If your law firm has a phone system hanging in your closet and you’re looking to it move to the cloud, this is for you.
The first and most important step is to collect a list of all the important phone numbers the attorneys at your law firm are currently using. Although they might be with different carriers, the ideal end state is that one carrier has all your numbers, so this initial accounting is an important first step.
Next, you would benefit from writing down a rough idea of how you would like phone calls to be handled once they enter your law firm. This doesn’t have to be formal as each carrier has a slightly different implementation method, but understanding roughly what a phone call should look like in your law firm is a great first step, even if it’s written on pencil and paper.
You will want to evaluate your overall spend. This includes all carriers if you have multiple phone systems or phone service providers in your organization. Getting the most recent copy of an invoice for each carrier will be immensely helpful in both making sure you are including all important features your law firm uses, as well as accurately identifying overall cost for the new consolidated carrier.
As an optional prerequisite step, you can look to configure call flow and phone system properties prior to kicking off the port process to transfer call handling to the new carrier. Setting up call routing in advance is an optional step and can be done after the migration as well.
Once you have these, the actual migration process is straightforward. First, the new carrier will send you new physical phones, or provide you with login and password information for a new softphone. A new softphone could be, for example, an application on your phone or a desktop computer program. Next, a temporary phone number will be assigned by the new carrier to each phone. This temporary number will be an actual phone number that you could call directly and ring the phone, but that’s not its primary purpose during the migration here. In preparation for the new carrier, you will set each of the active main phone numbers at your law firm to call forward to the temporary phone numbers on the new carrier. This way, once calls come into the numbers that everyone already has, they will be forwarded to the phones that the new carrier uses, so your attorneys will receive phone calls to the numbers everyone in the rest of the world already has, except those calls will now ring on the new phone system. Next, you can program the new carrier to present the caller ID which you would like for each phone. For example, if you have eight phones and each phone had their own dedicated direct inward dial phone number, you could mask the caller ID so that anytime a call is made out from that phone, the masked caller ID shows up with the phone number that everyone recognizes. The next step is to kick off something called the porting process. In this process, the losing carrier will transfer incoming call handle responsibility to the new carrier. The public switched telephone network knows that a particular carrier is responsible for handling phone numbers. An easy way to think about this is to consider for example, if you have your phone service through AT&T, but decide to change to Verizon, you can still keep your same cell phone number. The transition from AT&T to Verizon in this case is very similar to the porting process that your office phone numbers will go through from the losing carrier to the gaining carrier. The port process can take up to 30 days, and if any of the initial paperwork is not done correctly, the losing carrier may reject the port attempt and you might need to start over, so it’s important that you get it right the first time to avoid delays. During the port process, incoming calls to the known public phone numbers will arrive at the losing carrier‘s net worth, but he sent via call forward to the temporary phone numbers associated with the new phones at the gaining carrier. Once the port process complete successfully, the gaining carrier will directly receive the request for an incoming call to the number that it now manages, and it will also send it directly to that new phone on the new phone system. In this design, there is no opportunity for missed incoming calls during the transition to the new phone system. Once the port process is complete, the gaining carrier will no longer need to mask the outbound caller ID as they will be managing those numbers, so the outgoing caller ID will show the public number natively.
Once you can confirm that incoming and outgoing calls are working as expected, and you confirmed that the losing carrier is no longer receiving incoming calls and is also not processing any call forwarding, you can see if we decommission the old phone system and remove any physical equipment associated with its service.
The design difference between a cloud hosted PBX and an on premises PDX is rather substantial. In a traditional law firm on premises phone system, a major carrier like spectrum or Verizon will provide phone service as a set of copper wires which come from their equipment and are connected into a large wall unit that handles call routing, voicemail and other phone system features. The on-premises PBX model works, but it has significant drawbacks. First, if that PBX system is ever physically off-line, call handling and routing will fail. Second, the system is limited to whatever functionality is coded into the firmware of that device itself. Lastly, if there are any repairs needed to that phone system, your law firm would need to find a dedicated phone system technician and a truck role would be required to physically repair and replace equipment. The on-premises PBX model works, but it’s not a great foundation for growth.
Choosing a Carrier
There are dozens of highly reliable phone carriers in North America that can provide service to your law firm, although they are not all the same. Some own their own infrastructure, and others simply lease it. Some services have fantastic marketing, but unproven track records on call quality and up time. More mature cloud-based PBX systems will offer advanced functionality link voice sentiment analysis, attorney versus client to talk time, time during which attorneys and clients are talking over each other, and other very detailed insights. Basic reporting is included across most major carriers, but automation and integrations are highly dependent upon what the phone carrier has prioritized in their software development plan. If you have the time, work with your technology partner to lay out what goals would be helpful for your law firm to succeed in the coming year, and you can then work together to evaluate a phone carrier that will best help meet those needs.
Will I have any interruption in phone service during a transition?
Answer – no, not if it’s done correctly. Phone service will forward to a temporary number and outbound calls will have their caller ID masked, so when done correctly, there will be no interruption in service.
Is there any equipment to maintain, like when I have in my server closet now?
Answer – potentially, you can operate a modern phone system without any physical equipment. It’s entirely possible to deploy just soft phones and desktop applications and make calls through web browsers with no physical phones. However, in our experience, most attorneys prefer to have a physical phone. A good carrier will offer both, so while it is not required, it is certainly an option.
If I get a phone call from one of my attorneys working from home, can they transfer that to me in the office?
Answer – yes. You should be able to do this. Once you have an active call in progress, it doesn’t really matter which physical or soft phone is handling the call. A call should be able to be put on hold and transfer to another phone in a completely different part of the world as it’s just a data connection. This is a fundamental we different approach than an on-premises PBX, so the best way to think about this is that the phone call is actually being handled in the cloud PBX, and the connection is simply being switched from one remote phone to another remote phone, regardless as to where the phone is located, or the Internet carrier that the particular phone is using.
Will I be able to get analytics and reporting?
Yes – most modern phone carriers will have built-in reporting capabilities, but some have gone the extra mile to include an API which will allow other reporting engines and systems to connect in for more advanced analysis. In our experience, most law firms will only need basic reporting for things like number of calls answered per person, call handle time, and number of outbound and inbound calls.