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The lawyer’s love affair with book-based research officially ended about 15 years ago. That’s when computer-based platforms such as Lexis and Westlaw started to take off at the nation’s largest law firms. But will lawyers’ affection for their desks and computers cool off as soon as legal research goes wireless? Among those interested in the answer are the folks at Motorola, West Group and a company called Idea Technologies Corp. The three have teamed up to develop and support a software platform called PocketParalegal, which enables legal research to be performed over Motorola’s PageWriter pager. West is also looking to port Westlaw to other wireless devices, such as Palms and Microsoft-driven Pocket PCs, the RIM Blackberry and the Rocket eBook. But PocketParalegal might be available to the public as early as the first of the year. It’s likely to work like this: Lawyers type out familiar Westlaw search queries on the Pagewriter’s keyboard, and lists of cases appear on the pager’s LCD screen, much as they do on a desktop-based Westlaw search. Users can either read entire cases or summaries, or direct the service to print cases on a specified fax machine. Lawyers can also program the pager to alert them when specific opinions get handed down. According to Jim Page, one of Motorola’s vice presidents for business development, Motorola thought hard about how to get lawyers hooked on wireless. “We think the legal community will be one of the most natural users of this platform,” says Page. “After all, it’s not like we have to introduce them to Westlaw.” The trio first came up with the idea a few years ago and actually announced the product’s release early last year. But Motorola and West backed off, deciding that more research and testing were needed. At the Legal Tech show in New York last January, Motorola and Westlaw broached the idea with a smattering of lawyers and legal technologists. Although the responses varied, the companies found interest strong enough to push forward with the project. The product is allegedly not far from hitting the shelves. Motorola simply needs to pair up with an airtime provider (likely to be Skytel) and make sure that Idea Technologies and West Group are ready to launch at the same time. But the larger question still stands: Are the lawyers ready to bite? Page claims that the ability to run wireless Westlaw searches will prove the most useful to litigators — especially when a case unexpectedly arises during, say, oral argument or a deposition. “And of course it’ll come in handy in hotels, airports, automobiles — anywhere it’s hard to stay wired,” he says. Sounds good. Still, the legal world isn’t yet reaching for its checkbook. “This isn’t high on our list of things to look at,” says Eugene Stein, the director of information and professional systems at New York’s Shearman & Sterling. “No one’s beating me over the head saying, ‘I need remote Westlaw access.’ “ “I don’t know. It might be useful in some instances,” says a skeptical litigator at New York’s Debevoise & Plimpton. “It’s just not that often that you need to do an immediate Westlaw search while you’re in the courtroom,” she says. After all, over-preparation is the attorney’s hallmark. Lawyers often bring paper copies of important cases to court appearances. And many judges prohibit lawyers from arguing cases that haven’t been mentioned in the briefing. The service probably won’t be cheap. Idea Technologies has tentatively priced the PocketParalegal software at $499. The cost of the pager (around $400) and monthly service costs for the pager ($25 to $60) and Westlaw are extra. Although price bundling might become available down the line, it’s still a fee that will add up quickly if the package is purchased by a firm the size of a Shearman or a Debevoise. So for now, it’s hard to say just how deeply the wireless research concept will penetrate the legal community. But there are those willing to give it a try. “Frankly, I think the remote research idea is great,” says Jo Haraf, the chief technology officer at San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster. Haraf explains that part of her job is to give Morrison lawyers a “smorgasbord of choices.” She predicts, “There’s unquestionably a certain subset of lawyers that’s going to want this.” “It’s something we’re going to look at,” says Steve Agnoli, the chief information officer at Pittsburgh’s Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. “If it can help our lawyers, then it can help our clients,” he says, “which is really the point of any technological advance.” Even Shearman’s Stein won’t dismiss the idea completely. “With a new technology, no one thinks of all the uses until they have it in their hands,” he says. “Then they can’t live without it.” And so begins a new love affair.

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