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My friend “J,” who is almost a second-year associate at a neighboring firm, just emailed me the exciting news. He’s already proposed to his girlfriend, bought a house and brought in his first client. No, this was the really big news. He received his BlackBerry. I was tempted to send J a list of warnings to avoid fast-fingered faux pas and to offer my usual lecture on BlackBerry etiquette. Instead, I e-mailed him and told him to read today’s paper. I am exercising columnist’s license by reworking and updating a column from three years ago. It is not just for J and his classmates, but also for other new BlackBerry users. You see, I remember when life was simple and blackberries were just fruit. My BlackBerry, a hand-held wireless computer that is a type of Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), is a convenience and a nuisance, a life-saver and a curse — it is liberating and an albatross, and I would be lost without it. When palm-held devices first came out, I scoffed as people “zapped” each other their contact information just by pointing while others collected a stylus to match every outfit. Then I got connected — and then addicted. I have relayed a settlement offer from a conference and provided a client with updates during trial. I can check an address or phone number from the road and update my calendar at any time. I even can send myself reminders and set alarms. It is the bass-o-matic for nerds and I find it particularly convenient during the downtime in the dentist’s offices and at airports. Some people’s cell phones seem glued to their ears. My BlackBerry appears affixed to my fingers. In fact, the technology of reading and sending simultaneous e-mails despite location is habit forming. Hence the nickname “crack berry.” In moderation, it can be a fantastic tool for a lawyer, as long as you learn to put it down once in awhile. For some, it is the perfect combination of work and toy. At a recent reunion with colleagues from a former firm, we compared our toys and bragged about getting e-mails at all hours of the night. For me, those e-mails are blinking lights. I opt for the light notification instead of the beeper, the buzzer or the vibrator. I also set my BlackBerry to shut off at midnight, although until then, that blinking light is a beacon, drawing me towards it to read my latest e-mails. So many people are hooked. We heard that our mayor had two BlackBerrys, which were confiscated during the FBI’s recent investigation of the inner workings of our city. And, according to The New York Times, almost 5,000 Capitol Hill staffers carry them. So, for J, the Congressional staffers and all of the other members of the new generation of thumb-typers, I offer some suggestions. I would be remiss if I did not admit that these are reminders for me, too, since I experience withdrawal every time I attempt to wean myself. First of all, there are some places that you should never take your BlackBerry. Do not bring it to bed. If you ignore this one and leave it bedside, at least never check it before saying “Good morning.” Don’t take it to the dinner table. If you disregard this tip, wait for your partner or date to go to the bathroom before checking. Don’t take it on vacation. It is not a vacation if you bring your work. BlackBerrys don’t transmit from everywhere anyway, and how can you relax if you are constantly checking to see what is going on? If you are that afraid to miss something, you might as well stay in the office. Don’t drive with your BlackBerry on your lap. A few weeks ago, someone I know was pulled over for checking email in a traffic jam. It is dangerous. If it can’t wait, pull over. Don’t take your BlackBerry into the bathroom. Every firm’s information services director has horror stories about their lawyers fishing BlackBerrys out of port-o-potties and airplane toilets. I know some of you are very well coordinated, but don’t try to walk and read or type. It is bad enough that we have people walking all over town with those cell phone headsets who I always think are talking to me when they pass by. Never pull your BlackBerry out in court. You might as well announce that you are bored and that there are many more important things going on in your life then the case. Surely don’t consult it while with clients. The message they will get is that you that you are checking on your other, more important clients. If you do need to consult your handheld during a meeting, be as unobtrusive as possible. Keep in under the table, not held up arms-length away, at eye level. Another BlackBerry etiquette tip is don’t type or read while trying to listen. Not everyone will be happy that you have a way to stay in touch, and you need to beware of BlackBerry envy. It is a simple truth that some who don’t have one will covet yours. Do be careful with it. Many of us learned a valuable lesson by one simple slip of the thumb and the resulting, unwanted firm-wide reply. I am told that almost every firm has at least one person who has repeated the mistake, some who are notorious for it. They are usually on a beach somewhere. Always double check to make sure you have the right recipient. Also take an extra minute to proofread and edit before hitting send, especially those spoiled by the automatic spell check of desktop e-mail. And remember that e-mails are flat, and that the same message spoken with voice inflections could have a very different meaning. Finally, try to keep the abbreviations and emoticons – such as “: )” – to a minimum and try not to butcher the language too much. Well, my thumbs are getting tired and I want to check my e-mail. To J and all of the other novice users out there, I hope the convenience adds to and not limits your life. (Sent from my wireless device). Molly Peckman is the director of associate development at Pepper Hamilton. Peckman works with the associates committee and is responsible for coordinating the evaluation and partnership nomination processes. She is a member of the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association and is a former chairwoman of the Young Lawyers Division. Peckman was a trial lawyer for 10 years before joining the firm. She can be reached at [email protected].

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