As we head into the fall and face continued uncertainty, it makes sense to take steps to build resiliency into your law firm to ensure it can thrive no matter what disruptions we encounter. If you’re behind the curve, the good news is that there are things you can do to prepare your firm for whatever the future may bring and make it possible to operate and profit no matter where your firm’s employees are located.
For example, when your team is working remotely, effective client communication is key. Actual and potential clients need to be able to reach out to your firm and receive answers to their questions in a timely manner, and it will matter little to them that your employees are working remotely and are unable to access necessary communications tools.
That’s why, if your firm hasn’t already done so, you need to put a VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, phone system in place that will facilitate communication from any location, regardless of the circumstances. If your law firm hasn’t yet made the leap from outdated and expensive landline phone systems to the 21st-century cost-effective alternatives, now is a great time to make the switch.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 product for your firm’s needs.
If you’re not familiar 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% 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 some 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.
Before we dive into the tools available, it’s important to note that the software programs discussed below are cloud-based, and therefore all data will be housed on servers owned by a third party. As a result, because you’ll be entrusting your law firm’s data to a third party, your ethical obligations will require you to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data. This duty includes ensuring 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.
VoIP options for lawyers
Now let’s move on to some of the VoIP phone systems that are most popular with lawyers. 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.
First, there’s Corvum, a VoIP system designed specifically for law firms, but with overall features essentially similar to those offered by other VoIP systems. One notable attorney-specific feature is the built-in time-tracking functionality that allows lawyers to track the time spent on calls and capture that time for billing purposes. It also includes virtual faxing tools and texting capabilities. Pricing starts at $7.95 per month billed annually for texting alone; $17.95 per month when billed annually for voice and text; and if your firm has more than 30 users, you’ll need to reach out to Corvum to discuss pricing.
One of the most well-known VoIP providers is RingCentral, which offers a robust feature set and four available pricing tiers. The lowest tier starts at $19.99 per user per month and caps at 20 users. Unlimited calls within the US and Canada, unlimited texting, document sharing, and voicemail-to-text functionality are included in all tiers. As you move up the pricing tiers, with the highest being $49.99 per user per month, more features are included, such as unlimited online faxing and automatic call recording. Also offered in some of the higher-priced tiers are online collaboration tools and videoconferencing. You can learn more about RingCentral for law firms here and its pricing tiers here.
Nextiva is another well-known option. It offers four pricing packages: Essential, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. Prices range from $18.95 per user per month to $57.95 per user per month. All plans include unlimited voice, a complimentary toll-free number, video calling and unlimited fax. Higher-tiered plans may include videoconferencing capabilities, text messaging, voicemail transcription and more. You can learn more about Nextiva pricing and options available to law firms here.
Another increasingly popular option amongst lawyers is Vonage, which has three pricing tiers: Mobile, Premium and Advanced. Pricing starts at $19.99 per month per line and caps at $39.99 per month per line. Unlimited calls, texts and team messaging are included in all plans, and higher tiers include unlimited meetings, call recording and visual voicemail.
8×8 is another option to consider. Pricing for the business phone plan, 8×8 Express, costs $12 per user per month, which includes unlimited voice calls in the US and Canada, along with video and messaging tools as well. There are two other tiers: X2, which costs $24 per user per month when billed annually; and X4, which costs $44 per user per month when billed annually. These tiers include features such as unlimited voice calls to additional countries, fax capabilities and team chat. You can learn more about the pricing for each tier here.
Finally, don’t overlook the phone capabilities built into a tool your firm may already be using: Zoom. Zoom now offers Zoom Phone, a cloud phone system. There are three tiers starting at $10 per user per month and capping at $20 per user per month. All plans include domestic texting, a US and Canada phone number, and the ability to make calls from multiple devices. Higher tiers include unlimited calls and advanced phone features. You can view the pricing information here.
Now that you know about VoIP options for law firms, what are you waiting for? Given the disruption of the past two years and the uncertainty that lies ahead, there’s no reason your firm shouldn’t be fully prepared for the unexpected. Take the necessary steps now and create a business continuity plan for your firm’s communications that your firm can rely on no matter what the future brings your way. With a VoIP phone system in place, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done everything in your power to reduce future uncertainty.
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].
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.