Office Systems

Matthew M. Hart

Not considering your website, the first impression a client usually has is the call to the office.

Some attorneys have tried to keep costs low by using a cell phone as their only phone. Because call clarity is paramount when speaking with a client for the first time or any time, I recommend a land line as your primary number. If you want to be able to receive calls on your cell phone there are many ways to route the call, from simple call forwarding to more advanced options.

When ordering phone service, consider paying $15 to get a “premium number”. By paying the onetime $15 charge, you will get an easy-to-remember number for your clients like 597-9999 or 754-2000.

When ordering service through AT&T, subscribers can get Unified Messaging Fax Plus. This combines their voicemail with a dedicated fax number and integration with their AT&T cell phone. Paying $30 or $40 a month for a dedicated fax line is expensive for two faxes. With Unified Messaging Fax Plus subscribers have a dedicated fax number and faxes are received as PDFs via e-mail. This allows attorneys to file faxes with their electronic case file and eliminate paper. Of course they can always print the PDF if they need a hard copy. Additionally, a splitter can be used on a land line so that if something needs to be faxed, attorneys can use their land line and an all-in-one laser printer. The cost difference between regular voice mail and voice mail with fax is about $10 a month, which is cheaper than a dedicated line yet retains the same flexibility as a dedicated line.

The other great feature with Unified Messaging Fax Plus is integration with a cell phone. By linking an AT&T cell phone and AT&T Unified Messaging the attorney has to deal with only one voicemail box. When people call the office, they hear the Law Office greeting and then leave a message. At that point the message light on the phone and the cell phone alerts to a message. The attorney can then check the voicemail using either a cell phone or land line. Similarly, when someone sends a fax, an alert arrives on both the land line and cell phone. When people call the cell phone, on the other hand, they hear a personal greeting but an alert goes to both places. This allows the attorney to deal with one voicemail box rather than two, which saves time. Finally, by upgrading to Unified Messaging Fax Plus, users get business class voicemail on their cell phone and landline, and with the extra storage, their messages don’t get deleted early like they do on most cell phones.

One of the temptations to save money is to use Voice Over IP. Generally, when you use something like Comcast Business Class or AT&T U-Verse for voice you are not using a traditional land line but all of your phone calls are going over your internet connection. The problem can be that if your internet goes down you lose all internet types of communication such as email as well as your voice line. Even if you lose communications for only a few hours it can be the most critical few hours of your career. In my experience, I have had 3 outages of my internet over the last 4 years whereas

I have never had a land line outage. Moreover, if there are issues with your business router (one of the outages I describe above) or a virus/ worm outbreak on the internet your communications can be affected.

If you are a heavy cell phone user or you get poor cell reception in certain areas of your office, there is a great thing called a micro-cell tower that can boost your signal. All of the major cell companies offer them to their customers. You pay a one-time fee for the equipment and, once installed, you will have full cell connection within a 300 feet radius of your office with no loss of signal. The micro-cell is locked to the phone numbers you authorized to use it.

Regarding phone equipment, consider a two-line phone even if you are starting with one line. At some point you may have to install a second land line to be able to handle multiple calls and conference calls. If you plan on having staff in the near term consider the AT&T model 1070 business phone. It has a four-line capability and intercom features for up to 16 handsets. This allows for good expansion at a modest price.

Furniture is the next hurdle to opening an office. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for furniture. Sometimes you will get a lead on slightly used high quality furniture. Craigslist is a great place to find offices that are trying to liquidate their furniture. Look for the higher-end names such as Herman Miller and Steel Case etc. Try and stay away from cheaper generic office furniture from places like Staples and Office Depot. In a pinch the store brands will work but the quality and longevity doesn’t match the name brands.

Copiers can function as your fax and computer printer. However, before signing a lease, really think about your needs. When every penny counts as you start a law office, pricey leases can really put a strain on the budget. Conversely, even though the $99 inkjet printer that copies and faxes looks like a great bargain, you need to consider the quality of output and cost of consumables.

Most companies will put the expected yield of ink/toner on their websites. Do some math and figure out your best option. If you need color, get an all-in-one that uses separate ink/toner cartridges for each of the colors. Finally, keep a spare toner on hand and be wary of re-fill services. One leaky cartridge can ruin your printer and your day.

Finally, postage meters are a common sight in law offices. You can only rent, not buy, them. Services such as have a monthly fee. Instead of monthly fees buy packs of stamps at Costco (or similar stores) and use a digital postal scale. Next to the scale keep a chart that tells you how many stamps to put on an envelope based on the weight. You can find such charts on the U.S. Postal Service website, at http://pe.usps.go/text/dmm300/notice123.htm. If you mail a lot of items that go over 13 ounces then a postage meter may be your only option instead of going to the post office.

Matthew M. Hart is a solo practitioner with offices in Antioch and Walnut Creek. He focuses on Estate Planning, Trust Administration, Probate and Business Formation.

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