Remote computing is the process where the lawyer takes a computing device with the lawyer and does computing work off-site but has access at will to data and other resources back at the office.
The advent of Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) has given the lawyer literally “hand held” computing power that is an extension of the lawyer’s office computers.
PDA’s for scheduling and contacts
PDA’s are useful for having your calendar and your contacts (names, case numbers, phone numbers) go with you without need for more hardware. Basically the lawyer, before departing for Court or other location uses the PDA’s “hot sync” cradle plugged into the attorney’s computer that updates the lawyer’s calendar and contact list. The lawyer goes off to the courthouse and perhaps sets a hearing and puts it into the PDA. Upon return from the trip, the lawyer once again connects the PDA to the office computer and the files are replicated and updated and synchronized with the office’s computers.
Palm Pilot is clearly the leader in this area, and the major practice management software packages such as TimeMatters and Amicus easily synchronize with the Palm Pilot.
Remote Access to the Office
This has been the most common use, and will continue to be the most common use of remote computing for a period of time. Using a product such as pcAnywhere, Timbuktu Pro, Laplink, Novell Netware, or Lotus Notes, the lawyer dials up the modem line that is answered by the office’s computer, and after negotiating protocols and passwords, the remote computer takes control over the office computer, so that keystrokes typed on the remote computer are actually also keystroked on the office’s computer.
The lawyer can then do anything from afar that he could do at the office computer, such as load a program on the office computer, type revisions to a file, and even print the file out on the office printer. A clear advantage of this method is that fact that since the programs are running on the office computer there is not significant traffic between the office computer and the remote computer, which greatly speeds response time.
An advantage of this method is that it is a direct call directly into your office’s modem line and therefore is a “secure” connection. But it could also entail long distance phone calls if you are out of the immediate area, and raises some security questions about access to your office’s computers (hint: set your pcAnywhere to not answer until after eight rings or so; most hackers “war dialers” usually give up after four or five rings, and don’t know that there is a modem at the other end; therefore they never get to “hack” at getting into your computer.)
Remote Access On the Internet
The Internet allows the lawyer to avoid long distance calls, assuming that the lawyer has an ISP — Internet Service Provider-that has a local access number from where you are calling. This method operates similarly to the remote access software described above, but is doing it through the Internet through Browsers. A notable example of this software is Artisoft’s CoSession Remote 32 which allows the user to collaborate, share files, and to talk to co-workers simultaneously using the Internet.
Remote Access to Your Intranet
This is a variation of the previous two remote access methods, but is refined so that third parties may be allowed to access certain directories, or web pages, in your website or otherwise contained in an office computer, all through the Internet.
A possible use includes loading up on a particular portion of the website or Intranet, data (such as graphics) that a number of people would need to review and comment on before the production version was finalized.
Once again, security is an issue with all of the three previous methods and therefore very specific protocols must be implemented and followed.
The most common method of – and perhaps easiest-method of remote computing (but truly isn’t remote computing) is e-mail. Lawyers can dial in to their office computer (similar to use one above), and the office software, such as GroupWise, will download the users interoffice e-mail directed to the user, and allow the user to post reply messages back to the office network.
Another use of e-mail for remote computing would be to attach a file to be reviewed or worked on to an e-mail (possibly encrypting with Norton’s Secret Stuff, infra) to be worked on and then perhaps e-mailed back.
While this use is not technically a true remote computing usage, it is another method of getting work done from afar, and communicating it to the office, and vice versa.
Levels of Remote Computing
The methods above (at least the first two) if properly implemented should be totally transparent to all but the most unsavvy computer users (in fact, if a user is so unsavvy, why would they even consider remote computing in the first place, instead of delegating as they must do with virtually everything else that they do with the technology arena?). Similarly, the other uses should be made simple and, bullet proof (need to avoid the inadvertent deletion of directories or files by an unsophisticated user) so that other work can continue if there is trouble with remote access. The Intranet/Web type of access may be to a “secret site” known only to the chosen few takes extra planning and effort, such as having a non-obvious home page, a meta tag of “robot.txt” (that tells the search engines’ spiders and indexers to stay out of the site) and has no links to the home page of the site, so that the user must use the specific URL that is known only to the select group of users to be able to retrieve the page in the first place. (Huh?)
How to Set Up Remote Computing
Some of the examples given in the previous section are beyond the interest and technical confidence of the causal user. However, installation of remote control software can be accomplished by anyone who is previously installed computer on a software if they follow the directions! By necessity, remote control software operates at the deepest level in both computers and therefore, if it is not installed correctly, it can cause unanticipated problems on both computers, which normally lead to the entire reinstallation of the operating system and perhaps even applications and data software1.
The Future of Remote Computing
The future is here in that Internet phone, collaboration over the Net, and video conferencing (with products such as Microsoft NetMeeting2) are now here. The advent of fast telephone service such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), that operate up to twelve times faster than even dual channel ISDN lines, and twenty times faster than dial up 56K lines makes it truly feasible to have “face to face” conferences from places other than your offices. The ability to be accessible from afar brings up a quality of life issue: for the lawyer on vacation at the lake house, does the attorney really want to be in a video conference with a client back in Atlanta or in Dallas? But clearly the ability is there.
Further, most lawyer’s clients want responsiveness from their attorneys, and the situs of the lawyer rendering the responsive service is many times irrelevant to the client. The client doesn’t care whether the call or e-mail messages generated from home or the ski condo in Colorado.
Remote computing makes it possible for the lawyer literally “pay for a vacation” by doing a billable hour or two of work per day from afar, with total transparency to the client. The choice of whether to turn the computer on remains with the attorney consistent with the attorney’s quality of life choices.
While most strictly remote computing, industry is realizing that remote computing is likely to take place in a home environment, and in the home environment there may be upstairs and downstairs computers and peripherals that need to be shared. Since the cost of wiring the case with Cat5 Internet cable is prohibited in most situations, the heavy weights in a computer industry have formed the home pna or the home phone line networking alliance that has made a specification that allows simple high speed and cost effective home networks using the consumers existing phone line. This would allow the Internet sharing peripheral sharing and file sharing as common with office networks, and one of the really utilities of remote computing, but without great expense. See www.HomePNA.org
Many cellular- and digital-portable phone set up with the integral data port that allow remote computing(or even remote faxing) that the phone receives a service signal with the advent of Motorola low orbit satellite system, it will clearly be possible to sit in a high mountain village- or on a slope in the Virgin Islands- and be in touch with the office. The question is, should we make the call?
1Computer Consultants indicate that if a user occasionally installs software and then takes it off the system that is enough to mandate the periodic re-installation of the operating system to get rid of all the obsolete calls and files that are put on the computer. This function is probably best performed by your computer consultant, or high school student who is at least done it once before. Similarly, regular defragmenting of the drive, as well as virus checking and scanning the disk are also mandated.
2NetMeeting is free, it can work with other communication software and may be better than similar tools see http://www.meetingbywire.com/, NetMeeting101.htm. and http://www.sharepaper.com/apps/reviews/netmeeting.html.