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Is the iPhone Ready for Law Firms?

  Opinions    2009/10/02 23:14

It used to be that the only thing lawyers tried to recruit was new clients. But these days, seemingly every firm has a group of attorneys pushing to bring aboard something else entirely: iPhones. And they want them badly.

"I have probably 15 people who continue to e-mail me about it," says the IT director at an Am Law 100 firm who asked not to be identified. "This one attorney, he goes out and finds someone who says he can solve any iPhone problem for $175," he says. "These attorneys, they want this thing so much, they are off trying to solve my problems. God bless them, but they don't know what they're doing."

The issue isn't technical. It's relatively simple to hook an iPhone into a corporate network, since it can use the same Microsoft Exchange Server that most firms already use for their BlackBerrys. Instead, IT directors' reluctance boils down to this: The BlackBerry was designed from the ground up to do one thing: transmit e-mail securely. Other features have been tacked onto newer models, but robust, secure, immediate e-mail was -- and is -- at the BlackBerry's core. The iPhone, on the other hand, is more of a consumer device with e-mail tacked on. Law firms shied away from the iPhone because it couldn't match the BlackBerry on security. And security -- well, that's at the core of a law firm IT director's job. "The original iPhone and the later 3G model had no local encryption, which meant that everything on the device was stored in clear text," says the IT director. "The simple passcodes many users had -- if they used any passcode at all -- could be hacked, and then everything would be viewable. We told our attorneys this was a deal-breaker."

But with the release of the latest iPhone, the 3GS, along with the new iPhone 3.0 operating system, the platform is looking more business-friendly. Forget about the consumer-oriented enhancements (like the upgraded camera on the 3GS, capable of shooting video). The real story, at least for law firms, is the vast array of enterprise-focused improvements. The 3GS phone now has local encryption along with more memory (up to 32 gigabytes) and a faster processor. And with the 3.0 OS, law firms running Exchange can require the use of strong passwords (the complicated ones, with numbers and letters, that no one except IT administrators want to take the time to create and use) and remotely wipe devices that have been lost or stolen. Users get a long-awaited, cut-copy-paste feature (a glaring omission on the iPhone until now), a landscape keyboard option for easier typing, and the ability to search the "from," "to," and "subject" headers (but not, alas, the body) on their e-mail, as well as their iPhone contact list, calendar and notes.

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