The facts about the 21st-century fax—and how lawyers can use it to their advantage
Faxes—they’re so 1995. No one even uses them anymore, right? Wrong. While many industries have abandoned faxes, lawyers are nevertheless sometimes required to send or receive a fax, whether by courts, other governmental offices, insurance companies or even other lawyers.
Given that my focus tends to be on more forward-facing technologies, fax options for lawyers isn’t a subject that I typically write about. But recently I’ve been reminded that finding the right fax solution is often a pain point for lawyers. This topic has come up time and time again over the past year. I’ve seen lawyers post about it in online forums; there have been active discussions about it during the Solo and Small Firm Section meetings at my local bar association; and I’ve even had lawyers email me and seek my recommendations for online fax options. So I figured it was high time that I wrote an article on this very topic.
The good news is that just as times have changed since fax machines became commonplace in the 1980s, so, too, has the technology behind the transmission of faxes. With the rise of the internet and email, all aspects of communication have been affected, including faxes. The end result is that lawyers who find it necessary to fax documents in 2019 have much more affordable and flexible options than they did in 1995.
So if your antiquated fax machine is on its last legs or if you’re just hanging your shingle and would like to have the ability to send and receive faxes in your fledgling firm, then this article is for you.
If you’re not familiar with online fax services, here’s how they work: Unlike traditional fax machines, you send and receive documents in digital form. Depending on the service, documents can be sent and received via email, an online portal or via a smartphone app.
This does mean that the online fax company you choose will be hosting your law firm’s confidential data. And because you have an ethical obligation to ensure that client data remains confidential, you must ensure that you understand how the data will be handled by that company. That ethical duty includes knowing where the servers on which the data will be stored are located, who will have access to the data, and how and when it will be backed up, among other things.
Because documents are sent in a digital format, prior to faxing a paper document, you’ll have to scan it and convert it into a digital document. This can be accomplished using any type of scanning device, whether it’s your law firm’s copier or printer, a desktop scanner or even a smartphone app. And if you’re already working with a digital document on your computer, there’s no need to print it out to fax it. You can simply send the digital document using your online fax service. Some services allow you to pay per use, while others require you to commit to a monthly or annual fee.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing an online fax provider is the issue of porting your current fax number into the service. Some providers will allow you to transfer your current fax number into the service for free or for a fee. But if you decide to cancel the online fax service, they won’t always return your fax number to you. So that’s an issue to research prior to committing if you intend to transfer your current fax number into an online fax service.
Without further ado, here are some of the more popular online fax options used by your fellow lawyers. All of these companies provide multiple methods for faxing, including via email, an online web app/portal and a smartphone app.
First, there’s eFax, which was one of the first online fax services to launch. It rolled out in 1988 and has since acquired many other popular online fax services. It provides annual and monthly subscription pricing—the annual plan includes two free months—and its cost is on the higher end. Pricing starts at $16.95 per month with a $10 setup fee, and this fee includes the ability to send 150 pages per month and receive 150 pages per month.
Another option often used by lawyers is Nextiva. It also offers a 30-day free trial as well as monthly and annual plans. Monthly plans start at $8.95 per month for 500 pages per month.
One of the most affordable services is SRFax, which provides annual and monthly plans. The most affordable option starts at $3.29 per month for 25 pages, but that plan does not include a free trial. If you want a free trial for 60 days, then consider the more robust plans, which start with the Basic Plus. The Basic Plus monthly plan includes 200 pages at $6.95 per month.
Finally, there’s SmartFax, another affordable option that provides one option: a monthly plan. A 30-day free trial is available, and the monthly plan costs $6.95 per month for 250 inbound or outbound pages, with additional pages costing 8 cents per page.
You also can obtain online fax services from certain voice over internet protocol providers. VoIP phone systems allow you to use the internet as the means for transmitting phone calls and can be cost-effective and convenient for law firms. In my next column, I’ll cover the ins and out of VoIP phone systems and will share the details on a few of the more popular providers. Check back next month to learn more.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected]