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True Mobile Productivity for Lawyers: Beyond The Basic Plumbing

Jeffrey BrandtI think that it's fair to say that while the potential benefits of mobile productivity are significant and incessantly discussed, they are not broadly understood and remain elusive to the average law firm.  To many firms, remote access is a separate entity from laptop access, which in turn is different from mobile access. Many firms fell behind in the big push for BYOD and have not yet recovered.  In the rush for multi-platform, consumer connectivity, firms flocked to Microsoft's ActiveSync to enable email but that's it. Many firms have moved on from the original BlackBerry but not from the almost single purpose it served. 

The latest ILTA Technology Survey shows that 54% of law firms still don't employ any mobile device management software. "Container" solutions like Good and the old reliable BlackBerry Enterprise Server each hold less than 5% of the market. Mobile time entry tools are used by slightly more than a third of law firms. Some firms have had mild success with mobile apps from their DMS vendors, but none have been super hits. That's about as bare bones no frills plumbing as you can get.

With the rise of mobile consumer technology came the accompanying consumer software "apps." Users rushed to fill the voids of enterprise software with free or cheap apps, happily ignoring the terms of service. It gave rise to the new, somewhat ominous classification, "shadow IT." Legal vendors struggled to come up with their own enterprise versions of those apps, but failed to provide the features, the ease of use, or elegant interfaces of the consumer apps. Despite the renewed emphasis on security, sadly many firms can't tell if their lawyers are using Dropbox or how far and wide their client's materials have been shared. 

So how do we get beyond basic plumbing and policy to where mobility productivity begins? How do we define "true lawyer mobility?"  Technology has advanced and the first thing that needs to stop is the mindset that separates the creation of desktop access vs mobile access vs remote access. Most firms operate from the lawyers' desk, designing that system and then plan subsequent mobile and remote access systems. The history has typically been one of diminishing returns. The desktop had 100% of the applications and data a lawyer needed. Everything from there on simply goes downhill. Less on the laptop. Lesser still in remote access. Are all the applications and data the lawyer needs to be productive available? Things drop off drastically on the smartphone and tablet.

That's just wrong. There is simply ACCESS. If you have trouble breaking that mindset then at least start with mobile, weighing that higher than the desktop. I realize you've got physical foot print issues between a 5" or 6" phone screen and multiple 24"+ monitors on the desktop, but that's still no excuse for not mobilizing your applications and making that mobile device truly useful and not just a handheld mail device. Things may not be perfect, but starting from the get-go thinking of them as different needs puts you at a disadvantage. So maybe we should just call it ADAPTABLE ACCESS. 

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Lawyers don't sit at their desk, waiting for information to come to them. They are out and about, wanting and needing access to information anywhere: from the road, from the hotel, from the client site or from home. True mobility for lawyers is about access to the data and applications they need, when they need and wherever they need it. We can go back to 1999 and Bill Gates who talked about a convergence that offered to "deliver the power of the information age into the hands of everyone, anytime, anywhere." Take that to heart. Now is the time to implement Bill's vision. True lawyer mobility is seamless access and links to existing stuff in the firm. It is completing workflows and collaborating, accessing and sharing information - all in a secure and protected manner.

A workflow today must be accessible - period - and not force an attorney to return to his or her desk to take action (or worse call their secretary and have them complete the flow). Lawyers live document-centric lives. Easy access to documents is critical. It's so critical that it's probably the number one cause of shadow IT. Enterprise document management systems, even with their mobile app add-ons aren't as slick as some of the consumer tech and are difficult to use.

Many firms love SharePoint and have developed countless apps, dashboards and systems using it. Why not extend and link those SharePoint systems to lawyers mobile devices? If it was important enough to spend those hard earned development dollars in the first place, wouldn't it make sense to maximize the return and make sure it was always available? 

At the same time you're interconnecting and linking your lawyers’ mobile devices to your system, you have to insure security while respecting the personal side of their devices. Short of multiple devices - one personal and one business (which may, at some point in the future, be forced on firms by their financial services clients) a secure container on the device is the way to go. You have to be able to separate client privileged documents from the Boy Scout troop roster. Because when a device goes missing, or someone departs the firm, you have to be able to surgically remove your information - not just to your own satisfaction, but to the satisfaction of your clients. But you don't want to take out the lawyer's music collection, family photos and text messages in the process. You have to be able to wipe the time entry app and leave Angry Birds intact.

You don't have to impose overbearing security. You don't have to rely on consumer apps. What you have to do is proactively deliver the tools that lawyers need. You can link and extend many of your current systems to smartphones and tablets cost effectively and securely, truly enabling your mobile lawyers. Don't let your systems be built on one concession after the other. Technology has come a long way and so have attorney expectations.

Thank you, Mobile Helix, for sponsoring this post.
 

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