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It will be a great day when lawyers can step outside the courtroom during a break, flip open their laptops and download whatever documents or data they need from the Internet or the firm database. That day is not today. But we’re getting there, sooner rather than later. Cellular carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Cingular and AT&T are all rushing to offer what are known as “wireless data services” — sending e-mail, Web pages and other data via cellular networks, in addition to plain old voice calls. The concept has floated around for years. Like much else in technology, it had been long on promise and short on delivery. The problem? The impractical idea of cramming all the power of a computer into a tiny cellular phone-sized device. The results were slow connection speeds and boring content displayed on painfully small screens. Now carriers are pursuing a more practical approach: using cellular devices to connect laptops to the Web wirelessly. Typically, it involves a specialized piece of hardware that attaches to the laptop, either a high-end cell phone or an “aircard” that fits into the side of the computer. Users also need a calling plan and software from a wireless carrier, but that’s about all — once those are installed, high-speed Internet access is a breeze. Verizon Wireless has the most formidable offering: its Mobile Office software suite. The company has a high-speed network operating in most major markets that can give top speeds of 230 kilobits per second, comparable to DSL or cable-modem speeds. Once the software is installed, logging on is a simple process of clicking an icon and telling it to connect. The usual phalanx of other wireless carriers are running close behind, each with its own coverage areas, connection speeds and pricing schemes. AT&T Wireless has various data services plans that include pricing by data downloaded rather than minutes spent downloading. Nextel, Cingular, VoiceStream and others also offer data services, albeit at slower speeds than Verizon — generally around 45 to 75 kilobits per second. The details vary widely, but it’s likely that some carrier somewhere offers a plan to suit any lawyer’s needs and budget. Wireless Web surfing isn’t cheap. Verizon’s plan costs $30 per month, and is available only to Verizon Wireless customers with voice-calling plans of at least $35 per month. AT&T Wireless offers similar high-speed services billed by the megabyte for as low as $19 per month, useful if you want to spend a few minutes studying a Web page or carefully composing an e-mail. And just about every carrier requires an Internet-ready cellular phone or aircard, which can range from $50 up to several hundred dollars. LITTLE E-WONDER The ePrompter is a little bit of software that works wonders for disorganized, overworked attorneys — so it should have a large customer base. Available for free from an outfit called Tiburon Technology, ePrompter is a dragnet for e-mail addresses. It quietly tracks as many as eight different e-mail accounts and notifies the user when a message arrives. For someone saddled with several accounts coming to one domain for a small business, it’s a godsend. The beauty of the ePrompter is that it’s free and small. At only 692K, it downloads in about five seconds. Installation is a self-explanatory breeze. Setting up accounts usually takes just a few steps. EPrompter sits in the Windows task tray and checks mail for all accounts regularly. When messages arrive, it sounds an audio alert and flashes the number of new messages on its icon. EPrompter even assigns a color to each account and then flashes the number in its assigned color, so you can see how much mail is queued up for each account. Reading the messages is simple: Click on the task tray icon, and a main window will appear listing each account. Click on the account, and it calls up the messages. To delete them, simply check that the message has been read and it will be erased at the next ePrompter update. Bottom line: It works and it’s free. EPrompter can sit above the fray of multiple e-mail accounts and give a bird’s-eye view of the messages coming in, without the hassle of switching identities or entering new passwords. It can’t do much but it’s not supposed to do much — and what it does, it does well.

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