Cyberspace September 2007
My editor has insisted I discuss fax in the modern age, and amusingly, I received a fax from a registrar of the .com.au domain name space the other day because they couldn't email me. I've bowed to pressure.
Why would you send a fax? You have hard copy documents and can't scan them to image files; you or your recipient don't have an email account; or, your correspondent insists on a fax so he/she can see a signature. There might be other reasons, but I can't think of them.
My firm receives all faxes via several phone lines into a PC; the faxes arrive as computer images. An operator opens the fax, works out who it was meant for, and forwards it via email to the intended recipient. There are several advantages to this: it avoids printing them out and trudging around eight floors of our office; you can send a fax intended for an Auckland lawyer to our, say, Sydney fax number; if more than one person needs to read the fax it is as easily sent to 10 lawyers as it is to one; the fax is readily registered into our document management system, and can be forwarded to a client for information or instructions.
Setting up something like this is not incredibly hard - there is hardware and software to install in the PC, training, and an operations policy; e.g.: you need to consider what happens when the fax operator goes home but you're pulling an all-nighter.
Sending faxes electronically from our computer desktops is not something we've spent a lot of time on. Most faxes get sent by a dedicated fax operator in our mail room. He is good at detecting wrong numbers, sorting out problems if the line is engaged, and generally fixing a lot of little things that can go wrong - humans are good at that stuff.
Smaller and mid-size firms have quite different requirements - it might be fantastic for a lawyer to hit a key and send a fax from his/her PC. You can do this from your own PC in many ways (although that rules out sending a fax if someone wants to see an ink signature). If you run a other server-based email system such as Exchange then you can purchase an add-on (there are dozens of these). With one of these add-ons installed you can fire up Outlook, type a fax phone number into the recipient's address field (instead of an email address) and press the Send button. The server will turn your email and attachments into a fax and send it all in the background.
If you don't have a mail server, you can use a standard analog modem. Microsoft has a lengthy article (http://tinyurl.com/2fkjyf) on how to print, scan and fax from your Windows XP PC. Most modems are fax modems and you can hook one up to your PC, connect it to a phone wall socket, and "print to fax." Whatever you can print, you can fax. More sophisticated solutions allow everyone in the office to share the one outgoing fax/modem.
Doing it online
There are other options and you don't need any fax hardware at all (although a scanner can be useful). For example, I used mBox (http://tinyurl.com/3cnosc) for some time, and it lets you send and receive faxes via email (and does other things) for a monthly subscription. It saves on a dedicated fax line and does everything (if you have a scanner) that a fax can do. I'd seriously consider a service like this if I had 10 users or less - but consider privacy and confidentiality.
Don't forget that you can contribute to the fledgling http://practicesupport.org/, which is a discussion forum for legal or technology professionals. If you feel like reading some of my rants that don't make it into Cyberspace you can read more of me at http://acalvin.blogspot.com/.