Wireless E-mail: Three Internet-Enabled Options Offer Choices for Mobile Lawyers
New handheld devices offer the convenience of fast Internet access and instant communication.
By Chris Santella
THESE DAYS, an attorney clutching an address book is quaint at best, somewhat akin to a barrister with a powdered wig. It's no longer enough to have your personal database residing electronically in your suit pocket. Now you can send and receive e-mail -- and even surf the Web (in a fashion), virtually anywhere, anytime.
Here's an overview of three options:
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BlackBerry, manufactured by Research in Motion Ltd., of Waterloo, Ontario, is an integrated, wireless e-mail system that lets you read, originate, forward and reply to e-mail. It is available in two platforms: BlackBerry Exchange Edition and BlackBerry Internet Edition.
Both feature a RIM wireless handheld device, with e-mail, calendar, address book and task list applications. It includes a 32-bit Intel 386 processor; 2 MB flash memory plus 304 Kbytes SRAM; integrated RIM wireless modem; thumb-operated trackwheel; clock, alarm auto on/off, radio on/off; search functionality; password protection; and more, according to RIM. It operates on a single AA akaline battery; MSRP is $399.
The Exchange Edition is designed to for law firms and corporate environments that use Microsoft Exchange. It features an "end-to-end" security system, to assure that all e-mail remains encrypted at all points between the desktop PC and the device. The BlackBerry Enterprise Service allows for centralized administration. Version 1.6 software adds new features to the service, including a memo pad and calculator.
Blackberry Exchange wireless service is supported by BellSouth Wireless Data Mobitex Network, with coverage of "93 percent of the U.S. business population," says RIM, including major U.S. metropolitan areas, the company explains. Access, according to one friend in New York City, is good everywhere, except in the subway and the basement at Macy's. Pricing plans run from $39.99 /month to $48.99/month. Some plans require a $20 activation fee.
The BlackBerry Internet Edition offers "single mailbox integration" and is available from RCN Corp., which offers nationwide coverage. Current pricing is $44.95 per month, including unlimited dial-up access and use of the device. (Plus activation fees and set up fees.)
Two Los Angeles firms are providing their attorneys with BlackBerrys: Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. RIM also announced that it has just signed a contract with Salomon Smith Barney to provide 2,500 financial professionals with its service.
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From American Mobile Satellite Corp., of Reston, Va., eLink is a recent entry into the handheld e-mail market. Two services are offered, the company says: eLink Messenger, and eLink Agent.
Each option includes a Research in Motion (RIM) 850 wireless handheld device, says AMSC. The RIM 850 includes a backlit display that can deliver six to eight lines of text, AutoText data entry shortcuts; and 2 MB memory. It runs on one AA battery; a rechargeable NiMH battery is included.
As a personal information manager, it can be used to coordinate calendar, tasks, contacts, alerts and other functions. A desktop cradle allows for loading, syncing and backup of data, as well as charging. The eLink RIM 850 unit has a MSRP of $359.
The eLink Messenger service combines the portability of a pager with e-mail, says AMSC. The service includes wireless email (send, receive, reply and forward); a personal e-mail address (email@example.com); real-time two-way messaging; text messaging to fax machines; paging (with toll free number and PIN); and operator-assisted message creation, the company explains.
The eLink Agent plan merges a user's Internet e-mail box with the handheld device to automatically retrieve mail from POP3 Internet mail accounts. It offers filter and forward capabilities that are accessible via a Web browser, enabling users to decide which mail should be sent from the wireless device.
Its "respond" capability makes replies look like they are coming from desktops, the company notes.
Access to Internet mailboxes can be conducted manually, or automatically.
ELink systems allow users to configure preferences so e-mail can be received from a variety of accounts, says the company. The services can be synchronized with a PC and organizer programs, it notes.
The eLink services are supported by AMSC's ARDIS network, a nationwide two-way wireless radio data network, to support the service. ARDIS offers coverage in approximately 430 markets, including more than 11,000 cities, towns and suburbs across the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the company reports.
A variety of payment plans are offered, from limited use ($24.95 per month) to unlimited ($59.9 per month), with the usual activation fees.
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The Palm VII is a hybrid in the handheld Internet device category. It combines the handheld computing functionality of the familiar Palm III (date book, address book, to do list, etc.) with a Internet access.
Like Blackberry and eLink, the Palm VII allows users to send and receive e-mail messages (though product literature emphasizes that the system is built for brief messages, and it strips attachments. Users can check e-mail on the fly, says Palm, using its iMessenger application that compresses text, and sends the first 500 characters to the device.
If a message exceeds 500 characters, users can determine whether to download the next section, or read it later. The unit can be used to access users' ISP, Web-based, corporate or school e-mail accounts 24/7, Palm says.
Web clipping (Palm's term) is not exactly browsing. Instead, it gives you access to the content you really need, and nothing more.
User interaction is based on a simple query and response system, rather than hyperlinks. When users want information from one of those sites, information is "clipped" from the site. Palm's growing library of clipping applications includes such popular sites as E*Trade, ESPN.com, Travelocity.com, The Weather Channel and ABC News.
Wireless communication is offered via Palm.Net, which covers about 260 regions, with heavy coverage on the metropolitan areas coasts and Midwest. Coverage in rural areas is iffy, according to a map on Palm's Web site.
The unit's current MSRP is $449. For the wireless service, four billing plans are offered, ranging from $9.99 per month for spartan service to $44.99/month for unlimited volume.
By the way, Palm offers MacPac2 kits for Apple addicts.
Caveat emptor: Prices often are very competitive among resellers. Check price comparison charts at sites such as www.cnet.com before you buy directly from the manufacturer. You might save a bundle.
Save the Day
You never know when a handheld might save the day. For example, Paul Hastings used one to trump opposing counsel during a deposition (first reported in a Nov. 29, 1999 story on www.callaw.com). A litigator in the firm's Washington, D.C., office was in a deposition when opposing counsel began asking his client about a speech the client had given. The lawyer knew the speech was being mischaracterized by opposing counsel, who withheld the hard copy of the speech from the witness. So he shot off a quick e-mail to his secretary, who e-mailed back a copy of the speech within three minutes. The litigator was able to clarify the record on redirect.
Chris Santella is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, based in Portland, Ore.