Law firm picks Palm Treos over BlackBerry 'pancakes'

A Houston law firm wanted devices that could do it all but were also nice and compact. After rigorous testing, the firm chose Palm Treo smartphones over BlackBerrys.

When Houston law firm Allen Boone Humphries Robinson (ABHR) was deciding which devices to deploy to its team of lawyers and other staff, the mission was clear: They didn't want to talk on a "pancake."

Debbie Cole, the firm's IT liaison and ProLaw administrator, isn't referring to the light and fluffy breakfast treat. To her, it means BlackBerry, as in Research In Motion Ltd.'s wildly popular mobile devices. For ABHR, the BlackBerrys were just too big, Cole said. They couldn't fit snugly in a pocket, and talking on them was, well, like talking into a pancake. Apparently, size does matter.

"The ones that fit our needs were huge," she said of the BlackBerrys. "We wanted to have one device; the BlackBerrys were just too big .…"

But size wasn't the only concern; the firm also needed a full-flavored syrup.

After a rigorous head-to-head testing phase, during which the public firm of roughly 40 lawyers, legal assistants and other staff pored over every feature, ABHR selected Palm Treo 650 smartphones with GoodLink from Good Technology, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based mobile computing software and service provider.

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 "We scrutinized," Cole said. "We searched for probably five months."

ABHR tested each device's ability as a phone with each separate carrier; it probed their mobile e-mail, calendaring and messaging capabilities; and, most important, the firm investigated whether each device could connect to its ProLaw database that houses between 10,000 and 12,000 contacts and synchronize them in real time with integrated caller ID.

The intense evaluation found that GoodLink offered connectivity to the public contact folder while also letting users access their personal contacts. That was one thing BlackBerry couldn't guarantee, Cole said.

"When it came down to it, they had everything we asked for," she said of GoodLink.

Now, the firm's staff essentially has the same access it gets at the office on a pocket-sized device. In a law firm setting, where much of the day is spent on the road or in meetings, that's key. The firm practices solely public law, and its clients include cities, counties, water districts and authorities, municipal utility districts, and other public entities with finance and legal needs.

"A typical day for our lawyers isn't sitting in front of the computer next to the desk phone all day," Cole said. "They're in cars, at meetings."

We wanted to have one device; the BlackBerrys were just too big .…
Debbie Cole
IT Liaison & ProLaw AdministratorAllen Boone Humphries Robinson

 In the past, lawyers used several devices, including BlackBerrys for remote e-mail access, calendaring and contacts. They also had separate mobile phones for voice communications and urgent requests. A few years before that, they also carried pagers, Cole said, meaning that a lawyer could be carrying a Batman-style utility belt with three devices at once just to keep in touch. That method was not cost effective, productive or efficient.

One goal of the deployment was to have one universal device. ABHR has been using the Treos for almost a year now. Cole admits she was skeptical whether the GoodLink-enabled devices would be able to do everything the firm needed them to do. She said she no longer needs convincing.

The devices sync directly into the public and personal Exchange folders, Cole said. GoodLink's e-mail also mirrors Outlook almost exactly, requiring little additional training for the staff, which uses Outlook in the office. Other perks of the Treos with GoodLink is the color display screen and the "click-to-call" ability that lets users click a phone number directly from an e-mail or other message to initiate a phone call.

"Everything is synced," she said. "We're able to have one device. It's so much easier than it was before. It's like you have your whole office with you anywhere you go."

ABHR also needed to be able to use different carriers for phone service because service is better from some carriers than from others in certain areas. The main carrier is Verizon, but some of the staff selected other carriers to ensure the best connectivity from their homes or on the road. The ability to select different carriers for the same deployment also made Treos with GoodLink a simple choice, Cole said.

"I can come all the way home and never disconnect from a call," she said, adding that in the past, with a different carrier, she would lose connectivity a handful of times on her hour-plus commute.

Cole added that Good Technology's support team has also been extremely helpful and easily accessible.

"BlackBerry couldn't meet our … our wish list," she said. "The Treo has better functionality. And my boss said, 'Debbie, I just don't want to talk on a pancake.'"

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