s all about the security of client documents,” he says. Plotkin also likes the Pocket PC’s voice-messaging capability. During a recent trip to Silicon Valley, his gizmo helped him find a client’s office; he recorded directions from a gas station attendant and played them back on his way to his destination. WHAT’S IN YOUR TOOL KIT? No one gadget will do the job for every lawyer. Covington plans to offer a “tool kit” — a BlackBerry, a color Pocket PC, and a cell phone. “We’re trying to fit different tools to the work habits of different attorneys,” says CIO Roberts. And don’t forget accessories. If you’re not somewhere you can dial into the firm’s system, you can if you have a cell-phone modem. If you’re worried about your laptop running out of juice on a flight to California, there are laptop power cords that will connect into business-class seats. Roberts says Covington plans to offer both these accessories to its attorneys. While laptop computers are nothing new, many D.C. area firms are promoting greater use of laptops and home access to computers. Hogan & Hartson is moving toward replacing its desktop terminals with laptop computers. Robert Kenney, chairman of the firm’s computer systems committee, says there’s quite a bit of interest in the laptops — because of the ease in using them out of the office. “Like most attorneys at firms, our attorneys seem to be everywhere at once,” he says. Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe has already completely replaced its desktops with laptops. Yet some associates grumble that the newest laptops have been given to the summer associates, while junior associates get the dinosaurs. “It’s a bait-and-switch,” notes one first-year associate. TECHNO SLAVES? But for some lawyers, there’s a downside to technology that makes them accessible all the time. How can you truly unwind and enjoy time with your family if a hyperactive client can reach you at 11 at night? Chernof of Heller Ehrman concedes that his family sometimes wishes that he was not so accessible, but says his gizmos enable him to spend less time at the office. He does not have to stay late for a West Coast client to respond, since he’s reachable by cell phone and e-mail. “It allows me to serve my clients better and at the same time still have a life.” “If I did not have the full-time accessibility with my BlackBerry, cell phone, and computer, I would be worrying about what e-mails I was missing,” says Chernof, speaking on his portable phone during a family vacation to Florida. “These devices let us get away without worrying — plus, they’re fun.”

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