How a big law firm replaced laptops with iPads

A prestigious law firm outfits its attorneys with Apple iPads and finds it's worth the significant effort

Earlier this year, New York-based law firm Proskauer completed a massive technology redesign that would make Silicon Valley tech companies gush with envy. At the heart of the redesign was the Apple iPad 2. "I'm pretty sure we were the first, if not only major law firm, to do it," says COO Arthur Gurwitz. "I think it was important to be first with the iPad. I call it brand enhancement."

But behind the "brand enhancement" and despite the elegant simplicity of the iPad, Proskauer's IS department was faced with a great many difficult choices. In other words, iPad enterprise adoption is anything but easy.

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At law firms, the technology spend ranks as the third-largest line item behind people and office space. Its place on the budget sheet, though, is well justified: Lawyers rely heavily on computers to deliver services that are at the core of a law firm's business. All of this underscores the huge risk Proskauer took to adopt the newfangled iPad as a lawyer's go-to computer.

Today, more than 500 Proskauer lawyers use iPads to create superslick PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets filled with sky-high figures, and verbose Word documents. Lawyers pass this electronic paperwork back and forth among clients. They even present information on their iPads to judges.

Proskauer is part of the latest procession of companies contributing to the rapid rise of the iPad in the enterprise. During its most recent earnings call, Apple claimed three out of four of the Fortune 500 are testing or deploying iPads. Indeed, iPads have been found on the job at some of the most unusual places.

Despite the high adoption rate, CIOs still lack a good guide for bringing in iPads. Like Proskauer, many companies must learn as they go. "Rolling out the iPad actually turned out to be quite a significant investment in time, much more than I would have thought," says Steven Kayman, senior litigation partner and chair of the technology committee at Proskauer. "There's just a hundred decisions that have to be made along the way," he says.

All rise, decision time

Two years ago, Proskauer executives considered arming its lawyers with new laptops but postponed the big tech purchase. Gurwitz sensed a major shift was under way with the iPad and wanted to get ahead of it.

It's important for Proskauer to have the latest technology, says Gurwitz. After all, many of the firm's clients are tech-savvy companies in the entertainment industry, cable and broadcast, and technology industries, many served by Prokauer's large patent group. "We want to be able to think like they think so we can serve them better," he says.

Gurwitz tapped Malcolm Collingwood, head of information services at Proskauer, to oversee the company's transition to a state-of-the-art computing and videoconferencing environment with the iPad as an endpoint. The idea was to give lawyers a choice between a Hewlett-Packard laptop or an iPad and desktop. Eventually, more than 500 of Proskauer's 700 lawyers chose the iPad-desktop combo.

Before Collingwood could roll out the iPad, though, many questions needed to be answered. Will lawyers pay for apps? Will iPads come pre-installed? What apps will be mandatory? Can iPads also be for personal use? And if so, can the lawyers download movies at work? What will be the impact on the corporate network? How will you manage the fleet of iPads?

"We had no template to work from," says Kayman, whose technology committee helps to grease the communication wheels between lawyers and the IS department. "Every time we thought we turned the corner, another issue would come up."

Simplicity holds court

Collingwood wrote a lengthy user policy manual for the iPad that answered most of those questions. He decided to allow for personal use on iPads because, in truth, he wouldn't be able to stop it anyway.

Fact is, iPad owners want to share their work-related iPads with family and friends, use the same app to manage personal and business travel itineraries and calendars, and even use a familiar app to find a restaurant for both entertaining clients and taking out spouses. The iPad has blurred the line between work life and personal life.

Then there's the nuts and bolts of managing and securing enterprise iPads. CIOs wanting to jump on the iPad bandwagon have to research and choose from software vendors barely out of the startup stage. For mobile management iPad tools, Collingwood chose three-year-old MobileIron.

