Our point of view

iPads in a Law Firm

24 March 2011

Hannes Snellman Attorneys Ltd started piloting with iPads during the Autumn of 2010, and the result of the pilot was that nearly all lawyers and some of the people in the support functions are now equipped with an iPad. As the full roll-out was done in December, we now have a few months’ worth of experience on how the iPad supports the business and also how it looks from the IT perspective.

The pilot itself was done so that a mixed crowd of lawyers were selected as users: we wanted active users who would bring out the good and the bad out of the device from work perspective, and also selecting users from many IT skill levels (there was certainly no shortage on the pilot user candidates). The feedback from the pilot group was largely positive, although some shortcomings did come up: for example, the fact that Word document viewer loses all the document mark-ups and tracked changes was brought up as a huge minus. As a summary, the device was seen as a good way to handle the email correspondence while at home or travelling. The threshold of writing a reply to a client is significantly lower when the device is instantly on and you have a good-size keyboard available, at least compared to the company laptop which takes several minutes to get it started up and connected.

The roll-out itself was relatively easy, as the installation is quite a quick thing to do with iPhone Configuration Utility tool. Also, the training involved was quite quick especially with users that already were using iPhone. Basically we just showed how the email and calendar work, and also gave a quick demo on how the Citrix Receiver for iPad works. The idea is that mostly the user just makes do with iPad's own email client and calendar function, which both use Active Sync against our Exchange server, and only if there are no other alternatives available, the user can also use the Citrix app to connect to our systems, WorkSite included. Sadly, the user experience with Citrix Receiver is not good (although it is rather amusing to see full-fledged Windows Desktop in an iPad), so it is really for those infrequent emergency situations.

Life after the roll-out has been surprisingly peaceful: no broken or faulty devices, some additional user training (like helping people to set up their own Apple IDs) and just a few actual technical support situations. The actual IT support cases have related to the network problems and the device getting stuck. The network problems have been mostly to do with mobile data roaming: sometimes when the user is abroad, the mobile data just does not start working, and sometimes we have managed to get it working by fiddling with the settings. The stuck devices have started to work after the hard reboot, which is done by pressing the navigation button and the power button simultaneously for a few seconds. All this is peanuts for any IT support organization, and is a pretty impressive result for any technical device.

One of the concerns regarding the use has been the mobile data, and rightly so: the iPad really likes to move the data, so if one is not careful, the costs can be very high. This goes especially for the data roaming (using mobile data abroad), which in some countries is a synonym for unarmed robbery. Luckily, the mobile operators can provide mechanisms for cost control, and what one should do is get a fixed fee deal for domestic mobile data traffic, and either prevent the roaming totally or set a monetary quota for it. Depending on the use and the country concerned, one can either go for days or weeks with a €50 quota or run out before the taxi from the airport even reaches the city centre (no kidding, this has happened).

From the IT perspective the security concerns have been discussed quite a bit: we are quite happy with the fact that Active Sync works with the Exchange server, forcing the security code on after the defined idle period, and also make it possible to remotely wipe out the data in the iPad if it is still synchronizing with the server. There are ways to break the iPad’s encryption, but the same can be said for nearly all devices. There is not a lot of business critical data stored in the iPad, except for the emails, and that is a risk we just have to live with. We are aware of the fact that the passwords can be extracted, but that in itself does not count for much as there are other obstacles set before the corporate network is breached. The main security risks are still to do with user behavior, but are sometimes enhanced by the iPad technology: the calendar alerts are shown in plain text even with the security code on, so subjects like "Meeting re AT&T possibly buying T-Mobile" should be avoided.

What are the users doing with their iPads? It is difficult to generalize, as the users are very different from each other: some are almost physically grown attached to the iPad and are using multiple applications, some just use it for web surfing and email and I guess most people see it as just another useful device both for business and leisure. As for the apps, we see a lot of domestic and international news apps, some games (yes, the Angry Birds), Kindle etc.

What is then the actual impact on the business? No real support for a definite answer can be found in the numbers, as the fluctuations to one way or another have so many factors. What is, however, obvious is that users really like the iPads, which contributes to the overall happiness of working at Hannes Snellman. People do also read their emails more frequently outside the office hours, and as it is easier to work with the emails with the iPad than with a small mobile phone, the emails sent are more detailed. Obviously, quicker and better replies result to an improvement in the service level. One way of summarizing the situation would be by saying that I cannot imagine getting the iPads back from the users without running into the classic reply of “over my dead body”.

About the writer:
Jussi Hirvelä is the Head of IT in Hannes Snellman Attorneys Ltd. He holds a Master’s degree in Economics from University of Helsinki, and has a strong background in business-driven IT development in telecom and media sales industries.

About Hannes Snellman:
Hannes Snellman, founded in 1909, is a Nordic firm with a strong foothold in Russia. Hannes Snellman has 300 people delivering transaction and conflict management services from offices in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Moscow. A few years back, the firm decided to expand in the Nordic region and in 2008, Hannes Snellman opened its office in Stockholm. Through its strong office in Stockholm with 60 lawyers, Hannes Snellman is today a key player in the Nordic financial centre. In 2010, the firm passed another milestone in the implementation of its Pan-Nordic strategy by launching an office in Copenhagen.