Tech Audit

How Smart Should Your Phone Be?


In the hype-heavy world of smartphones, it’s been hard to find anyone who wasn’t enamored with Apple’s user-friendly iPhone. At least, that is, unless you were talking to attorneys.

“It’s funny: When I look at the iPhone, I get envious; but at the same time I know I don’t want it because it won’t do the main thing I need,” says Baltimore-based attorney Michael Powell, “which is to integrate seamlessly with our Microsoft Exchange server.”

Lawyers were among the ear­liest and most enthusiastic adopters of personal digital as­sistants - and of the early smartphones that combined e-mail and cellular phones into one device. But the new gen­eration of smartphones and handhelds don’t just do e-mail; they can play movies, take still photos and video—even help lost hikers navigate their way.

The 2007 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report found a whopping 53 percent of all lawyers use a PDA/smartphone/BlackBerry while away from the office. But they don’t necessarily need all the features. The survey found 68 percent of those lawyers regularly use their multifunction phones for e-mail, but only 4 percent have used the camera function. And the devices are rarely used for viewing any document other than e-mail.

POWER USER

George Stamboulidis, head of Baker Hostetler’s white-collar defense and corporate investiga­tions team, is a power user of his handheld, but its most important task is still e-mail. “Unless your clients can reach you when they need to,” he says, “you might as well be putting documents in a Corona bottle and throwing them in the river.”

But Stamboulidis, a partner based in New York City, also likes that his device has features that keep him busy and entertained. He has a separate phone so he can call in edits as he’s reading documents, and he’s used the camera so his team can view exhibits. Stamboulidis also bought an expansion card for his Treo handheld so he can listen to music or play computer games. “If I find myself stuck … someplace you can’t really work, it’s nice to have a game to play or something to listen to,” he says.

Powell, a partner with Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander, also says his most important smartphone application is e-mail, although the device is also used for a different form of client relations. Clients send him news clips and expect him to know the latest news of import to their business. He also manages meetings and calendaring on it. “My clients are used to me calling them and doing work from Starbucks,” Powell says.

He uses the phone to review short spreadsheets and documents but leaves GPS navigation to a device in his car, and he uses his laptop to work on documents. And even though he’s out of the office as much as he is in, Powell says, he doesn’t care if the phone does multimedia. In fact, he’s getting ready to replace his Treo 700w but says he doesn’t need anything more powerful.

Still, it is becoming increasingly hard to find a model without the bells and whistles. The most basic BlackBerry model, the 7520, has e-mail, phone, Web browsing, instant messaging and organizer applications. It is available from only three smaller carriers, and it’s up to the user to work with the car­rier to find a service plan that offers only what is needed.

Then again, some lawyers will want full-featured models. Those who travel internationally might consider a triband phone, which works with different network protocols in Europe and some Asian countries. Litigators will be inter­ested in 3G wireless service or the newer WiMax broadband for look­ing at court filings on the fly. And if you’re a serious multitasker, Bluetooth wireless technology lets you dial and talk hands-free.

“It all depends on how you work,” Powell says. “Some people may need their phone to do more, but to me it makes more sense to do more work on my laptop.”

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