For years, mobile communication in the American law firm has been based primarily on the BlackBerry, but the tide may slowly be turning to the iPhone. The much-buzzed-about Apple device has gathered legions of devoted fans, including attorneys who appreciate the phone's Web browsing capabilities and ever-expanding catalog of apps. And with online communities of iPhone-centric lawyers forming around blogs like iPhone J.D. and The Mac Lawyer, it's easy for novice iPhone users to learn how to use their new devices in a professional capacity.
A former BlackBerry user myself, I switched to the iPhone last year when my company, West LegalEdcenter, began to develop an app that delivers continuing legal education (CLE) to iPhone and iPod touch users. Though I'm just beginning to explore the variety of functionalities and apps the iPhone offers, I'm taking advantage of new discoveries every day. My job frequently takes me on the road, and staying in close touch with my colleagues back at the office is a snap. In addition, the travel and restaurant apps come in handy when I'm headed to an unfamiliar city.
Why is the legal industry taking a closer look at the iPhone these days? Four attorneys recently shared their perspectives with me, and their positive experiences with the device won't come as a surprise to any iPhone fan.
There really is an app for everything
With well over 200,000 apps and counting, the unofficial App Store slogan—"There's an app for that"—has entered the national lexicon, and many iPhone users see it as more than mere marketing copy. Kate Nilan, an associate at the Minneapolis law firm Gray Plant Mooty, points to the wide range of apps as a reason why iPhones are gaining popularity among the legal world.
"Not to buy into the Apple ad, but there really is an app for everything," Nilan said. "I think iPhone is pretty attuned to making developments that users want."
A self-proclaimed news junkie, Nilan had downloaded "basically every news app under the sun" and listens to news podcasts during her daily bus commute. She also uses the UPS Mobile (free; app2.me/2381) app to track packages and the To-Do List ($2.99; app2.me/2382) to sync her task list from Microsoft Outlook with her iPhone. And as a frequent user of the apps for social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, Nilan finds that "to be able to update on the fly is great. I don't have to update while I'm doing billable work."
Mark Smallhouse, the president of New Venture Attorneys, uses a variety of legal and general apps to manage his Reno, Nevada-based practice. He finds Legal Edge (free; app2.me/2383) to be a helpful tool in keeping up with industry white papers, news alerts and other legal content, and the Dictamus ($9.99; app2.me/2384) app allows him to record and send notes directly to his secretary. He also uses specialized apps to help him organize his receipts from business dining and entertainment events and to track his mileage for client meetings.
"There are so many great applications that simplify things," Smallhouse said.
Continuing legal education credits
The opportunity to earn CLE credits using mobile apps also makes the iPhone an attractive option for attorneys.
Most states require lawyers to earn a certain number of continuing legal education credits in order to maintain their license. Over the past few years, many organizations have allowed attorneys to take advantage of the availability of online CLE programs to earn these required credits.
Now those online programs are going mobile, and attorneys can earn CLE credit at their convenience. West LegalEdcenter launched CLE Mobile (free; app2.me/2385) in December. It allows iPhone and iPod touch users to download more than 2,000 audio courses and earn CLE credits or just listen to programs covering the hot law topics of the week.
"The reason I bought the iPhone is the CLE app," Smallhouse said. "I can do CLE on the go."
Lisa Della Rocca, general counsel for Black Diamond Data and SigniaDocs, recently found the ability to complete CLE credits using her iPhone to be invaluable as she rushed to meet her compliance deadline for the California Bar Association. With more than 20 credits to earn in the week before her Jan. 31 deadline, Della Rocca used a combination of online and mobile CLE programs to avoid any penalties for incompletion.
"I had just bought my iPhone on Dec. 30 and thought, ‘OK, it's do or die.' I could sit in front of the computer all day or download the app. That app made it possible for me to meet that requirement," Della Rocca said.
CLE apps also allow attorneys to make their downtime more efficient. Lisa Keyes, the professional development partner at King and Spalding in Atlanta, recently completed a CLE program on her iPod touch while sitting in a hospital waiting room.
"The app made it easy to be productive. I normally don't have 90 minutes in my day to do a CLE program," Keyes said.
An all-in-one solution
Like professionals across the business world, attorneys appreciate the wide range of utilities that the iPhone offers. The device gives users the ability to combine the functionalities of phones, computers, GPS systems, calendars, MP3 players, digital cameras and other vital business tools in an easy-to-use format.
"I think that people find iPhones a little easier to use as a multipurpose device," Keyes said. "It's good for productivity, but it's also fun."
Many iPhone converts cite the device's superior Web browsing ability as a clear differentiator between the iPhone and the BlackBerry.
"The Web browser is infinitely better for quick research on the go," said Nilan, who also frequently e-mails herself cases to review outside the office.
For Della Rocca, the freedom to leave her computer at the office each night lightens her load, both literally and figuratively.
"I always feel connected with it. I feel like I'm not a slave to my desk or my laptop," Della Rocca said. "I never thought I'd be that into a phone, but it's given me a level of confidence that no other phone has ever given me."
And when she has to be at the office while her family is at play, Della Rocca can feel like she's part of the action through the photo and video files her husband sends her.
"I never feel out of the loop. It's the best thing ever for a lawyer," she added.
Increased technical support
The increasing prevalence of iPhones in the legal world is causing law firm information technology departments to rethink their mobile support strategies. When Nilan joined Gray Plant Mooty in January 2009, she was only the second attorney to have an iPhone. Now a year later, she's one of approximately 12 lawyers at the firm who have chosen to use an iPhone over a BlackBerry, and Gray Plant Mooty's IT department has worked with her to ensure the device is compatible with her office technology.
"Our IT department is very willing to support iPhone users, but I don't think that every office has made that jump," Nilan said.
Though the BlackBerry still remains dominant at Keyes' firm, King and Spalding has also begun to support the iPhone. And Della Rocca has noticed a change among her attorney friends who are using iPhones more and more.
"We have to keep up with the technology, and the iPhone seems to be where technology is going," added Della Rocca, who also works on an Apple computer that uses both the Windows and Mac operating systems.
Though the legal field is far from becoming dominated by iPhones, it's encouraging to see the increased interest and support for iPhones among attorneys and law firms. With the option to choose from a variety of smartphones, lawyers can take advantage of the device that is most suitable for their particular needs, and for many, that's the iPhone. Now the challenge is on the legal industry to develop apps that echo the iPhone's elegance and simplicity and create meaningful experiences for attorneys.