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March 2002
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On The Road

The Mobile Legal Office Arrives

Broadband technology helps lawyers stay connected while traveling.

By Joe Diodati

The Mobile Legal Office Arrives IT'S A CHALLENGE many legal professionals face. You're on the road, commuting between your firm's office and a client site. It's even possible that you're spending weeks, even months, in a hotel room as a case proceeds from discovery to trial or settlement.

During this time, how do you work at full productivity, without any restrictions? How do you quickly access all your data residing on the firm's local area network, or use the power of the Internet to transmit files, communicate and conduct research efficiently?

Fortunately, technology is quickly improving the work life of mobile professionals. Increasingly, hotels, airports and other travel venues are installing state-of-the-art, Ethernet-based broadband technology that allows legal professionals to stay fully connected, boosting productivity and helping to make travel-related work restrictions a thing of the past.

Overcoming Limitations

Historically, legal professionals endured serious limitations whenever they set foot outside their office buildings. Immediately, they were cut off from much of their data, dependent upon slow dial-up connections in hotel rooms to access files, download lengthy documents and conduct research. Often, travelers found the situation so frustrating that they preferred to have secretaries overnight the data they needed on diskettes, severely hobbling efficiency, productivity and timely access to critical information. As for broadband wireless links on the road ­ forget about it.

Good news: the situation is rapidly improving. Why is this change coming about? Take a look at the math. In the United States alone, there are about 45 million mobile business professionals, who make more than 280 million business trips per year. This powerful constituency long has clamored for access to better, more sophisticated communications technology.

The Mobile Legal Office Arrives The travel industry is responding. Recently, airports, hotels, convention centers and other venues have begun to implement Ethernet-based wired and wireless technology that gives travelers the broadband connectivity they require.

The ABCs of Broadband

Broadband connectivity falls into two basic categories: wired and wireless. The technologies are complementary, together providing travelers with complete and secure data access from virtually anywhere.

Wired Broadband: Legal professionals probably are most familiar and comfortable with wired broadband technology, which is found in a rapidly increasing number of hotel rooms. Veteran travelers already are accustomed to hooking their computers' dial-up modems into a room's telephone connection. The process is similar for Ethernet-based broadband access. With an Ethernet adapter and a few mouse clicks, travelers are connected in seconds.

Wireless Broadband: Wireless connectivity is a less common option in the travel industry. Still, an increasing number of airports, hotels, and resorts are installing wireless broadband, sometimes in conjunction with their wired offerings. Legal professionals will find out quickly that it's very easy to use wireless devices and related software. Although some attorneys may be concerned about receiving confidential information through the air, they will discover that wireless security mechanisms ensures safe and secure data transmission keeping confidential information private.

The Mobile Legal Office Arrives Via a wired and/or wireless network, legal professional can benefit enormously by accessing broadband while on the road:

* Broadband Internet services: It's a constant complaint. A lawyer checks into a hotel room and can only access the Internet at very slow dial-up modem speeds, restricting the ability to conduct research and communicate with clients. However, with high-speed, in-room Internet access, attorneys have the ability to conduct research and communicate with clients with no restrictions.

* Secure LAN access at LAN speeds: Wherever they are, lawyers need secure access to the firm's local area network. With the aid of an Ethernet-based broadband connection, corporate VPN, and security software they're able to enjoy full access to their applications and data, enabling them to work from hotels, client sites and even from home just as securely and productively as from their own offices.

* High-bandwidth application access: Increasingly, lawyers require robust bandwidth that supports applications based upon converged voice, video and data. These demanding applications may include videoconferencing, multimedia presentations and collaborative computing. With these technologies, legal professionals can hold meetings in real-time across great distances without compromise. This capability is a great boon to travelers who must interact face-to-face with colleagues and clients while on the road.

* Wireless services: Frequently, attorneys require high-bandwidth links both inside and out of hotel rooms. Broadband wireless technology lets users take their laptops to the hotel conference center, to conference rooms or even to the coffee shop, while maintaining high-speed access. They can work efficiently from anywhere where a high-speed wireless connection can be maintained. Increasingly, airports are even providing wireless broadband access, so travelers can fully leverage the Internet while awaiting a flight.

Today, about 14 percent of business travelers access the Internet at airports. This demand has prompted major facilities such as LAX, JFK and O'Hare to offer wireless connections from kiosks or "hotspots" such as airline elite clubs, restaurants or boarding gates. Travelers now can communicate with clients, catch up on e-mail or link to the firm's server, all from a secure broadband connection, while waiting for flights.

Recreational Services: A business trip shouldn't be all business. More and more, hotels and resorts are offering in-room recreation and entertainment that rely upon high-bandwidth connections.

These applications include interactive video games and video on demand. So, even the most dedicated professionals can unwind during their downtime.

Words of Caution

The Mobile Legal Office Arrives Despite its spread, broadband connectivity can still be hit or miss in the travel industry. The best advice: call ahead. If a particular hotel lacks broadband connectivity, make your objections known and go somewhere else. In addition, you should inquire about:

Levels of bandwidth: Don't be fooled by hotels that claim to have broadband because they offer ISDN connections or low-end DSL (128 to 300 Kbps). That's not true broadband. Most multimedia and video applications require connections of at least 1 Mbps to operate properly. An Ethernet-based solution is perfect to provide these robust levels of broadband.

Cost: Do hotels charge extra for broadband connectivity? They may. In fact, they may escalate their fees according to just how much bandwidth you need ­ or the services you require. Don't be afraid to ask.

Today, road warriors have every reason to be enthusiastic. With the spread of Ethernet-based broadband throughout the travel industry, their work lives promise to be far more productive and far less frustrating than ever before.

The mobile legal office has indeed arrived.

Joe Diodati is director of market development of worldwide commerical market segment, Cisco Systems Inc., and is based in Santa Clara.

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