MobileIron's strength is its ease-of-use for iPad owners, says CIO Ashin Ballal at KLA-Tencor, a Silicon Valley semiconductor equipment maker posting $1.8 billion in annual revenues. Last summer, KLA-Tencor rewarded all 5,400 employees with new iPads, and Ballal was tasked with supporting them.

By visiting MobileIron's portal, KLA-Tencor employees could register their iPads and receive a security certificate on the device. MobileIron and its self-service portal took some of the burden off of the suddenly overwhelmed IT staff. "People want to do self-service, but you have to give them documentation that they can follow, written at the third- or fourth-grade level with a minimal number of steps," Ballal says.

Due diligence with apps

Among mandatory iPad apps, Proskauer's Collingwood settled on GoodReader for iPad ($5) for reading and marking up PDFs, and Documents to Go Premium ($17) for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents.

DocsToGo beat out other popular iPad Office apps, such as Quickoffice Pro for iPad ($15) and Office2 HD ($8), because of DocsToGo's ability for lawyers to view tracked changes. Version control is critical in the paper-laden world of an attorney. "Clients comment on documents, and you must be able to see what they said," Kayman says.

Proskauer lawyers can expense GoodReader and DocsToGo, but they're on their own for other iPad apps. The IS department does publish a list of some 20 recommended apps for business use, such as Whiteboard Pro ($1) and Citrix Receiver for iPad (free) for rendering a virtual desktop, although not all are well received.

Some lawyers, as well as CIOs elsewhere, have complained about the clunkiness of the Citrix iPad app. Rendering a complete desktop on a 10-inch iPad screen just doesn't make for a good user experience. iPad users end up doing a lot of two-finger pinching and expanding. "Over time, one would hope the Citrix app would become a little bit more user-friendly," Kayman says.

With more than 100,000 apps made specifically for the iPad, new iPad owners struggle to separate good and bad apps. CIOs have to find innovative ways to help their iPad-toting employees navigate the ocean of apps in the App Store.

One tech exec turned to social networking for help. Ferdinand Velasco, chief medical information officer at Texas Health, ran smack into the app craze shortly after allowing clinicians to use iPads. His secret? Velasco installed an enterprise social network similar to Twitter that lets doctors and nurses talk about the pros and cons of certain apps, find apps that peers are using, and learn what apps to avoid.

"Physicians need to get around, want to be with patients, want to be with other doctors, nurses, and health care providers," Velasco told CIO.com, adding, "Devices like the iPad and smartphone help get them mobile again."

iCloud objection

There's no question that early adopters enter into uncharted territory. But there's an even bigger danger: Despite making the best decisions at the time, early adopters face an uncertain future.

Proskauer executives had to draft user policies about an entirely new computing platform, choose fast-evolving iPad apps to handle day-to-day heavy lifting, and rely on emerging mobile management software.

But the IS department's user policy manual had to go further to advise lawyers to stay clear of cloud-based services despite the fact that many apps such as DocsToGo and Quickoffice let users tap into cloud-storage services like Dropbox. Proskauer lawyers, Collingwood says, shouldn't be using Dropbox to move documents from their desktop to the iPad or vice versa. "It has to do with confidentiality of information," he says. With Dropbox, "you're leaving it up to the individual to go to the cloud and purge those documents."

In June, Apple unveiled its new iCloud service for iOS. iCloud, which will be released later this year, basically takes away the need for desktop computers by allowing the iPad to sync iTunes to an Apple server. The cloud is coming to the iPad -- and to Proskauer. (Proskauer says it's too early to comment on iCloud and its impact.)

That's the way it goes for companies seeking brand enhancement through cutting-edge technology. Being first means exploring new territory instead of following a well-trod road map. Yet it's a risk Proskauer is willing to take with the iPad, benefiting what they've accomplished with it today and ready to deal with whatever comes tomorrow. "You've got to be forward-thinking," COO Gurwitz says. "It's clear the world is changing."

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com.

This story, "How a big law firm replaced laptops with iPads" was originally published by CIO.

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