The pace of life is increasing – one day's telephone traffic in 1999 was equivalent to all traffic in 1983. Lawyers are recognising the need to change and recognising that being successful it is not about the big beating the small anymore, but more about the fast beating the slow. Using technology to its best advantage will be key, but how can we make these choices without the benefit of a crystal ball?
Lawyers will have to embrace a range of new technology. Transmeta Cruso, Intel's Speedstep and IBM Low-k dielectric chip allow faster mobile devices to be produced which operate at a lower voltage. The effect of these chips is to accelerate convergence – mobile devices such as phones, personal digital assistants (Palm Pilots and Psions) and personal computers (iPaq) will all comprise single devices that do everything, including accessing the internet and email. With the imminent arrival of third-generation (3G), these devices will be connected permanently to the internet. Lawyers will be digitally contactable 24 hours a day and all their key resources – precedents, financial information and documents – will also need to be accessible in this way.
Different global markets may develop in different ways. In Europe we appear more wedded to 'clam shell'-type devices, for example the Nokia 9210 Communicator; in Japan they seem much keener on phones with large screens; and in the US, Palm Pilot-type devices dominate.
Some law firms in this country already have pilot Wireless Lan systems in place. These are systems that require no wires between the network and the laptop. Globally, Toshiba is beginning to take the lead with Bluetooth devices, which is backed by leading companies that include IBM, Intel, Ericsson, Toshiba and Nokia, and which allows high-speed wireless transfer of data between various devices. This means that nothing has to be done to the devices to connect and transfer information.
And development will not stop there. Toshiba has released details of a DynaSheet Bluetooth rollup PC with a plasma screen. Interactive wearable clothing with in built keyboards and controls will also be a growing market. Philips is taking this seriously with its New Nomads range; Wronz EuraLab has developed Softswitch, a wearable material with a keypad; IBM has interactive jewellery with a computer mouse embedded in rings and headphones in earrings; and Eye-Trek Monocular systems are available with computer screens hidden within the lenses of glasses.
Security is also being taken seriously – we now have 128-bit encryption. And Finland is taking yet another lead, with ID cards containing small gold-coloured chips allowing secure online authentication via a slot in your PC. Those of us involved with protection and indemnity clubs and banks will have heard of Bolero, a contractual framework designed to replicate, as far as possible within an electronic environment, the way that paper transactions are conducted for the international sale, finance and transport of goods, using Bolero's core messaging platform. A development of standards such as this will happen in all core practice areas.
And lawyer's jobs will be sure to change. The use of voice-controlled intelligent document systems, knowledge management systems, e-business and risk management products might become the norm. Lawyers will have to be experts with their laptops and portable computers and will also have to get used to being instructed via e-procurement chains and legal auctions. Digital signatures will develop, and one can only imagine how developments such as Ericsson's CHA-30 chat pen, which allows the remote signing of contracts, will enhance this. Developments such as Informal's Enotate, allowing manuscript amendments to be made on-screen, may assist those lawyers with more traditional skills.
Future legal work will involve automatic data entry from online databases, such as Companies House, and sophisticated systems such as Autonomy. Microsoft's next operating system Windows XP is reported to have Smart Tags, which automatically links words on any web page to a Microsoft-approved website using the software's intelligence.
And we now have our first General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) phone, the Motorola Timeport 260. This is a 2.5G phone, allowing greater amounts of data to be transferred at a very fast speed while operating continually.
Mobile commerce will also increase. Accenture is developing LuiGui, a language interface that enables you to visit a website. 365 Corporation's Eckoh system will shortly go live and is being billed as Europe's first comprehensive voice portal utilising Philips' voice-recognition system.
Worldwide, the use of phones for finding information and other services is increasing, as shown by a KPMG user survey. A huge takeup of Japan's i-mode system has resulted in it being home to 80 per cent of the world's mobile surfer population (16 times more than Europe), and the UK is also a target. Other developments from the East include DoCoMo scanners, which enable advertisements to be scanned directly into mobile phones. Data entry into phones and converged devices has also been simplified – Mathias' one-handed, half-size keyboards are now on the market and the development of the T9 system allows much more intuitive data input from mobile phone numeric keyboards, using language recognition.
