Skype 201: For Your Law Firm

By | Feb.22.11 | Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology

Last week in Skype 101, Lincoln Mead gave us the basics for how to get started using the VoIP communications system to talk long distance easily—and cheaply. While many enjoy it for personal use, did you know Skype can support communications, including face-to-face video and low-cost long distance, in small and medium-sized law firms, too? Here’s how.

The Skype Firm

Skype does provide custom solutions for enterprise customers, and businesses with as many as 2,000 employees use the service. It can be a great way to eliminate some headaches of buying, maintaining and supporting an in-house phone system. Since Skype is a true software-based solution, the only hardware you  need, regardless of firm size, is a PC or a Skype-capable phone.

Setting up your firm on Skype can be done quickly. Central administration is accomplished using Skype Manager, which:

  • Creates an account for each individual
  • Allocates numbers and Skype Credits to staff.  (Skype Credits are purchased in $10 blocks, or you can pay through subscription plans that start at $2.99 for unlimited calling per “phone” in the U.S. and Canada. )
  • Monitors usage
  • Shows account use in real time
  • Sets limits on individual use
  • Reallocates credits between individuals as needed
  • Provides reporting and forecast tools
  • Designates which features are available to individual users

Security and Emergency Service Support

How secure is the system? While not flawless, Skype security provides several layers of authentication and encryption and ensures that calls are encrypted from end to end. (Which is substantially more than takes place with even slightly older phone systems.) It is worth noting that , if calling outside of Skype’s network, encryption ends when the call leaves Skype’s network to connect to a local phone service.

Also, the nature of Skype’ security and operations means no location information is transmitted for Skype calls—so it is potentially ineffective for emergency service calls. (Skype states that it does not support calls to any emergency number or emergency service.) So, while Skype is a viable communications tool for conducting business, you will not want to eliminate all land lines. (I like 911!)

Skype is cost competitive when compared to both dedicated phone systems and hosted phone providers such as Vonage or 8×8. Test Skype alongside your current system and evaluate call quality and office network and Internet connection performance. You may find yourself slipping into a new phone system without realizing it.

Wouldn’t that be a nice change come bill-paying time?

Lincoln Mead is IT Director of the Utah State Bar and an obsessive fan of Cubs baseball. As IT Director, he assists Utah attorneys with evaluation of practice management technology and manages the IT vendor relationships on the Utah State Bar group benefits program. He is currently assisting the Utah state courts to educate attorneys on the court’s new e-filing system.

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