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Legal Eagles Eye Good

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LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading

Houston-based Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLP (ABHR) is a small firm with a large network.

Founded in 2003, ABHR is one of the few firms in Texas devoted solely to public law. The company's clients include cities, counties, water and municipal utility districts, and other public entities as well as developers and homeowners' associations. To coordinate its practice, ABHR uses ProLaw, a database solution for law firms provided by Thomson Elite, a leading provider of practice-management software to legal firms. ABHR's custom version of ProLaw includes more than 12,000 contacts as well as the firm's legal documents, client information, case-status updates, billing data, and so on.

When Debbie Cole, ABHR's chief administrator and IT liaison, began seeking a company-wide mobile messaging solution in January 2005, she knew she needed something that would give lawyers on-the-move access to the full ProLaw database as well as to their personal folders.

"ProLaw is the heartbeat of the firm," says Cole, "and all of that information is pushed down to public folders in Exchange. We knew we needed an application that would be able to integrate with those folders."

After a rigorous four-month process of examining "every provider and every possibility," as Cole puts it, comparing price, functionality, form factor, ease of use, and so on, ABHR settled on Good Technology Inc. 's GoodLink running on the Palm Inc. Treo 650 smartphone. (Cole was actually unaware of Good until the firm's sales rep from Verizon, ABHR's carrier, mentioned it.) ABHR now has about 35 users, both lawyers and administrative staff, on the Treos. The choice wound up a no-brainer, says Cole, because no other mobile messaging system could handle the firm's large number of contacts, integrate seamlessly with ProLaw, and provide access to personal folders on the handheld device as well. (See Palm Pushes Deeper Into Enterprise.)

"It was absolutely clear," says Cole, "that no one else could do what they can do."

The Allen Boone implementation is noteworthy because it demonstrates the growing importance of wireless integration with mobile enterprise applications, beyond basic push email. (See Filling Out the Wireless Application.)

Because the company's clients are often directors with full-time jobs, serving on boards that meet in the evening, many important gatherings take place outside office hours. And Allen Boone lawyers also spend significant time lobbying in the state capital, so when the Texas state legislature is in session, attorneys often find themselves making the three-hour drive on State Highway 71 from Houston to Austin. One of the firm's partners maintains an apartment in Austin for attorneys' use.

All of which means that Allen Boone attorneys work outside the office more than, say, civil litigation lawyers. Cole estimates that on average an ABHR lawyer has five meetings a day, three of which are outside the office. Keeping up with email, voicemail, and calendar appointments while in transit or in meetings is critical to the firm's success.

With the hodgepodge of mobile email devices lawyers carried previous to the GoodLink rollout, handhelds and PCs might fall out of synch for days at a time. Now, says Cole, synchronization happens almost instantaneously: "If I put something on a lawyer's calendar, it's on their Treo within two to three seconds. If I enter a contact, it's on their Treo within three to five seconds."

Another time-saving detail: If a user has a phone number included in a note or an email on the Treo, they can click on that number and the phone will automatically dial it, without having to add the number to the contact list first.

Total cost of the system was $425 per user for 28 months of GoodLink service, plus the monthly connection fees from Verizon. At just under $15,000 for 28 months, given the increases in efficiency and accuracy the system provides, ABHR's return on investment probably came within six months.

Going forward, Cole wants Good to include the "Categories" feature, as in Outlook, on the Treo user interface, so that lawyers can organize their contacts by district or case or client (an upgrade the company says it's working on), and to add voice-recognition capability to the phones -- a valuable safety enhancement, given the amount of time the lawyers use their smartphones while driving. Beyond that, she's still astonished that GoodLink has been as reliable and functional as it has.

"I figured that for it to synch [wirelessly], if that happened five days out of the week we'd be lucky," she laughs. "But we have just never had any problems. It's unbelievable."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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