February 27, 2020 3 minutes to read ∙ 600 words

TAPAs: To VoIP or Not to VoIP, That Is the Question!

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

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Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been available for several years. It has grown in acceptance over time, but many hesitate to use it in their law offices. We have used it in a small law office for several years with good results, and do not hesitate to recommend that you make the switch. While we have not tried it in a larger office ourselves, we have heard good things about it from those who have. VoIP provides many advantages with relatively few disadvantages.

On the advantage side, you can install it inexpensively, you can use it at a lower cost than service from a traditional landline provider, and you can get lots of features and services at lower cost than you can from a traditional landline provider. On the disadvantage side, you have one potentially serious problem: The system does not work at all if your Internet goes down. This is different from the landline-based problem of a fancier phone that requires an electrical connection to work its magic, and therefore will not work if the electricity goes out. In that structure you could always keep an old-fashioned phone around for such emergencies. You could plug it into the phone jack, and it would draw all the power it needed to work from the telephone line. Accordingly, while we recommend using VoIP due to the quality of service and cost savings, we do not recommend that you rely exclusively on it at home or at work.

That said, we have some tips for you if you want to save some bucks and get rid of a phone company that stinks.

Tip 1. Make Sure Your Bandwidth Supports VoIP

If you have low-speed Internet, you may want to upgrade your service. This will give you more bandwidth for the VoIP system and also give you more and better speed for everything you do online.

Tip 2: Get Quality Equipment

You can find equipment that will work with VoIP at every price point, but sometimes you get what you pay for. Buying the least-expensive VoIP equipment will not necessarily prove the wisest decision. Check out the options and find one from a reputable vendor offering the features you want. Try them out to verify satisfactory sound quality as well.

Tip 3: Don’t Pay for Features You Don’t Need

Look at your office and how you use your phone system. Look at the features that you would not immediately employ, and ask yourself whether it makes sense to acquire hardware with those features. Hint: If you don’t think it likely that you will use them, you probably have no need for them.

Tip 4: Find a Good Provider

All VoIP was not created equal. Some providers offer better services than others. You can find lots of ratings online for both business and residential use. You will ultimately choose between a self-hosted system and a cloud-based provider. While managing a VoIP system does not pose serious problems, we think that for most readers, choosing a service provided and managed by professionals makes more sense. You have lots of choices; among those we think rank highest are Ooma (Ooma Office for business use), Vonage, Jive, and Ring Central.

Tip 5: Keep a Backup System

Keep at least one landline and an old-fashioned phone that draws power from the telephone line (you really don’t need more than one). Use it for emergencies when your Internet and possibly cell service both fail. It is possible that the landline will also fail, but sometimes things just happen, and you cannot do anything about it.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the American Bar Association (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus and Senior Technology Editor of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and continues to serve as a member of both magazines’ Editorial Boards. He also serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Information Technology and the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today’s Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He is on the faculty of California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Macpherson Energy Company in Bakersfield, California. Ashley is Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo eReport and is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, and the Bakersfield Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs. She may be reached at ahallene@hallenelaw.com.

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 7, February 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.