Lawyers using Smartphones and Web Legal Software

Jordan Furlong, in his highly observant and clever blog Law21, recently posted about the smartphone era in which lawyers find themselves.  Heralded by the iPhone, the era of smartphones is clearly having an impact already on the practice of law, beyond just emails on Blackberrys. Here’s a snippet from Jordan’s post:

…With the smartphones of the near future at her command, that lawyer will be able to do everything on the road — call, e-mail, Web browse, review files, read cases, write memos, etc. — that she now does in the office. In fact, it’ll be expected of her. A lawyer with a smartphone is a walking law firm — one that hardly ever closes. Lawyers who obsessively check their smartphone messages are considered antisocial nuisances today, but before long, they’ll be the norm. I’m not saying that’s good, but I am saying it’s pretty much inevitable.

Smartphones can get all of that done, indeed.  A lawyer using Rocket Matter can use an iPhone to record expenses, set up calendar appointments, track to-do’s, and create and send invoices.

This convenience is possible because Safari is a full web browser.  As more full-featured web browsers for mobile devices become available, such as SkyFire for the Pocket PC, then web based case management and web legal software can be accessed from wherever, whenever.

But then there’s the question of desirability.  Sure, we can do all this stuff on the go, but the screen is tiny.  How can the experience be made comfortable, so that one is as happy using either a smartphone, laptop, or desktop?

Ariel Jatib, Rocket Matter’s Chief User Experience Designer and avid iPhone user, offers up some thoughts on the matter as a comment on Jordan’s blog.

While the iPhone does provide for significantly more real estate that competitors, it is still a challenge providing a significant amount of information on the screen. For example, I have downloaded PDFs, but trying to read them is far from a comfortable exercise.

The true value in this revolutionary phone is that it is the first device that truly extends my “desktop” experience to the mobile realm.

For now, I can’t see anything replacing my laptop; at the same time, I love my external display because of the extra “space” it provides. My iPhone allows me to wander from this familiar domain without feeling as limited as I do with other devices; it extends my ability to communicate and work efficiently.

The challenge for designers will be simplifying complicated interactions and information sets into smaller units that are easier to navigate. The winner will be the one who makes the experience comparable, or even better, than the desktop.

We’d like to throw it out there for the readers – what thoughts do you have on practicing law on an iPhone or other smartphone?