TECHNOLOGY PROPERTY

Technology Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.

A $49 Fax Modem Can Save Time and Money

For as little as $49, a lawyer with a computer and a phone line can immediately send execution-quality documents to a client anywhere, with no delivery cost other than long distance charges. Clients can order simple real estate documents, such as deeds and affidavits, and have them delivered in less than an hour. Lawyers also can send more complicated documents by fax modem, saving time and charges for messengers, overnight delivery or express mail.

How a Fax Modem Works

A fax modem in effect turns a computer into a fax machine. Documents received by a fax modem can be printed out or reviewed on the computer screen. The greatest advantage of a fax modem over a fax machine is in sending documents. To send a document via a conventional fax machine, the doc-ument must be scanned, using technology similar to the electro- static photocopying process or the wirephoto process. A fax modem "rasterizes" documents instead of scanning them. In rasterizing, the fax modem converts the characters of the text to black dots (pixels), eliminating the loss in resolution and fuzziness inherent in the scanning process. With a fax modem, documents printed from a receiving fax machine have resolutions of 200 dots per inch (dpi) rather than the typical 100 dpi of a conventional fax.

A fax modem essentially operates the remote fax machine like a laser printer. Most laser printers (which also use the electrostatic process of photocopiers and fax machines) typically have resolutions of 300 dpi. Thus documents transmitted via fax modem do not have the resolution of laser printed documents but they have much better resolution than documents scanned and transmitted by a conventional fax machine.

Faxing Documents for Filing

County recording officials in many jurisdictions are willing to accept original documents that were transmitted by fax before being signed and notarized, as long as the faxes are sufficiently legible. Documents with a lower resolution may be rejected for recording because they are illegible. In some jurisdictions, courts will accept faxed documents for filing if the original document is filed within a certain period after the document is faxed.

In jurisdictions that accept faxed pleadings, it may be necessary to use a conventional fax so signatures can be included. In a typical situation, a client faxes a title commitment to the lawyer on a conventional fax machine. The fax informs the lawyer of the document to be drafted and the deadline. The lawyer then prepares the document and, if properly equipped, returns it to the client via fax modem. If the client has a plain paper fax machine, the document printed from it can be used for execution and recording. If the client has a thermal fax, the document should be photocopied before execution and recording. An efficient lawyer can prepare and return a simple document in a very short time.

Lengthier documents also can be sent in draft by fax modem to opposing counsel and clients, who will appreciate the superior readability of such documents. Because appearance often can be as important as substance, higher resolution documents may increase client and opposing counsel confidence. If real estate documents must be delivered across country, sending them via fax modem can eliminate the delay of overnight mail. Depending on the time of day, long distance telephone charges may be substantially less than delivery charges.

Nuts and Bolts of Faxing

Fax modems are available for Windows, DOS and Macintosh environments. Later versions of WordPerfect for DOS include fax modem drivers. Older versions of WordPerfect can be upgraded for use with fax modems. Any Windows word processing software can be used with a fax modem. When the lawyer wants to transmit a document by fax modem, the fax modem software is selected as the printer literally operating the remote fax machine as a printer. When the user activates the print button, a menu pops up, requesting input of the fax number to which the document should be "printed." Phone books can be maintained on the computer for simple retrieval of frequently used fax numbers. A user can send group faxes by highlighting or grouping several fax recipients in a fax phone book.

If a lawyer with a fax modem installed on a portable or home computer is working at home or outside the office, his or her office staff can relay faxes from the office to the fax modem. The lawyer can then print out the fax or read it on the computer screen and respond accordingly.

When using Windows software, it may be necessary to put the entire document in boldface type to ensure that the resulting printout at the remote fax machine is of high print density. The lawyer can experiment with print resolution and format by faxing to a conventional fax machine in the office.

Fax modems are handy for sending quick memos to clients and other lawyers without leaving one's desk. A hard copy of the fax can be printed and placed in the file, and an electronic copy can be kept on the computer for easy retrieval.

Selection and Installation

Depending on the phone system, installing a fax modem may be as simple as using an inexpensive Y-connection on the telephone line, with the phone and the fax modem sharing a line. A better setup would provide a separate line for a fax modem perhaps shared with a conventional fax machine to avoid telephone service interruption. On more sophisticated telephone systems, installation of a phone line could be more expensive than a fax modem.

Fax modems range in price from $49 to $200. Most fax modems run at either 14,400 or 28,800 baud. The baud number is a measure of the speed of data transmission. A higher baud number indicates a higher per-second data transmission rate. Most conventional fax machines run at 9,600 baud or less. Accordingly, if the only use for the fax modem will be to transmit documents to conventional fax machines, a 14,400 fax modem (which typically costs approximately $50) should be adequate. If possible, opt for a class II fax modem. Class II fax modems take control of the remote fax machine, operating it much like a printer. They typically transmit at a slightly higher rate.

Fax modems are available in either external or internal models. Internal models typically are cheaper and faster than external models. External models often have the older 8250 UART chip, which results in slower transmission speeds. A 16550 UART chip is preferable. In addition, external models require a serial cable and a transformer, which add to the cable snarl at the back of the computer. The primary benefits of external fax modems are their easy installation and the visual feedback from display lights that inform the user of the fax modem's status and the progress of transmissions.

If the fax modem will be used for other purposes in addition to fax transmission, opt for a higher speed modem such as a 28,800 baud modem. The more expensive modems generally have more sophisticated data compression and error correcting protocols, which result in higher transmission and reception speed.

Other Uses

Once the fax modem is installed and connected to an outside telephone line, the user also can connect to various local, national and international electronic services.

For example, many federal district courts are connected to an electronic bulletin board system called PACER. Most bankruptcy courts are also included on PACER. A lawyer clearing title to property that has been included in a bankruptcy estate could obtain through PACER detailed information regarding the filing of the case, the court docket and the claims register.

WESTLAW and LEXIS are easily available to a lawyer with a fax modem. Real estate lawyers might find the property information available in many states through WESTLAW and LEXIS of particular interest. On WESTLAW, real prop-erty information is available from Information America, with keyword "inform." Most of the real property information is tax records. Corporate records are also available.

Many fax modems come prepackaged with online software such as America Online, Compu-Serve or Prodigy. These online services are available with no long distance charges in all metropolitan areas and many other cities and towns. Charges for online services are approximately $3 per hour but soon may be dropping. Most of these services provide access to the major Internet services such as the World Wide Web and e-mail.

Finally, a lawyer with a fax modem can obtain direct access to the Internet through an Internet service provider. Hourly charges by Internet service providers can be as little as 20 cents per hour. Direct Internet access is generally faster than access through on-line services but on-line services are much easier to install and operate.

Conclusion

Fax machines have quickened the pace of legal practice by making the delivery of documents almost instantaneous. The fax modem is an additional tool to enhance client satisfaction and improve the speed, quality and cost effectiveness of legal services.

Technology Property Editor: Kevin J. Dunlevy, 386 North Wabasha St., Suite 1190, St. Paul, MN 55102. Phone: (612) 221-1044; fax: (612) 221-1035; e-mail: dunlevy@skypoint.com

Probate & Property Magazine is published six times annually and is included in section members' annual dues.

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