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Is Google Voice the right (free) phone system for your practice?

A version of this article was published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Law firms now have many alternatives to traditional multi-line phone systems. My firm uses Google Voice for its primary office line, and you might want to consider this uniquely powerful tool for your practice, even in addition to your current system. [Edit: we now use a LAN line through Regus in addition to Google Voice]

What do you get? Voice gives you a single phone number that rings to multiple devices and locations. A Voice number can ring directly to your desk, your office staff, your mobile phone, and a call answering service, to name just a few possibilities. Since Voice is a “Voice Over Internet Protocol” (VOIP) setup, calls can also be made to and from your desktop or notebook computer. I normally use my Voice line from an iPhone, but I’ve place calls from Europe on Voice using my tablet PC.

Fun functionality. Voice gives you much more than the ability to have a single number ring to multiple locations. A Voice number comes with its own online voicemail system, that also transcribes and emails your voicemails to you (if you want). I find the transcription quality reasonably good and certainly enough to get the gest of a call.

Voice also gives you the ability to send SMS text messages from your online Voice account or from email (if you’re responding). This can be tremendously helpful for communicating with younger clients. While drafting this article I used a series of brief messages with a client to quickly clarify a document request, complete payment arrangements, and setup an appointment. Also, text messages are easy to preserve in your client files.

International calls are extremely low cost over Voice, similar to other VOIP providers (India and Mexico City are both 2¢/minute). If you have an existing mobile (not landline) number, it can be converted into a Voice number for a fee of $20 (your mobile carrier may charge additional fees).

Voice has apps that work on all major data-enabled mobile phones, making it easy to place calls from your cell using a Voice number. One clunky aspect of Voice is that calls ring first to your device; you answer and then the intended caller is connected.

Marketing campaigns. The functionality and freebie-ness of Voice make it an attractive option for tracking marketing efforts, since you can setup a unique number for a given effort. A particular listing can be assigned its own number so you know how a client found you. Also, voicemail messages can be customized based on the caller’s number. Client-specific messages seem mostly creepy, but attorney colleagues – for example – could be funneled to a mercifully shortened message.

Drawbacks. I’ve found audio quality to be overall great, and this was echoed by other AILA attorneys who use the service. Quality appears most problematic when I make/receive calls using my computer rather than mobile. Although I seem to experience the most problems with 1-800 numbers and institutional phone systems, others didn’t share this experience.

Information sent though Voice is subject to Google’s general terms of service. These terms reserve to Google the right to access account content, and ethics experts debate whether use of Google products violates an attorney’s duty of confidentiality and/or waives privilege.  This should be seriously considered by an attorney choosing to use one or more Google products. Also, Voice allows the ability to record and transcribe calls, but this feature should be used with extreme caution as jurisdictions vary on the disclosure requirements for recording communications.

Voice might or might not be a good fit for your practice, but it’s at least worth exploring for some limited uses.

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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

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