When it comes to lawyers’ gadget preferences, the days of unanimous endorsements are long gone.
For a long time, lawyers had their BlackBerrys securely lodged in their pockets or briefcases. But recent years have seen many lawyers exchange their BlackBerrys for Apple or Android products.
Even so, as the new BlackBerry Z10 hit the stores on Feb. 5, lawyers loyal to the Canadian product are making a case for the brand. The trusty BlackBerry is still in their pockets, they say, and they’ve already made calls about getting the new one.
The Z10, a black-and-white touchscreen device, features a 4.2-inch display, a built-in photo editor, more than 70,000 applications, and a high-definition video camera.
“Lawyers never get excited because that would be a feeling,” says technology lawyer Don Johnston about the prospect of getting his hands on the latest BlackBerry device.
“But it’s as close as a lawyer can get to being excited. I still feel that the BlackBerry is the best. And just this morning, I was on the phone with Rogers to inquire about how I could get the BlackBerry 10 and what the prices might look like.”
Johnston, a partner at Aird & Berlis LLP, owns the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and the PlayBook. He calls himself “a non-apologetic Blackberry user.”
He flips out his Playbook to look up materials in the middle of meetings with clients and is a fan of BlackBerry’s ProInsights technology, a tool that makes it easier to find experts via the professional networking web site LinkedIn.
But the security aspects of BlackBerry are still what distinguish it, says Johnston.
“The best security is in BlackBerry and the reason for that is the way that the system is designed from end to end to give you encryption and a good level of safety,” he adds.
Even as law firms are adopting bring-your-own-device policies, technology experts continually prefer the BlackBerry, according to Johnston.
“The IT departments of a lot of law firms are only very reluctantly supporting Android and the Apple devices,” he says. “They really feel very comfortable with the BlackBerry Enterprise.”
McCarthy Tétrault LLP senior partner and federal Liberal leadership candidate George Takach agrees. One of the features McCarthys likes about the BlackBerry is the security, he says.
“It has industrial strength, corporate strength, security,” says Takach.
Takach, also a BlackBerry user, says he’s “totally pumped” about getting the new model. It may be the answer to people walking around with two phones in their pockets, he says.
“One of the things it does is it has sort of a split-screen capability to show your personal apps on one side and your work apps on the other,” says Takach.
“And I think that’s very, very powerful. When you pick up the BB10 and give it a whirl, you’re going to find that a very compelling feature.”
The new BlackBerry 10 has 70,000 applications, adds Takach. While that’s surely less than the hundreds of thousands available for Apple products, “all the basics are available,” he notes.
“Personally, I’m going to get one as soon as I can and I’m going to be sticking to it.”
But the lack of applications isn’t the only thing that sent some lawyers running to Apple in recent years.
“The problem is things like the iPad are easy to use and once you purchase an Apple product, it works well with other Apple products,” says criminal lawyer Daniel Brown, owner of an iPhone and iPad as well as an Apple laptop and desktop computer.
“And I think that’s where BlackBerry’s going to have their difficulties is that all they are is one product and they don’t have that seamless transition among platforms.”
Brown was a BlackBerry user for several years before he made the switch. As his office becomes paperless and relies more on scanned and downloaded materials, a reliable device for accessing documents becomes even more important, he says.
Although he has tried the PlayBook, Brown says it didn’t impress him.
“To me, it just seemed like a poor copy of the iPad,” he says.
“The applications you could download for the third-party application didn’t compare in any way with the types you could find with the iPad.”
Johnston, too, weighed the different gadgets but arrived at a different verdict. When he tried the iPad, he was disappointed at how much he couldn’t access online.
“I didn’t like the fact that there’s no Flash on it, so you miss a whole bunch of web site functionality,” he says.
For many people, functionality also includes typing speed on a phone.
“Maybe my thumbs are too big, but I really like the keyboard on the BlackBerry handheld device,” says Johnston. “I can type way faster than the average person on an iPhone. I find the iPad that I used way too big.”
Touchscreen critics can embrace a different version of the new BlackBerry, the Q10, that will feature the iconic keyboard. That version will be available soon.
Nevertheless, some lawyers don’t feel the need to line up for any gadget as they’re happy with what they have.
“The BlackBerry I’m using right now, to be honest, hasn’t given me any issues. So until it does, I’m probably not going to switch,” says Roger Love, a lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic. “There’s really no reason for me to switch.”
“A good amount of lawyers” still use the BlackBerry for both the functionality and the price, says Love.
Pricing for the BlackBerry Z10 will vary by carrier, but the phone is generally on sale for about $150 on a three-year contract.
For more, see "Are lawyers ready to give up BlackBerrys?" and "iPhone or BlackBerry?"