I Love Living in the Future

Right now I am in California (getting ready to visit the Googleplex–feel free to be jealous). Yesterday, for the first time, I flew on a flight that had in-flight Wi-Fi. The cost was reasonable ($5) and the flight was longer than I liked, so I decided to try the Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi worked fine and I had no problems using it. I love the fact that I was able to keep up with my email on the flight, so that when I landed, I didn’t have to spend the first hour after arrival playing email catch up.

While working through my email, I was able to experience the benefits first hand of going paperless and using a virtual fax service rather than an actual fax machine.

While somewhere over the great plains, I received an email from a client that I had represented two years ago. She told me that she needed me to fax something to someone related to what I had assisted her with two years ago.

Fortunately, I ran a paperless office that integrates with the cloud. This means that, from the airplane, I was able to retrive the document from Spider Oak. If I had my laptop, I would have been able to retrive it directly from my hard drive. However, I am traveling only with my iPad, therefore, I had to retrive the document from the cloud.

Finding the document was easy. Once I had the document, I had to fax it to the recipient. Because I use a virtual fax service, send this email was no different from sending an email.

Despite the fact that I was 38,000 feet in the air, in about a total of 10 minutes time, I had received the email, retrieved the requested document from a case that had been closed for two years, and had faxed it to the person my client wanted to have it.

Without technology, obviously none of this would have been possible. Because of the technology, however, I was able to handle this task quickly and efficiently, regardless of my location.

Time to Kill the Fax Machine

I recently came across a article from 2009 that discusses 10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010 (hat tip Above the Law). The article is an interesting read. However, I practically cheered when I read the entry on fax machines. The other begins with:

The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago. When someone says “fax it to me,” I always feel like I’m being punk’d. A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.

Talk about hitting the nail on the head.

The author then describes the process that it typically takes to send and receive a fax:

Documents that are faxed usually start out in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally, it must be converted into a paper format. You insert the document, and the fax machine scans it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

The modem plays the noise over the phone line. At the other end, another fax machine also has a modem, which listens to the sounds, and converts them yet again into a digital document, just before it prints it out on paper. Now the data in the document has to be converted somehow into a digital format — either scanned or typed in by hand.

He then points out:

The document almost always begins and ends in digital format. But during this epic journey, the document is digital four times, paper twice and sound once.

Finally, he debunks the argument that I have never understood.

The mass delusion that perpetuates this obscenely inefficient technology is that paper “hard copy” is somehow more legitimate. In fact, gluing a copy of someone’s stolen signature to a document, then faxing it, is the easiest way mask a forgery because of the low quality of fax output.

Obviously, I agree with the author. My favorite point is the one he made in his first paragraph, “A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.” Let’s cut the waste. If you do have to fax, at least use a fax service, not an actual fax machine.

Are Lawyers Moving to Virtual Fax Services?

I recently read an interesting column at Law.com’s Legal Technology Blog about attorneys moving to virtual fax services.

I agree with much of what the author has to say in this post. In short, virtual fax services are great. I have used one for years. When I recently opened my own solo practice I never even considered buying a fax machine.

The author points out that virtual fax services have a variety of benefits including:

  • Let you go mobile
  • Improve privacy
  • Increase security
  • Keep a team informed
  • Keep faxes organized and available
  • Reduce costs and environmental footprint

Jump over and read the entire post. He makes some excellent points.

As I was reading his post, however, I was struck by the thought of whether this is the right tactic to be taking. Yes, virtual faxing has great benefits. In my book, however, the benefits are no greater than the benefits of engaging in the same communication via email. I use a virtual fax service because there are attorneys who still refuse to communicate via email. I can’t imagine that these attorneys are suddenly going to move to using a virtual fax service.

My question is, shouldn’t we be trying to move these attorneys to using email?

However, if you are like me and still dealing with attorneys who insist on using a fax machine, go to a virtual fax service. You will never regret the move. It’s as close to moving your communications to email as you are likely to get in today’s legal world.

