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January 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 1| Page 30
Technology

Product Watch

Assessing VoIP Sevices for Law Firms

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) certainly looks like the future of communications for law firms.

Allowing firms to use one integrated network for both data and voice com-munications, VoIP technologies promise cost savings, advanced features and greater usability beyond that available through existing PBX phone systems and analog phone lines. But maximum features and user-friendliness carry a price, of course. At this point, your choices in VoIP systems will typically depend on your firm’s size.

For larger firms that can afford all the bells and whistles, VoIP is especially attractive because it allows them to utilize a single topography for data and voice communications with the added benefit of advanced features that previously required dedicated equipment subject to obsolescence. Companies such as Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and Siemens provide VoIP technology to these larger firms.

For small firms, hosted VoIP services are available through companies such as Vonage , Packet8 , Verizon , Onebox and MailStreet . Small organizations can also choose in-house solutions from Fonalty and Bizfon , which include some scalability and features equivalent to those available for larger firms.

Things shift a bit for growing small firms and midsize firms, which fall into a category frequently referred to as the SMB (Small and Medium Business) market. These organizations often find themselves too large for hosted services or the less-expensive in-house solutions, but not large enough to be able to justify the expense of large firm systems. Recently, however, this has been changing. Companies such as Cisco and Nortel Networks are realizing they have been missing the SMB market and are introducing products to fill the gap. And now another player has entered the growing field of SMB system providers—it is none other than Microsoft.

Microsoft Reponse Point . While Microsoft has its supporters and its detractors, the company has produced solid products in its data and e-mail server solutions that are used by firms of all sizes throughout the world. Its Response Point phone system software has the potential to be another solid solution, but especially for midsize firms. According to Microsoft: “Backed by industry-leading hardware vendors like D-Link, Quanta and Aastra, Microsoft Response Point phone system software offers a breakthrough voice-activated user interface, simplified setup and user management, and effortless mobility.” Response Point promises easy-to-manage VoIP capabilities along with Outlook integration and voice recognition as added benefits for firms with up to 50 users. Furthermore, firms don’t need to be running Microsoft Server or Exchange Server to use the Response Point software.

Response Point will work with both VoIP and analog phone lines and, according to Microsoft, is designed to save the SMB business time and money in three specific ways:

  • It reduces phone system management costs by empowering average PC users to complete moves, additions and changes without expensive onsite support.
  • It lets small businesses slash their phone bills by using VoIP to cut long-distance bills and eliminate unnecessary local lines without forcing them to abandon their traditional phone service.
  • It eliminates many expensive phone system extras—expansion packs, hours of employee training, etc.—that typically add thousands of dollars to the cost of a small business phone system.

While solutions from Fonalty and Bizfon are probably still better options for small offices, for those in the 30-to-50-user range Microsoft Response Point may be a viable and cost-effective option based on the pricing of the software, hardware and additional phones in this rapidly expanding segment of the VoIP marketplace.

About the Author

Nerino J. Petro, Jr. is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at compujurist.

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