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Many law firms have been caught off guard by the widespread use of personal digital assistants and have failed to implement policy and guidelines for such devices. The result is an increased burden for the IS department and frustration for the end user because these devices are not being used as efficiently or functionally as possible. Law firms must realize that PDAs are tools, not toys, and that the costs associated with them are here to stay. To maximize benefits and keep support costs down, PDAs must be added into the overall technology strategy for the law firm. As such, each firm should carefully create a strategy for their purchase, use and support. PURCHASING A PDA PDA use is increasing in law firms daily. Some attorneys are purchasing their own, while some firms furnish them. At this point, PDAs are not usually provided in the corporate world or in the legal market. A recent Network Worldarticle reported that 88 percent of the corporations they surveyed do not issue PDAs for their employees. Similarly, a survey by AmLaw Techrevealed that of the largest 100 law firms, just 35 percent supplied PDAs to their attorneys. Look for this statistic to increase in the next two years as the use of PDAs by mobile attorneys becomes even greater. More legal-specific applications are being written for PDAs and server-based (wireless and wired) synchronization with e-mail, contact information and other legal-specific applications and databases are already possible and will become only more prevalent in the future. While providing PDAs adds to overall IT costs, firms may want to take a proactive approach by purchasing a particular type of PDA. This will help maintain control over which products and operating systems will be supported. The costs related to PDAs come not only from the purchase of these devices, but also from the additional time and expertise necessary to support these new operating systems and applications. Using PDAs as productively as possible is the ultimate goal. Profiling the needs of your attorneys and matching them with the functionality of the PDA makes sense. Ask the following questions when considering which PDAs are right for your attorneys: � To what does the attorney really need access? Just e-mail, contact information and calendar information, or access to even more applications? � What type of e-mail system does your firm use? � Does the attorney need real-time access to information from wherever they happen to be (wireless access)? � Will the attorney want access to documents and multimedia applications? � How much will the attorney be traveling? Is weight/size of the PDA and battery life an issue? USE AND SUPPORT OF PDAS Like any technology tool, PDAs will need to be properly supported to be useful. One challenge you will face is standardization. Many attorneys already own and use PDAs. Because of this, you’ll probably have to support more than one operating system and device. If at all possible, the firm should make a recommendation for a particular model within each type of operating system (OS) (e.g., the Palm Vx or PalmVII and the HP Jornada). So, which should you choose? According to the AmLaw Techsurvey, the Blackberry device was the most popular among the top 100 law firms (47.2 percent), followed by the Palm devices (41.7 percent). While the Palm OS has a clear lead in terms of units sold and applications available, it will probably just be a short amount of time before the Microsoft OS catches up. Different PDAs offer different applications and functionality. The most used functions for PDAs now are e-mail, contact information and calendaring. Depending on the device and e-mail system used by the firm, attorneys may be able to synchronize data from their network e-mail system rather than synchronizing with their PC or laptop. It lets the attorneys use their firm’s e-mail address rather than having to get their PDA e-mail sent to a POP3 e-mail account. Good software is available for synchronizing enterprise server-based e-mail systems. Products such as the XTNDConnect Server from Extended Systems ( www.extendedsystems.com) and the Intellisync server from Puma Technologies ( www.pumatech.com) support the most popular server-based e-mail systems — MS Exchange, Lotus Notes and GroupWise. RIM also has an “Exchange Edition” of their Blackberry device for real-time updates in e-mail, contact and calendaring. While your firm can have more than one type of supported PDA, it should only have one supported mode of synchronization. The Palm OS and Pocket PC platforms offer myriad applications. While not widely prevalent, there are legal-specific applications available. PDA versions of time entry products DTE, Carpe Diem and Time Matters can be purchased. Also available is Lexis-Nexis access via the Palm OS. Another interesting application is a PDA client for the Citrix Metaframe remote access server. It’s offered for both the Palm and Microsoft CE operating systems. More legal-specific PDA applications are sure to be on the way as PDA synchronization software and middleware development software become more prevalent. As part of an overall technology strategy, PDAs must be supported by the IS staff in a manner similar to desktops. This includes policy and strategy for: � security; � device management and backup; � methodology for installing, configuring and updating applications; � virus protection; � training; and � help desk support. Security is perhaps the largest issue of those items related to PDAs. Here their mobility is a drawback. PDAs are commonly lost, left behind, misplaced and stolen. These devices store contact information, e-mail and documents of a confidential nature. Other best practices include scheduled data purges, data encryption for e-mail and awareness training of the security threats PDAs pose. Also extremely important is virus protection for the PDA. As of this writing there are now two identified viruses for the Palm OS: the Phage and the Vapor virus. Tools are now being developed by several companies to help support PDAs in an enterprise environment. Some of the better-known product suites for enterprise PDA middleware and support applications are developed by Aether Software (formerly Riverbed) ( www.aethersoftware.com), Extended Systems ( www.extendedsystems.com) and Pumatech ( www.pumatech.com). THE FUTURE While we’ve primarily focused on just the most popular handheld PDAs here, the realm of small mobile communication devices available is large and getting larger. It’s not uncommon for an attorney to have a mobile phone, a Palm or Pocket PC-based PDA and a pager because of lack of coverage or functionality from any individual device. The movement is toward an “all in one” device that will give attorneys wireless communication and access to people and data wherever they may reside. The “Bluetooth” short range networking standard will allow enabled nearby devices to synchronize data, whether they are mobile phones, PDAs, laptops, etc. There are already devices being manufactured, such as the Qualcomm pdQ “smart phone,” which combines the functionality of a mobile phone with the Palm III handheld. PDAs are here to stay and will become more portable and functional. Tim Kenney is an attorney and technology and management consultant at SRA International Inc., based in Fairfax, Va.

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