I got an email the other day from a lawyer who had a couple of questions about my communications tools:
“What phone system are you using? Do you have a traditional landline and also a cell phone or only a cell phone? I am a solo practitioner with two incoming lines and AT&T DSL service. I am searching for a more effective system and hopefully something less expensive than the $325 or so monthly cost.”
Obviously, everyone’s communication needs will vary slightly. So it’s not like there are absolutes that apply across the board. Nevertheless, there are some broad principles that solo and small firm lawyers should keep in mind.
Consider using a VOIP service for your business line
Traditional landlines are priced more expensively than they need to be. The lawyer who emailed me was paying AT&T for two incoming lines PLUS high-speed internet service. Let’s say the monthly cost of the Internet service is $40 – $60, which is typical. VOIP service allows you to get business class phone service delivered over your high-speed internet connection.
And VOIP providers like Vonage or Packet8 (both very reliable and reputable) offer plans for $30/month. These plans include nationwide long-distance, and all you can use calling. So, theoretically, you’d pay no more than $30 for all of your business phone service.
I have not used Vonage, but I presume that it’s level of service is equal to, or better than, Packet8, which I have used (but no longer use for reason I’ll explain). Packet8’s service allowed me to have my cellphone ring simultaneously when the main line would ring. So, if I was in the office I’d pick up the VOIP ‘landline.’ But if I was out of the office I could answer on my cellphone.
Plus when I travelled internationally I could take my VOIP box and make and receive calls for the same $30 monthly fee.
Leverage your cellphone
Everyone has a cellphone, and it’s great for making calls when you’re out of the office. If you have a VOIP service like the ones I discussed above then you can use the cellphone to receive calls that are inbound to your office phone.
The problem is that, sometimes you don’t want your clients or opposing counsel to know that you’re calling from your cellphone, or you don’t want them to know your cellphone number. What can you do about that?
If you use a call management service then you can add additional functionality and flexibility to how your calls are handled. I used a service called RingCentral (but no longer use for reasons that I’ll explain), which is superb for call management.
The price plans are kid of tricky, and can wind up being expensive. But, in many cases it will well be worth the cost.
RingCentral gives you a free 800 number and a fax number as part of a basic plan, which is about $30/month. The service then allows you to direct your main number to any other numbers you want, in pretty much any fashion.
So, you could have your mainline and cellphone ring simultaneously (like I did with my Packet8 account, before I added RingCentral). But you can do much more, such as simultaneously ring more than one phone, or sequentially ring several phones, or ring phones only during certain hours of the day, and only on certain days of the week.
Also, you can place calls from your cellphone and have it route through RingCentral so that the recipient sees your business line on their CallerID.
The drawback to RingCentral, as far as I was concerned, was the price. The basic plan includes 500 minutes, which seems okay until you figure out exactly how those minutes are incurred.
The way it works is that you’re ‘charged’ a minute for each minute of connect time for any call that they direct. One of the two reasons for using a landline (as opposed to only using your cellphone) is not having to use up your cellphone minutes.
And if you have a VOIP service that provides you with all-you-can-use nationwide calling for only $30 you don’t want to then start having to meter that usage because you’re using a call management service.
I loved RingCentral. Their service is great, and so is their support. But, the billing method was irksome.
Seriously consider a ‘virtual receptionist’ service.
I currently use a virtual receptionist service called Smith.ai. I decided to try it out to see if it was worth using, and I was completely blown away. Smith.ai is a ‘high touch’ service that is incredibly affordable.
Obviously, a virtual receptionist does everything that RingCentral does, except with powered by real-time human intelligence. And if you want to be assured of giving every caller the best possible attention you want your phone answered by real people.
P.S. If you want a practice optimized for remote work & virtual collaboration, get this 24-page guide.
I use Vonage for my office phone line and fax line. I do not agree that having a landline is a necessity.
I have 3 lines with Vonage. My main line, fax line, and the office line Ruby uses to reach me to transfer calls (Ernie: Your mind can rest at ease knowing all faxes are routed to an internet fax service that sends all faxes to my inbox in pdf format). I also have two toll free numbers – one for the main line and one for the fax machine. Total cost – $109 plus some change, with unlimited long distance calling.
When I was with AT&T I was paying close to $300 for 2 lines.
My point? I do not agree we must have a land line phone just in case of internet meltdown. In my Vonage settings I can choose a number to forward all calls to in the event of internet meltdown (Note: I know it works.) Right now that number is Ruby. I can change it to ring on my Blackberry in just a couple seconds from my Blackberry. It’s awesome!
Like Ernie, I use Ruby to answer my calls. I am hiring a legal assistance in February, but I still plan to keep Ruby as a “backup.” The only reason I am hiring a legal assistant is because I have one of highest price plans Ruby offers and it made better sense to have someone in office that can perform other tasks. So I agree with going with a virtual receptionist as well.
All in all, I agree with Ernie that VOIP is the way to go. I know nothing about Packet8, but Vonage has worked out beautifully for me.
Last poster beat me to it but I was also going to talk about Google Voice as well. It also has alot of hidden features that are great. One of press #4 to record the phone. If you need a record of the conversion, it will record the call from the time you press #4 and then save the audio to your Google Voice account.
You can also use Google Voice, a free local number and answering service that can simultaneously forward calls to all of you other phones.
For VOIP, there is ooma. A totally free service after the cost of the hardware, which you would buy with any type of service anyway….
Google voice will also transcribe your incoming messages to text and text them to your phone as well as email them to any email account.
All you need is high speed internet…
The “local phone directory” is a thing of the past here. Despite repeated complaints, Qwest has for several years put out a phone book here with all exchanges dumped into one book. That means, for example, if someone is looking for a lawyer in my town…or the clinic in my town… or the grocery store in my town, etc, they must know EXACTLY how the name is listed. Otherwise, there is simply no way to find it. And it covers an area of all or portions of 28 counties and hundreds of square miles. Because of the phone company’s complete disregard for local business, I see no reason to support a “local” phone company.
1. I agree with Ted re: phone book listing, but only if you are one of only a few attorneys listed in the Yellow Pages. Then you are easy to find.
2. Another VOIP solution for solo attorney is ACN, also for $30 per month. Full disclosure: I am an independent rep for them (www.WenNow.ACNRep.com)
3. Another VOIP solution for law office with 3 or more phones: Ring Carrier (www.RingCarrier.com). Ring Carrier is a direct competitor of Ring Central.
I serve on a local telephone company board, and we are dying due to questions like this.
One thing to remember is the local phone directory will give a phone listing to you for far less than any other form of advertising for the omnipresent existence of the phone book. For a business line, of $50-80 per month, you are there full time.
Go ahead and VOIP or cell, but keep a land line. It works when others fail, and it provides the time honored access point that nothing else provides, at a low cost if you consider it advertising instead of utility cost.