A 21st-century system for a 21st-century firm: What to know about VoIP phone systems
In last month’s column, I discussed the ins and outs of a somewhat recent advancement in communication—online fax services, which provide lawyers a cost-effective and convenient way to send and receive digitized faxes in 2019. As I explained in that column, lawyers seeking to use fax tools have two options. The first is that they can use stand-alone e-fax software. Alternatively, that same functionality is often built into voice over internet protocol phone systems. So let’s dive into VoIP systems and discuss the many benefits that they provide to small firm lawyers.
Do you remember when law firm phone systems used to be incredibly costly? Between purchasing the phones, subscribing to a voicemail service, and paying the salary of a receptionist to answer and transfer calls, the costs added up quickly. And the more features you required—for example, the ability to host conference calls—the higher the price of the phone system. For many law firms, the cost of phone systems and maintenance constituted a sizable portion of their practice’s overhead.
How times have changed! Small firm lawyers have more options than ever before when it comes to their law firm’s phone systems. Rapid technological advancements, including VoIP and cloud computing, have proliferated, providing small firm lawyers with much-needed, low-cost alternatives to the old-school phone systems of yesteryear. Twenty-first-century VoIP technologies make it easier—and more affordable—than ever for lawyers to seamlessly and effortlessly communicate with their clients and colleagues.
If your law firm hasn’t yet made the leap from outdated and expensive 20th-century phone systems to the 21st-century cost-effective alternatives, now is a great time to make the switch. It’s simply a matter of choosing the right system for your firm’s needs.
VoIP will provide your firm with far greater flexibility and mobility. With VoIP, calls are routed over internet protocol networks, sometimes using software alone, and other times using both hardware and software. Of course, keep in mind that calls are routed using the internet, so if your internet goes down, so, too, does your VoIP service (just as your firm’s landline will sometimes go down since no service has 100 percent uptime). Even so, the many benefits of VoIP systems greatly outweigh that risk.
By using VoIP systems, you typically can make and receive unlimited phone calls (including international calls, in many cases), conduct conference calls, forward calls to your mobile or home phone, receive (and store) messages in different formats, manage calls on the go, send and receive online faxes, and much more.
The good news is that if you’re ready to transition your firm to VoIP, you have plenty of choices. Of course, the challenge then becomes sifting through the various service providers and figuring out which one is the best fit for your law firm. To get you started, here’s a rundown of some of your options to help you sort through the most popular VoIP providers.
Note that because Google Voice is fairly limited in terms of its options, and, thus, isn’t a good fit for most law firms, I won’t be covering it here. But if you’re just starting out or are a true solo, it might be a cost-effective choice for your firm. You can learn more about Google Voice (and some of its limitations) in this article.
And, as is always the case, whenever you entrust your law firm’s data to a third party, you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data. This includes ensuring that you understand how the data will be handled by that company; 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.
Now let’s take a look at some of your VoIP options.
• First, there’s RingCentral, which is arguably the most well-known VoIP provider. RingCentral offers the greatest number of features compared to most other providers. There are four pricing tiers available, with the lowest tier starting at $19.99 per user per month and capping at 10 users. One hundred toll-free minutes per month are included in the first level, in addition to videoconferencing for four users. As you move up the pricing tiers, with the highest being $49.99 per user per month, unlimited users and more features are included, such as unlimited online faxing, automatic call recording and voicemail-to-text. Also offered in some of the higher-priced tiers are online collaboration tools; videoconferencing; and integrations with Microsoft, Google and Box. You can learn more about RingCentral for law firms here and its pricing tiers here.
• Another option is Nextiva. It offers three pricing packages: Office Pro, Office Pro Plus and Office Enterprise. Prices range from $19.95 per user per month to $27.95 per user per month. All plans include unlimited calling, free phone numbers and unlimited fax. Higher-tiered plans may include features including a conference bridge, text messaging, a mobile app and more. Nextiva does not provide international calling plans, and online storage is not included in any of the plans. But it can be purchased separately for $4.95 per month. You can learn more about the Nextiva options available to law firms here.
• Ooma is another VoIP service to consider. It requires a one-time purchase of $199.99 and installation of Ooma’s hardware, which is reportedly a fairly simple process. After that, it costs $19.95 per user per month. Included in that price is one local or toll-free phone number, a virtual fax number, and a conference line number and 500 minutes of inbound calls per month. The cost for additional local or toll-free numbers is $9.95 per month for each new line. Ooma provides unlimited calling to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Features also include a conference bridge, voicemail, a virtual receptionist, virtual fax and call management tools. You can learn more about Ooma for law firms here and find a full pricing chart here.
So those are just a few VoIP systems to consider for your law firm. Although the idea of switching from a landline to a VoIP system may seem strange at first, you’ll quickly realize that the benefits far outweigh any misgivings that you might have. After all, you’re running a 21st-century law firm. Shouldn’t your firm have a 21st-century phone system, too?
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].