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Using hi-tech tools in unexpected ways

Canadian Lawyer Magazine

Like more than a few Canadian law firms, Deeth Williams Wall LLP, a 20-lawyer Toronto firm specializing in intellectual property, enthusiastically embraced Research in Motion's BlackBerry mobile email/phone device. Deeth Williams distributed BlackBerrys to all its partners and associates more than six years ago and installed a BlackBerry server to relay emails to them when they're out of the office. Now the lawyers can't live without their BlackBerrys – and that causes problems when they travel overseas.

Deeth Williams chose Bell Mobility as its network provider, also like many other firms. While it's more than happy with the Bell service, that choice means lawyers can't use their BlackBerrys in roaming mode when they travel to Europe – as they frequently do to visit clients and attend conferences. Bell uses CDMA and 1xRTT network technology, while European network providers almost exclusively use incompatible GSM/GPRS, the technology used in Canada by Bell rival Rogers Wireless.

“The Bell Mobility network has better coverage in North America, but not as much outside,” explains Dan Buchanan, the firm's systems consultant. “Rogers has a little less coverage in North America and more outside. So it was a trade-off.”

The solution? When Deeth Williams lawyers head off across the ocean, they take a BlackBerry unit the firm rents from Roadpost, a Toronto-based company whose business is renting and leasing mobile phones and handhelds. The Roadpost unit works the same as the firm's other BlackBerrys, except it has a GSM/GPRS radio and is set up to work on a U.K. service provider's network.

Just before a lawyer leaves, Buchanan goes on the Web and activates the Roadpost unit on the U.K. provider's network. Then he gives it to the lawyer, who synchronizes it with his desktop computer, by copying all his email, contacts and calendar information from computer to BlackBerry. Once that's done, the rental unit works exactly like the lawyer's regular BlackBerry, and works all over Europe. In fact, according to anecdotal evidence from Deeth Williams lawyers, it works better than North American BlackBerrys operating in roaming mode.

The firm keeps the rental unit all the time and pays a small maintenance fee of $20 to $30 each month, plus usage fees whenever someone takes it away. In months when someone uses it, fees range from $150 to $300. It's well worth it. The firm could have bought one Rogers BlackBerry capable of roaming in Europe, but this is cheaper and more convenient. “That's the top issue – the convenience of it,” Buchanan says.