E Fax Comparisons

It is no secret that I am a fan of efax services. If you are thinking about switching to an efax service, you should check out FaxCompare, which compares the various efax services available.

The site has good information and I recommend it for anyone thinking about signing up for an efax service. The only downside that I see to the site is that it does not yet compare all of the efax services.

Virtual Fax Services

Recently someone asked me about virtual fax services. I have written before about virtual faxes and why I would not go back to a regular fax machine. However, I have not talked about the different options available. In spending just a little time poking around the Internet today, I found several different services that are available. Below, I discuss the ones that I discovered. If anyone else has experience with any other services, I would be interested in hearing about them. As a point of reference, I think that it is essential that you can receive your faxes as PDFs rather than some proprietary fax format. All of the services listed below allow you to receive your faxes as PDFs.

  • Venali. This is the service I use. Overall I have been pleased with the service. Although I would like to see better integration with MS Office 2007. Also, I have found that their tech support people often do not understand or cannot answer my questions on the first try. It looks like for $9.95 a month you can get 100 inbound pages and 100 outbound pages. For $19.95, you can get 300 inbound pages and 200 outbound pages. Additional pages are $0.05 per page inbound and $0.08 per page outbound (the per page rate is one cent lower on the $19.95 a month plan).
  • MaxEmail. I have not used MaxEmail, but I have heard good things about it from others. The cheapest plan that allows you to have a local number is $9.95 a month (discounts are available for quarterly or yearly payments). This plan includes 250 inbound pages and 100 outbound pages. Additional inbound pages are $0.05 a page. Additional outbound pages are $0.05 per 30 seconds of transmission time.
  • MyFax. I don’t know anyone who has used MyFax. However, looking at the list of available features, this is a service I might be tempted to check out if I were signing up for a new service. With the $10 a month plan, you recieve 200 pages and send 100. For $20 a month, you can receive 200 pages and send 200 pages. Additional pages are $0.10 a page.
  • GreenFax. I had never heard of this service before today. However, it seems like a reasonable service. For $12.95 per month, you get 250 inbound pages and 100 outbound pages. Additional inbound pages are $0.03 per page. Additional outbound pages are $0.07 for the first page of a fax and $0.05 for each additional page. GreenFax also has a send-only pay-as-you-go plan that has no monthly service fee and charges $0.07 for the first page of a fax and $0.05 for each additional page of any fax you send.
  • Packetel. Packetel has a great deal, especially if you will be receiving a large number of faxes. For $3.95 per month, you can recieve an unlimited number of faxes. Local numbers are available for many, but not all areas.
  • Faxaway. This is another economical solution. You can set up an account to receive faxes for $1 per month. Sending faxes is $0.10 per minute of transmission. The thing I don’t like about this service is that you are limited to a Seattle area code.
  • eFax. eFax has been around for a long time and claims to be the world’s #1 internet fax service. I have never liked eFax because their faxes are sent in a propriety format rather than as a PDF. The service now allows you to convert them to PDF, however I don’t think you should have to go through an additional step to do this. Additionally, their pricing seems less competitive than the other services. For $16.95 a month you get 130 inbound pages and 30 outbound pages. Additional pages are $0.15 per page inbound and $0.10 per page outbound. For $19.95 a month, you get 200 inbound pages and no outbound pages. Additional inbound pages and all outbound pages are $0.10 per page. Update: As indicated in the comment below, eFax does allow you to receive your faxes in PDF format.

If you are looking for a full-featured single fax solution, I think any of the solutions offered by Venali, MaxEmail, MyFax, or GreenFax would be just fine. If cost is a big concern, or if you receive a lot of faxes and don’t send many, you might consider a mixed solution in which you receive your faxes through Packetel and then send your faxes through GreenFax’s pay-as-you-go plan.

Given the low cost of Packetel’s plan, and the limitations of Faxaway’s, I would likely avoid Faxaway. Simiarly, I would be inclined to avoid eFax because of their reliance on their proprietary software as well as the fact that the other services are more attractively priced.