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Having heard miraculous stories about the wireless Web, my firm decided to test exactly how useful it would be for our lawyers. It fell to me, as head of information technology, to run the evaluation using what some might see as the ultimate gadget — the BlackBerry. For lawyers intrigued by the possibilities of truly mobile e-mail, but cautious about committing to a new technology, our experience will be useful. For those who aren’t aware, the BlackBerry is a small pagerlike device that allows users to send and receive e-mail without wires. The model we used for our test was the smaller and slightly cheaper 950 (in contrast to the 957). The BlackBerry, made by Research in Motion Ltd., is marketed by several retailers and runs (in the United States) on a network operated by BellSouth Wireless Data, which claims coverage of 93 percent of the U.S. business population. In our pilot, we found the coverage to be quite complete, with only occasional “blind spots.” For an additional cost, users can receive BlackBerry signals in Canada. Coverage outside the United States and Canada is not yet available. The BlackBerry is sold in an Internet Edition — probably best for individuals — which includes an e-mail account from the service provider. It is also available in an Exchange Edition — for organizations running Microsoft Exchange for e-mail — which integrates directly with users’ desktop e-mail accounts. We tested the Exchange Edition. WIRELESS WONDER The main attraction of the BlackBerry is its wireless mode, which allows users to send and receive e-mail wirelessly. The BlackBerry simply takes any e-mail that lands in your Microsoft Outlook account and forwards an encrypted copy to your BlackBerry unit. Messages (both inbound and outbound) are held in queue when the gadget is out of the coverage area or the unit is turned off. BlackBerrys transmit e-mail in real time. In our tests, we noticed a delay from a few seconds to a few minutes in most cases (though network congestion can further delay transmissions). All messages sent and received also appear in the appropriate folders in the Outlook program on users’ desks. For our attorneys, this is critical, since it allows them to maintain a complete record of all e-mails. The BlackBerry unit itself has a personal information number identifier, which registers itself with the wireless network. In the event that a firm’s Microsoft Exchange service is down, users can send e-mail from BlackBerry to BlackBerry — if they know the PIN in question. In addition to transmitting e-mail, the BlackBerry connects and coordinates information with users’ desktop computers, allowing for the synchronization of Microsoft Outlook information (Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notes). Additions, modifications, and deletions on either platform will be reflected on the other. So, what are the results from our 25 testers? The unit was, in general, well-received. Berry Nice, but … � Keyboard — While the keyboard is quite small, with a little practice it becomes easily “thumbable” for relatively fast typing. For users who take the time to read the manual, there are many built-in shortcuts that ease the typing process. The BlackBerry also allows users to design their own shortcuts. The “clickable” navigation thumbwheel is cleverly designed. � Security — The embedded encryption for wireless communications, as well as a password feature that protects users who lose their units, is perfectly suited for attorneys, for whom keeping confidences is essential. � Organization — The BlackBerry allows users to file e-mail into their Outlook subfolders (though it allows only limited retrieval from subfolders). � Lighting — The BlackBerry has a backlight feature that lets users read in dark environments. Unfortunately, they can’t type in the dark, since the keyboard is not similarly lit. � Size — The BlackBerry 950 is the smallest and lightest device of its kind, allowing for full and inconspicuous portability. As with anything, there are some minuses as well: � Cost — Not cheap. At $400 for the 950 and $500 for the 957, a BlackBerry represents a substantial investment. The cost certainly must be scrutinized by any firm that is considering supplying them to its entire force of attorneys. Basic monthly wireless service for the United States alone is $40. Add basic paging and the ability to receive in Canada, and the price increases again. � Inability to view attachments — This is a significant drawback, since most attorneys’ e-mails include attachments. There are add-on components that will convert attachments to plain text, but these cost extra. Also, the small size of the BlackBerry screen makes viewing a legal document or (shudder) a spreadsheet an adventure, to say the least. � Battery life — With the auto-off feature activated from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m., I find an AA battery lasts about a week. Since Murphy’s Law dictates that batteries fail at the least desirable time, I carry several spares in my briefcase — a small, but annoying, inconvenience. � Synchronization — This procedure is not perfect. Synchronizing will not pass e-mail messages back and forth. Instead, docked synchronization passes only the status of individual e-mail messages (including read status, deleted status, and the like). And for the other folders (Contacts, Tasks, Calendar, and Notes), only the main Outlook folder in each category synchronizes with the BlackBerry. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED There are also a few considerations that firms should think about apart from the literal functionality of the BlackBerry. One aspect we are taking into account is users’ need for the device. Since the BlackBerry is a very attractive gadget and a curiosity, it is important to distinguish the frivolous “it’s an intriguing device — of course I want one” user from the serious “I simply cannot function without it” user. Requiring BlackBerry users to participate financially to some degree may help make that distinction. Additionally, integrating the BlackBerry into a law firm raises questions of how to coordinate the use of other devices. One lawyer in our firm stated that he now regularly carries his BlackBerry in addition to his laptop, raising the question of whether it is worthwhile to saddle lawyers with additional electronic baggage. However, another lawyer said that the BlackBerry can actually lighten the load: “I can stay in touch and keep work moving, rather than dragging a laptop and having to dial in.” Finally, there may be more far-reaching implications of adapting to life with a BlackBerry. One lawyer noted that, without the BlackBerry, he “would have had to wait for an opportunity for me to call my secretary to retrieve messages.” Which raises the question of whether BlackBerry use, for better or for worse, might make secretarial support even less prevalent than it already is at law firms. We consider our pilot test of the BlackBerry a success. And the upside of the decision to take the plunge? The phrase “I will be out of the office, but you can BlackBerry me” has become more and more prevalent at our firm, just as it will at yours. BlackBerry’s Web site, which includes a coverage map, can be found at www.blackberry.net.

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