Phone Homes: As Smartphones Go Viral, Attorneys Gain Freedom of Platform

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Photo of Stova Wong by Sal Owen

Paraphrased, it could be an old song: How ya gonna keep ’em on the BlackBerry farm after they’ve heard Siri? Mobile devices have long been an everyday accessory for attorneys. The ABA’s 2011 2011 Legal Technology Survey Report (PDF) found that about 80 percent of responding attorneys said they regularly used a smartphone when working on law-related tasks away from their primary workplace. The percentage held among most firm sizes, with 85 percent using smartphones in firms of more than 500 lawyers.

The Research in Motion products, nicknamed “CrackBerries” for the addictive quality of instant access to email and the Internet, have had a special appeal for lawyers owing to the device’s reputation for security and the fact that many firms have restricted workers’ choices to the brand.

But new, stylish and super-smart smartphones and tablets have become a temptation few can resist, including attorneys. And the ABA survey shows lawyers appear to be prime candidates for smartphone upgrades. More than 38 percent of lawyers said they planned to replace their current model within two years.

What’s a law firm’s information technology staff to do?

For now, IT professionals and managing partners are inventing different strategies to accommodate iPhones, iPads and models using Google’s operating systems, including allowing their attorneys to choose the Apple of their eye or the Android of the moment.

Alan Shimel—chief executive officer of the CISO Group, which has offices in Denver and Boca Raton, Fla., and provides security, risk and compliance support—says law firms don’t have a lot of choice in deciding whether to join the Apple/Android migration.

“They’re not gonna let me use my iPad?” he asks incredulously. Security staffers “can be the little boy with his finger in the dike trying to hold back the wave, but if the partners of law firms want to use them, they’re gonna use them.

“Fortunately,” Shimel says, “most of the major security firms are coming out with mobile suites for the most-used platforms. You can, for example, get McAfee mobile for Android and Apple. So instead of being the people who say no, we can be the people who say yes.”


Doug Caddell, chief information services officer at Foley & Lardner, is an IT director who said yes. “We provide reimbursement to our attorneys up to a certain dollar amount for them to get whatever they want,” says Chicago-based Caddell. “I want to get out of the equipment business.”

Caddell’s strategy is driven by the pace of change in smartphones. “The marketplace changes so rapidly there’s no way we can keep up,” he says. “It makes more sense to allow them to get what they want” and then control the data by providing secure network software to attorneys that give them access to the firm’s server. “We connect them up to the [firm’s] network through ActiveSync,” a Microsoft product.

For Stova Wong, chief information officer at Paul Hastings in Los Angeles, IT strategy on smartphones is following the “consumerization of the market.”

Though Wong won’t say whether Paul Hastings lawyers can have an Apple or Android, he says the firm does have a “selection platform” that allows lawyers to have a device other than the BlackBerry, which Hastings also supports. “Our goal is to make sure attorneys don’t get interrupted when they are managing their own device, and to provide an environment where they can safely do their business,” Wong explains.

Apple and Android systems have been cited in recent blogs for security issues, and Wong would not comment on the claims. His approach is to direct the lawyer’s data into a security system known as a sandbox.

“We control the security in the sandbox, and all data is encrypted in the sandbox,” Wong says. “On top of that, you have to have a password to get your email, and all content is encrypted.

“Our approach is we’re going to drop you in a little sandbox for you to play in and we’re going to protect everything we need to protect.”

Andrew Hoog, chief investigative officer at ViaForensics, a Chicago-based digital forensics and security firm, recently issued a report on the security issues with Apple and Android.

“Anytime you add more variables to any kind of formula, IT departments tend to be stretched,” he says. “There are greater security issues today in Android and Apple than in BlackBerry, but it’s not immune either.”

But Shimel says the greatest security risk is probably the phone’s owner.

“The weakest link in the chain is the person holding the phone,” he says. “I can send you a Twitter [message] and you click on it and I’ve downloaded something onto your phone.”

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