Integrated technology makes our lives easier in so many ways. For your law firm, being able to connect a cloud-based phone system with your existing technology can simplify and streamline your office workflows even further.

As you consider your options for a new phone system, it’s important to first recognize that phone systems aren’t all the same. When we talk about phone systems, we’re generally referring to two technologies: the PBX (Private Branch Exchange) and the phone on the desk.

Knowing whether you want a new phone or a new PBX is important. Just because your PBX supports a feature, doesn’t mean the phone does, and vice versa. Replacing your old PBX with a new cloud PBX may grant new features while removing others.

When you’re ready to make a phone system decision, be sure to ask the vendor these questions before making your purchase.

How well will the phone system integrate with your existing technology and workflows?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) enables you to make calls delivered over the internet, but each vendor’s solution will likely offer slightly different features and functionality. Be sure to understand how integration will look in practice at your law firm before committing to one. For example, will there be limitations to how many calls can be made concurrently from the office? Are you able to see if someone is available by looking at your phone’s display? Where are the messages stored? Ask these and other questions relevant to your workplace practices as well as liability and confidentiality concerns.

Will the phone system be compatible with your current tech systems?

Most every law firm relies on several technological systems – some newer and some older. Take an inventory of all your devices and systems. Then, ask if any of them will be impacted when implementing a new phone system.

Sometimes there may be compatibility limitations with your existing technology systems, especially if they are older. This is something you definitely want to know before encountering a critical issue after implementing a new phone system. Smaller law firms often rent space where they share a receptionist. These locations frequently have reliable but very old equipment (and sometimes new equipment) that just won’t integrate with how you envision calls transfers to work.

Compatibility for your phone system has a lot to do with cables. A lot of new offices are wireless first, but then there isn’t a cable for your physical phone. It can be quite costly to run cables for every phone, so phone vendors will tell you that their phones come with built-in switches to daisy chain the existing computer connection to the phone. It’s great until it doesn’t work. Then the vendor will say it’s your network, not their phone or their phone service, that is the issue. To prevent problems, it’s always better to have a separate switch and cable for the phone.

On the flip side, softphones that don’t require the same cabling work wonders, but they take up real estate on your desktop. While some people are against losing real estate for a softphone, these kinds of cloud-based systems and softphones allow you to integrate with Practice Management systems like Clio, which gives you the opportunity to track and bill calls on another level. That said, if you’re interested in reporting on call volume, time between transfers, recording calls for quality assurance, then it’s good to know that a lot of these services don’t do that by default. You’ll want to ask.

How much does the phone system cost?

Deciphering costs can sometimes be a frustrating experience, and each vendor may lay out its pricing structure differently. This can make it difficult to compare your options. Get as many specifics as you can about pricing plan options and limitations, and then talk to your current IT vendor. They can help you understand the similarities and differences among pricing plans so that you can compare apples-to-apples and advise you on the type of solution most effective for your firm.

A Few More Thoughts on Phone Systems

Choosing a phone system technology for your law firm is a complex process. In addition to the above considerations, you’ll also want to know if the VoIP service works from anywhere or if it’s tied to a specific building, as these are different services. For example, AT&T has a VoIP service just for the office but uses a white-labeled third party to offer a work-from-anywhere functionality. These are different services that come with different pricing.

Moreover, when you work from anywhere, that doesn’t mean the service is reliable, even if your internet connection is. You will likely have poor or mixed results using a virtual staffer outside of the country while relying on a cloud service that has all of its servers in the US. Also, if your practice makes use of services like Securus, you’ll want to consider how that would work in your workflow.

Integrating your phone system with your current technology can further improve productivity at your firm but it’s not without its complexities. As you evaluate your many options, be sure to ask these questions and get in touch with us at Honeycrisp for help.

Luke Kumanchik

Entrepreneur, programmer, backyard farmer & Dungeon Master Extraordinaire.