In essence, there are no limits. Psion's Ace (a 3G product) allows users to view three independent screens of information at any one time. Samsung produces a Mpeg4 streaming video phone, while Motorola's Timeport T50 glows in different colours according to which client is calling. It will also be interesting to see if Blackberries (small devices that allow emails to be picked up) achieve the same cult status as they have done in the US – Casio and Seiko already have watches with much of this functionality.
In terms of homelife, there will be a total transformation. We will have intelligent vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers from Dyson and RoboMo; LG Electronics and Electrolux are bringing us internet fridges, allowing central family communication as well as access to online shopping channels. Kebango will bring us sophisticated Internet radios – Ericsson already has a Bluetooth version available. TiVo videos and equivalent sound systems learn your preferences before automatically recording onto hard drives. Tapes and CDs are eliminated. And anyone who is lonely can buy a NEC PaPeRo personal robot to talk to.
We will not even be immune from the electronic world when we travel. Online portals connected to cars such as On-Star and ATX will allow us flexibility when we need directions quickly – electronic billboards and data points will automatically talk to our mobile computers/phones and post information. The more environmentally friendly will be attracted by the Skoot folding bike, which will allow briefcases and laptops to be inserted within its frame. Even the lifts of the future will have telemetrics displays supplying personalised information in the interior.
So are you daunted? We do need to change and embrace these developments. For those of you who are daunted by the future, online therapy now exists with companies such as friendly-ear.com. To deal with stress, it will be possible to monitor constantly your health utilising a VivoMetrics LifeShirt linked to a central computer. And if that is too much, then very soon we will be able to sit down and enjoy a relaxing can of Nescafe self-boiling coffee while we contemplate how to best apply these new technologies to benefit our clients.
Derek Southall is head of strategic development and a partner at Wragge & Co
|Hacker: The outlaw on the cyber frontier. Either a vandal or criminal who seeks to break into or bring down a computer network, also seen by some as a guardian of the true spirit of the internet, demanding open systems, open protocols, no regulation and no dark corners. Many early hackers have become very successful consultants for large companies by finding holes in their security.
Handheld: The next big thing… possibly. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) such as the Palm or Pocket PCs are evolving to become fully-fledged computers and telecoms devices. The handheld is moving from a digital diary into becoming a wireless interface to other deskbound or server-based networks.
Handshaking: Technically, the exchange of information between two modems which sets the protocol to use. In lay langauge, for those of us still using dial-up connections, those funny noises the computer makes as it logs onto an internet service provider (ISP).
Homepage: A company or individual's base on the World Wide Web and the page from which all other pages link. As the default starting point for visitors, marketing messages, commercial links and information are often crammed onto a single screen. The homely metaphor has been taken up by many companies and ISPs offering individuals or small to medium-sized enterprises their 15k of fame.
Honeypot: A computer system on the internet designed to trap hackers. Unfortunately, a honeypot is more likely to offer information to a company's security people than actually catch anyone.
Host: (1) A computer that has access to other computers on the internet. A host has a specific local or host number that, together with the network number, forms its unique intellectual property address; (2) can also refer to a company's web server that serves the pages, or the company that provides that service, which is known as hosting.
HotSync: Palm's registered trade name for its method of linking between the handheld and another computer, allowing files to be transferred or databases updated or synchronised. Other handheld platforms use similar linking technologies.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): The set of codes inserted in a text file that allows it to be displayed on the World Wide Web. Sometimes referred to as tags, the codes tell the web browser how to display a web page's words and images.
HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol): The set of rules for exchanging files (text, graphic images, sound, video etc) on the World Wide Web. Any web server contains an HTTP daemon, a programme that is designed to wait for HTTP requests from a user's browser and handle them when they arrive.
Hypertext: The organisation of information which allows an author to link together related text (or in the case of hypermedia, related media). The term was first used by Ted Nelson in describing his Xanadu system before the World Wide Web. But it has been the web-based internet that has made it mainstream.