SYDNEY LAW FIRM Gilbert + Tobin is set to take its practice mobile, implementing a range of wireless technology options that aim to make the lives of its partners and lawyers easier.
It is a case of email to go as Gilbert + Tobin this month gave all its partners BlackBerrys, the ubiquitous email and phone in one. The new technology, said the firm’s chief information officer Mike Solomons, is a lifestyle tool for lawyers. The devices will enable lawyers to leave the desk and “in an ideal world” to head off home a little earlier.
“It gives lawyers flexibility. Often lawyers will be hanging around the office waiting for an email from a client. But having the new BlackBerrys means they can go out or home for dinner, have a bit of a social life, and when the email comes in they can get on their laptop at home or, if they are in the city, they can pop back in the office.” said Solomons.
Between now and Christmas, the firm plans to roll out BlackBerry technology to its senior lawyers as well. At more than $800 per unit, the flexible work arrangement does not come cheaply. Solomons said the total amount spent by Gilbert + Tobin on the set up and rollout of the BlackBerrys, including software licensing and hardware, will be “upwards of $100,000”.
Partners at the firm were given a choice as to what particular BlackBerry device they would like. They could choose between Vodafone’s 7100 or its 7730, the former being more “phone-centric”. The 7730 is better for emails and has a bigger keyboard, said Solomons. While he expected there to be a strong leaning one way or another, partners split their preferences 50/50 between the two.
The functionality of the two devises is nearly identical. While the 7100 is closer to the size of a mobile phone, the 7730 is slightly wider and “not quite as slim, sleek and sexy”, said Solomons.
Gilbert + Tobin’s procurement makes the firm part of a wider global trend for mobile technology, particularly portable email. There were 650 million mobile phones sold last year, and while BlackBerry users have not yet reached similar numbers, executives are increasingly relying on the new technology to make them more accessible to colleagues and clients.
At the last count, there were 3 million BlackBerry users worldwide. It took five years to reach 1 million after invention, ten months to get to 2 million and only another six months to achieve three million, according to an article in the Evening Standard in London.
However, whether being able to take the office home in your pocket is actually a bonus for staff, or another way of extending their working day, remains to be seen and Solomons admits there is something of a catch 22 about being permanently available.
“Lawyers and partners who take on these devices need to be aware of this. I think most of them are, and it’s really a case of the individual determining for themselves when they turn it off, and when they have it on. I think our firm, like all top-tier firms, have high expectations of our lawyers. But we want them to have a home life, and flexibility.
“We have a few partners who didn’t want a BlackBerry and I am sure there will be some lawyers who will say they really don’t want one because they do all their work during the day at the office, and that when they go home at night, that is the end of their working day. It is a catch 22,” he said.
Neither are the devices expected to facilitate virtual offices or totally mobile working. While BlackBerrys can be used outside the office, they are not practical for any serious work, said Solomons.
“You cannot edit any documents on the BlackBerry, the screens are way too small to do any serious work on them. They are really good for getting a heads-up about what is going on.
“Some lawyers have said that it is a comfort to be able to keep an eye on their inbox while they are out of the office, especially if they are expecting an urgent email from a client or colleague. And you can deal with a lot of emails on the BlackBerry.
“But they will not replace the laptop and PC, it’s just a supplement, and gives users the flexibility to be anywhere and to be in touch with their office and clients,” he said.
The BlackBerry is being brought into the firm to allow partners, and soon senior lawyers, to read the body of emails. It is also possible to read a very short attachment, said Solomons.
“But even knowing that there is an attachment to be read is a big advantage to a lawyer because they can be out of the office, see there is an attachment to be dealt with, and plan their day accordingly. You are already prepared for what awaits you. You don’t have the shock. It’s a great productivity tool.”