General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

 
Volume 17, Number 7
October/November 2000

technology.law

Reach Out and Touch Your Client

By J. Michael Jimmerson

Sure, we all know how e-mail has revolutionized the world. Instead of drowning in overnight packages and faxes, now we are awash in a deluge of e-mail. But are we complaining? Most of us have simply come to accept e-mail as a part of our everyday routine. Well prepare yourself for the next wave: wireless messaging.

Wireless messaging allows you to send and receive messages with users on the same wireless network, to Internet mail accounts, and even to fax machines and phones. The most common device, made by Research In Motion (RIM), is about twice the size of a pager and rides comfortably on your hip. The RIM unit has a small screen (approximately 3/4") that displays about eight lines of text. It has a small keyboard that may not support touch typists but is easy for thumb typists. Add a wheel for scrolling and choosing options, along with backspace and enter keys, and you have all you need for wireless messaging.

Many carriers provide wireless service and I have been using BellSouth for several months now. With BellSouth, I can send a message to anyone on the same network using a RIM. One advantage is that I can see the status of any messages sent to BellSouth users on the network. When the message is delivered to the recipient’s unit, I see a "D." I can also tell when the message has been read because an "R" is displayed. No more listening to someone say that they have not gotten the message. Unfortunately, this does not apply to messages sent to non-BellSouth users. However, the ability to send a message to any Internet mail address is invaluable. You can also send a text message to any fax machine or phone. For example, if your cell phone has died, you can send a message anyway. The text is read by a machine to the person answering the phone on the other end.

The BellSouth service is quite good and provides coverage nearly everywhere in the United States (at least metropolitan areas). Initially you need to either buy or rent a RIM unit ($360 or $20 per month). The cost of service depends upon how much you use. Some plans are as low as $20 per month. I have unlimited service for $50 per month. The key factor is how much traffic you generate. The rate plans are defined by how many characters you send and receive.

Another popular service, BlackBerry, provides PDA functionality along with wireless messaging. The same RIM device can hold your calendar, to-do list, and reminders. Using a cradle similar to a Palm Pilot, you can sync your wireless device with your PIM or Microsoft Exchange. Some progressive firms, such as Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, are providing these devices for every lawyer in their firm.

Endless Possibilities

As if all that weren’t enough, you can sign up with third-party services that will feed information down into your wireless device. Want financial information such as stock quotes? Just key the companies you want into the provider’s website, and for a very small monthly fee you can get current stock quotes. Or, if you are a sports junkie, track the scores for your favorite teams. News and information is all available, much of it for free. Information services such as West and Lexis offer limited access to information through these devices. The possibilities are endless.

This form of messaging has several advantages. First, you can send and receive messages unobtrusively. Cellular phones are useful, but they can be annoying and obnoxious to others nearby. With wireless messaging, you can get a message, then be alerted by vibration rather than tone. After reading the message, type in a reply and hit "send." One of the lawyers in our firm was recently telling me how he carried on a "conversation" with a client one morning while sitting in a partner meeting!

That same lawyer also pioneered a fantastic use for these devices. After getting a few RIM units for the other lawyers in his Rockford, Illinois, office, he also got a few units for his clients. This was so successful that one client, a real estate firm, added several more units, and now they communicate constantly over the BellSouth wireless messaging service. This has provided a great way to interact and to bond the client to the lawyer.

Another lawyer recently told me about an excellent use for wireless messaging. He is corporate counsel for a wireless firm, and he says that this device provides a "back channel" to his outside counsel during negotiations. Instead of slipping messages back and forth, he can just send a text message. In most cases, the opposing counsel has no idea what is going on.

In just a couple of years, these devices will be ubiquitous. If you want to catch the next wave of messaging, sign onto BellSouth or a similar service. I guarantee you will fall in love with it.

 

J. Michael Jimmerson is an attorney, author and legal technologist. He is the CIO at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Chicago. He is the co-author of A Survival Guide for Road Warriors, a best-selling book on mobile computing for lawyers, published by the American Bar Association. He can be reached via e-mail at mjimmerson@hinshawlaw.com.

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