Starting a law office, whether brick and mortar or in the virtual space, there is one old technology that you just can’t let go of, the telephone. Sure with iPhones, Droids, Blackberries and the whole lot have transformed our concepts of telephone, but the core function of the voice phone call is still the life line of most attorneys. Nothing expresses the urgency and emotion of a good ol’ fashion phone call.
As a transactional attorney, my whole world is based in emails, word processors, spreadsheets, instant messaging and above all, the telephone. The problem, however, lies in the mobility of the modern attorney. Even the traditional firm attorneys are forever attached to their Blackberries (still the market leader of “business” smart phones for attorneys and “businessy” types as far as I can tell) or iPhones. Emails and tweets and IMs and text messages and actual phone calls all coming flooding together into one device. Even if you have an office line, people know that your cell phone will be answered, and so the office phone line has begun to take a back seat. Unfortunately, this creates the 8-6 lawyer that is on call 24/7. For me emails, texts, tweets, and IMs are easily disregarded in “after hours”. However, phone calls are harder to ignore. Besides, their is something to be said about keeping work and personal life separate. A client, opposing or co-counsel, or business associates can call you at any time, any where just because your phone is on. It was these thoughts that inspired me to take a look at some PBX systems.
I had my parameters set. I want a open source and/or reasonably cost effect system that I will actual use. I had two phone lines, 1) my cell phone (Mytouch 3G) running all the Google goodies, basically my everything hub, used for clients, friends, family, and everyone who happened to have the number passed on to them; 2) my Skype online number for international clients, conference calls, and those that receive emails from me with a signature attached. What I wanted was a third line, so that I could relinquish my cell number to personal use, use Skype for my corporate duties (when duties called) and the occasional international calls and conference calls, and a line dedicated to my law office clients. I wanted all lines routed to my cell (the only real phone I have) while managing and directing my calls to the appropriate corners of my virtual real estate. My eventual solution Google Voice, but here is how I got there.
First let me just say that I am incredibly cheap. Ok. Not really, but my nerdiness and quiet, novice joy in tinkering with software solutions, especially open source solutions usually leads me toward the low or no cost solutions. For those aspiring virtual office people, there are very reasonable and practical solutions available. Jay Fleishman points out some solutions under step one over at the Untethered Lawyer. There are many virtual PBX system out there, as well as virtual answering services and just plain ol’ answering services that will help route your calls. There are also decent PBX systems offered through VOIP providers like Vonage and Packet 8. All that being said here was my solution.
With much appreciation, I was invited to Google Voice a while back, but never used it. Finally, a week ago, I sat down and set it up. The basic function of Google Voice is simple. You have a virtual number that you can rerouting to any phone you choose (requires verification so no prank calls). It comes with voice mail boxes with “visual voicemail” (transcribed messages) sent to your email account. The system is perfect for those that have two or three actual phones. Instead of giving out 3 numbers, you give one, and it can ring to all 3 phones. You can set rules based on the caller id by building groups so that if Bobby calls, it will only ring on your cell, but if Mom calls it will ring on all lines. The best part, to me at least, is that each group can also have a custom voice mail message. That way you can have your college days ironic message for your friends, but clients will get the serious lawyer message. My problem, as I said, is that I only had 2 other lines, and really only one phone. I wanted to have 3 individual lines, but rerouted to my phone, with the benefit of separate voicemail boxes. Unfortunately, Skype doesn’t allow forwarding to Google Voice numbers (unless you know different) and so this is how it is. Google Voice number, for clients of the law firm, skype number for corporate duties and international calls and cell number for personal life. Google Voice is on my phone and can redirect all after hours client and business calls straight to voicemail. Skype lite is then installed on my phone as well. The extra bonus is direct calling from my websites without the need for a software download. You just click the call me button, enter your number, and Google Voice will call you and me simultaneously. Not bad.
So that is the set up. I would love to hear suggestions, ideas or outright better solutions. Or maybe, just maybe, I turned you on to something new.