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David Anthony Colarusso - Sadly not Havoc Dinosaur
Intermittent musings on the law, science, education, technology, design, and life. Also, I build things: furniture, software, reasoned arguments... To learn more about that, click a persona below for my eponymous website.

Defense Attorneys and Google Voice: Should I Give My Cell Number to Clients?

by David Colarusso - February 13th, 2012

As a public defender, I know attorneys who think it’s a bad idea to share their cell numbers with clients, and I’ve heard enough stories about clients with boundary issues to understand why. Consequently, many attorneys make calls exclusivly from their office phones, or if they have to use their cell, say to make a call from court, they block its caller ID. This imposes limitations on how they interact with their clients and what they can do for them. Google Voice offers an alternative. Consider:

    1) People are less likely to answer when a call is coming from a blocked number. Many people ignore such calls (e.g., my parents’ line blocks all restricted numbers). This can be a problem if the number you are calling doesn’t have voicemail or a matter is time-sensitive, like figuring out what bail a client can make.

    2) Clients can’t reach an attorney who’s away from her desk without going through some intermediary, like an office mate who relays messages. This can lead to long games of phone tag.

    3) Attorney’s can’t text with clients. At first you might ask, “Why would an attorney want to text with clients?” To which I would offer that in my experience, texting makes communication easier which leads to better representation. For example, I’ve had a hearing impaired client for whom texting was a must. I’ve had clients who never pick up the phone when I call but always reply to texts. Some clients never check their voicemail, and some clients always have a full voicemail box. Some of you may be concerned about there being a record of texts, but ask yourself if the same concern stops you from leaving or accepting voicemails. I don’t use texting for extensive conversations or sharing confidential information, but it’s great for reminders and quick questions. Of course, your client has to have a cell phone and texting for this to matter, but again, in my experience most do.

Ideally, the state could provide us with work cells. We could turn them off at the end of the day or before we went to bed, but I imagine the chances of such an expenditure are quite small. This is where Google Voice comes in. It helps address all of the issues above while providing a few added perks, like the ability to forward calls and transcribe voicemails.

Google Voice is billed as way to replace multiple phone numbers with a single number that goes where you want it to. At its base, it’s a call forwarding system. You sign up for a Google Voice account, choose a Google Voice number, and set up forwarding to your phone(s). Your Google Voice number can ring your office, home, and cell all at once if you like. Or it could just ring one phone, allowing you to take advantage of its other offerings. It works with texts too. So even if you don’t have a cell, now you can send and receive text messages from your computer.

You can set up call screening based on your contact list and control if a call is forwarded to you or sent straight to voicemail. You can schedule times of the week or times of day when forwarding is okay, and times when it is not. There’s a lot to play with.

    1) It allows you to screen calls and turn off forwarding according to your contact list and schedule. This means that you can have unknown numbers sent straight to voicemail while letting a select number of clients connect with you directly on your cell or any other direct line. You can have all calls go straight to voicemail after work and on the weekends or between 2 and 3. You decide.

    To screen a subset of your contacts, adjust the settings under “Groups.” To set up a schedule for when calls are forwarded, click “Edit” for the phone in question, and make the desired changes under “advanced settings.”

    2) It allows you to make and receive calls and texts from your smartphone or your computer, and the number that comes up on caller ID is your Google Voice number. So you aren’t sharing your cell number.

    3) It can transcribe your voicemails and send them to your email, text them to your phone, or display them on your smartphone. This is great when you’re in court and can’t leave to listen to voicemails. The transcription isn’t perfect, but at least you can see who called and get a sense of what they need.

    4) It offers conference calling.

    5) You can even block Callers.

If you’re interested, Google Voice is free. So there’s no harm in checking it out. Simply visit: http://www.google.com/voice
If you already have a Google Account (e.g., Gmail), you can add Voice by signing in. However, you may want to consider creating a work account to keep your private and professional lives separate. After all, that’s probably why you aren’t just using your personal cell. To set up a new account, make sure that you aren’t logged into any Google services, and follow the directions on screen.

Entry Filed under: Law & Lawyering


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