You may wonder why do I need to know more about tech? You're thinking to yourself, how hard is this computer stuff? You're saying, "I can get email on my computer and I can even type my own documents in Word Perfect or Word. Heck, I surf the Internet and I occasionally text message my kids, too. What more do I need to know?"
You might even say, "I'm hip. I don't need to read this post."
Fine. Let's test that theory. But before we delve into what the intricacies of technology, let's just look at one of the most basic - and what you may assume to be probably the most non-computer-based devices in your office, the telephone. But don't get ahead of me here and jump to the immediate conclusion that I'm going to discuss technology you already use such as VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol).
Since you already know all about how to save money by using VOIP and other telephone software-based programs like Skype, Peerio and Microsoft's Office Communicator , I'll leave that to a later article.
So let's look at some practical advice that can save you thousands of dollars with a comparatively small investment. First, however, let me set up the problem. If you've been practicing law for a while, you've likely suffered through at least one telephone system replacement and the painful training that came along with it. You know exactly what I'm talking about: that laminated little card they gave you with the directions on how to use the hold button, park and retrieve a call from somewhere else in the office and that foreign language section on the conference feature.
My bet is that you don't even know where that laminated card is located in your desk, you can't pick up a call in your office when the incoming call was answered elsewhere, and it's a hopeless effort to even begin to figure out how to make a conference call.
If you're at all like me and most of the lawyers in my office, you'll grudgingly admit your receptionist is about the only person who can passingly perform these functions. Maybe you can put a call on hold (it's that red button on the phone), but that's about it.
Before our office installed computer software to control our telephones, I was a confirmed Telephone Luddite. When I set up a conference call, I dropped everyone when I pushed the conference button and mostly ended up talking to myself. Picking up a parked call was about as likely as me successfully launching a probe to land on Mars.
I could convert gallons in Metric measurements to liters in English measurements easier than I could operate the office telephone, and my last math class was differential equations in college. Even so, I figured the rocket science of telephone conference calls was best left to the people at JPL. At least they could land a probe on Mars, couldn't they?
Well maybe not, but trust me on this one, with telephone software installed on your computer, you'll not only be able to master these complicated functions of hold, park and conferencing, but you'll also avoid buying another telephone hardware system again. When they invent new features for the phone, all you'll have to do is download the software update, not replace your phones.
Moreover, if you're buying a telephone system, you don't have to buy expensive, complicated and feature-laden phones that comes complete with five-page laminated cards of instructions. With telephone software, everything is right there on your computer screen and can be displayed with the click of a mouse.
Here's the solution we've found. We've installed a software program from Artisoft called Televantage on our firm's servers and workstations. When a call comes in, a box pops up on my computer screen and shows me who is calling and allows me to control it with my mouse. I can send it to voice mail, transfer it to someone else and even conference in other callers. By right-clicking on the box that displays the call, all of those options pop up in an easy-to-understand menu, allowing me to choose any one of those features right there on my monitor, which is thousands of light-years from wherever that laminated card is in my desk.
If a call goes into voice mail, then the computer saves it as a Windows media file so I can listen to it on my computer speakers. If I want, I can send that voice mail message to someone else by email. If I'm on a call with someone else, I can even play that voice mail message into the call and the caller and I can both listen to all of it or just a part of it. I can even record the call I'm on (with all participants' permission, of course), and the computer again saves the recording as a Windows media file.
The computer program even integrates with our firm's contact database so even if the person who calls does not use Caller ID, our computer still associates the incoming telephone number with our contact database, and displays the caller's name. If I'm in the contact database and looking at a person's contact information, then I just click on the telephone number and the computer dials the telephone for me. All I have to do is pick up the handset and talk.
Conferencing no longer strikes fear into my heart. I simply right-click on the call displayed on my screen, which causes a menu to pop up. I then just click on the conference button. Another screen pops up next asking me who I want to call. I can either type in a telephone number or use the letter keys to type a name and then tell the computer to dial it for me. When the call is dialed, I can speak with the new caller first and easily decide when to add the new caller into the original call by looking at the prompts on my computer screen. It's no longer the black-hole mystery it used to be.
Since the software is computer-based, others in the office can see whether I'm on the phone by opening the software program on their workstation. If I'm on a call, then the other attorneys and staff members can see that fact on their computer monitor. I can set my status as "Do Not Disturb" or any number of other messages, including "On Vacation," "Out of the Office," and "Out to Lunch" even if I'm not on the telephone.
Not only are these features available on my individual workstation, but they also work from any other workstation in the office, and I easily and visually can park a call elsewhere and then pick it up in my office. For example, if I've picked up a call elsewhere in the office and need to move to my office to complete the conversation, I can park the call either on the computer screen or on the actual telephone and then once I get back to my office, pick up the call just by looking at my computer monitor and clicking on it with my mouse.
If I'm out of the office, then other office personnel can likewise see that fact on their workstations and easily click on the display of my cellular phone and transfer the call to me by clicking on the dialog box that shows my cell phone. After hours, I can even set the software to have phone calls "follow me" when the office is closed. The software will first try my cell phone, then home phone and in sequence any other phone number I may have listed.
If I forget to set the software to redirect calls before I leave the office, then I can remote in and change the settings at any time of the day or night. The remote feature also allows me to play my telephone messages through any computer anywhere in the world. No longer do I have to dial in and try to remember whether to push the pound button or push the star button and enter my password. It's all easily visible on my computer. The old-fashioned way still works, too, but it seems much more intuitive to see it on a computer screen.
The real benefits of this system are both its ease of use and reliance on computer-based systems. If you can navigate your way around a computer, then you won't need any training how to use it. The system also drives right to the bottom line. You'll never have to replace your phones again. The updates keep your system current and add new features as they come out.
To use this system, you will need a dedicated computer server to handle routing of calls, standard multi-line business telephones (a.k.a. "dumb" terminals) and the Artisoft. The cost can vary in direct proportion to the number of telephone lines, telephones and size of your office, but basic, beginning systems can be purchased for around $15,000 - $20,000.
More than anything else, however, the benefit of the system for me is the satisfaction of finally having mastered that most basic function of the telephone: successfully making a conference call without dropping the participants from the conversation, and saving money while you do it.