Law firm dumps BlackBerry for Good

Keesal, Young & Logan is a relatively small law firm with 80 lawyers in five offices on the West Coast; in Anchorage, Alaska; and in Hong Kong. But when it comes to technology, the firm is a powerhouse. Its recently completed Web portal - four years in the making - lets attorneys access 95 percent of their applications remotely, making the firm's VPN and remote-access server obsolete. Keesal's mobile strategy is no less progressive.

The firm's director of information, Jason Hectus, ran the portal project, which involved custom-building an array of Web applications using Active Server Pages, XML and Simple Object Access Protocol. When it was time to upgrade attorneys' workstations two years ago, Hectus and his team wanted mobile devices that best took advantage of the portal. They launched a pilot with laptops, but quickly realized they were a poor fit. The upfront and support costs were too high, especially when lawyers would use them only to check e-mail. Hectus had followed the mobile marketplace for a long time, but wasn't happy with what was available. Although Research in Motion's BlackBerry provides the enterprise connectivity Hectus wanted, he wanted a mobile device that wasn't tethered to the desktop, one that provided continuous synching with Outlook, was comfortable and was natural to use. As a result, he hesitated - so long the attorneys began buying Palm Pilots, Treos and Pocket PCs.

"Finally, we just pinched our noses and went with BlackBerry," he says. The firm bought the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and 20 devices, and used the product for six months.

As Hectus expected, there were problems. "Our road warriors who would have their BlackBerries in one state, their Outlook in another state, and log onto Web Outlook, and it would confuse them," he says.

BlackBerry devices are linked closely to the users' workstation. They require a cradle for desktop synching (although the new 6210 replaces the cradle with a USB cable) and client software, all of which translated into additional support and an occasional a trip to Anchorage for one of Hectus' network engineers to "adjust a cradle." Users also complained of 10- to 30-minute message delays.

"It really fell short of our goals," he says.

But six months ago, Hectus learned about start-up Good Technology from his systems integrator, who was a RIM reseller. Good's GoodLink Wireless Corporate Messaging System works with Microsoft Exchange to provide continuous, real-time synchronization between the user's Exchange mailbox and the device. Messages are sent to the user's Outlook client and Good device simultaneously: When you open a message on the device it appears as opened or read on the client, too - no cradle, no synching. There's also the ability to view and forward attachments, resolve calendar conflicts in real time, and erase data remotely in case of theft. Moreover, multiple Exchange servers on a LAN require only one GoodLink Server. The service runs on the Cingular Mobitex wireless network.

GoodLink runs on Good's own device, the G100, and on BlackBerry devices - making it a formidable competitor to RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Good launched a year ago, and in the last six months, it has doubled its customer base to 750. Forty-five percent come from the legal industry, which was long a RIM stronghold.

RIM has responded by launching several patent-infringement suits against Good. According to reports, RIM has accused the company of misappropriating its trade secrets and inducing RIM customers to replace BlackBerry software with Good software on their handhelds, in violation of their RIM software agreements. Most recently in April, a Superior Court judge in California denied RIM's request for a preliminary injunction against Good.

The pending litigation prompted Hectus to buy BlackBerry devices over Good's G100s, as a way to protect his investment should Good lose the suits and consequently fold. Even so, Hectus quickly went from 20 devices to outfitting all 80 lawyers with BlackBerries running GoodLink. He says Good gave his firm the GoodLink server software for free.

Danny Shrader, Good's CEO, says his company makes it very easy for corporations to migrate from RIM to Good. In the coming months, Shrader says GoodLink will run on next-generation voice and data Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs, and run on several wireless networks. Good recently shuttered its hardware business, and this month partnered with Dell to sell its Axiom PocketPC devices and servers running GoodLink.

According to RIM, "wireless reconciliation has always been on its road map." The company says the new version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server bidirectionally "reconciles" deletions, messages, moved folders, automatically every 10 to 15 minutes, and lets users force a reconciliation on command. Although the new version improves wireless synching with Outlook, Hectus says that it wasn't what he wanted. He says with GoodLink, support calls are nonexistent - except for the time a lawyer ran over his device with a golf cart.

Keesal also is taking advantage of GoodInfo, Good's development environment, to build applications for tasks such as expense reporting and time tracking. Lawyers download the applications from the portal, or they are sent directly to the devices as e-mail attachments. Clicking on the attachment icon initiates the installation.

"It's like something out of the future," Hectus says. "And because we're so focused on Web apps, it's a natural progression to go to tiny little XML applets that sit on a device, talk to our Web services and return the info the lawyer is looking for."

GoodLink makes his attorneys feel like superstars, Hectus says. "A third-year associate was taking a deposition from a much larger firm when their attorney pulls out his BlackBerry, she her GoodLink, and they compare notes. He says, 'What's going to be really cool is some day we can enter our time from the device.' She says, 'It is really cool; I can do it now.' When she got back to the office, she was doing cartwheels."

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