"Let Your Computer Do The Dialing"

An edited version of this article was originally published in Computer Counselor column of the November 1988 issue of the Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine.

Comments are generalizations and may not apply to every situation. It is advisable to consult with a competent professional before relying on any written commentary. Paul D. Supnik is a member of the State Bar of California and not of any other state or country. The material set forth herein is not for the purpose of soliciting any engagements where to do so would be to offend or violate the professional standards of any other state, country or bar. This web page Copyright 1989, 1996 by Paul D. Supnik

This month, The Computer Counselor will be discussing the relationship between your telephone and the computer. There are two main purposes for connecting a telephone to a computer in a law office. One is to be able to access databases, such as LEXIS, NEXIS, WESTLAW, DIALOG and others. The other reason is to help you dial the phone. This article will primarily deal with the latter purpose--dialing the phone.

For those of you who are not yet aware, computers can be easily used to place your telephone calls. Many of you may be tempted to stop reading this article because you think that a computer dialing the phone is a frivolous idea. After all, most phones now have speed dialers. And you do have a secretary who can dial your calls to impress certain clients and presumably save your time (which is much more valuable, of course than the paltry $30,000 salary of that of the secretary which goes unbilled).

However, let me put forth the proposition that there still is a place for computer dialing -- if four conditions are satisfied. First is that the computer must be easy to use. The second is that it should not take more time for you to dial a phone call than to buzz your secretary to dial the phone call. The third is that the billing for the phone call will not go unnoticed and you will be able to log the call effortlessly. Finally, there must be a benefit, such as not having to look for numbers on a rolodex, not having to find numbers on tiny slips of paper, or rummage through files for telephone numbers. With some of the software now available, you can place the information for dialing a telephone call in a program very quickly, have the program search for the name instantly, and by pressing a few keys, dial the number.

How many times have you requested your secretary to place a call -- but couldn't and had to wait because your secretary was down the hall making copies, sending a fax or out to lunch. Should that occur, you would have to wait to make the call, in which case the call might not be made -- or the time delay might have made it moot or less beneficial. Have you ever taken the effort of thumbing through the rolodex or other list of phone numbers, the files or numerous slips of paper, finally find the number, dial the number by hand, only to find it busy?

Had you a computer with appropriate software, you might only have to press a key on your computer to bring up the dialing program, type a few letters of the name and another key to have it search for the name of whom you want to dial, and another keys will cause the phone to dial for you. And if it is busy you can have the last number redialed (now almost a standard feature on modern phones). By doing so you will have saved your time, your concern about not having the call made immediately, your secretary's time (admittedly certainly not particularly valuable--unless you had an important document to get out of your office, and your secretary was using that time instead to dial you phone calls).

What do you need to let your computer do the dialing? First you need a modem. An adequate one will cost as little as $100, and should not cost more than about $500. It is recommended that while you are at it spend enough so that it is a 2400 baud modem, so that you can use it also for computer legal research such as LEXIS, WESTLAW or other databases, should you choose to do so.

What are the possible software products that you can use? There are numerous products, some self contained and others as a feature of other programs. A utilities program called Sidekick Plus has a dialer program. Wordperfect Library, which is a "shell" or "menu" program, includes a flat file database program called Notebook. Notebook, among its other uses, allows you to keep the names and addresses of various people with their phone numbers. The program dynamically searches for names. When the program is on the computer, and you have a list of names and phone numbers, all you have to do is type a few letters of the parties names, sufficient to distinguish the names from others in the list. The cursor will immediately move to the closest name. If it is not the right name, type a few more letters or move the cursor up or down. Then press the F4 key twice and the computer is dialing out the number. Keep your speaker phone on and pick it up, if you want to be polite, when someone answers, or be a little offensive and leave it on.

There is one program which I will spend considerable time with here because I find it to be so excellent and useful. The program is called Hot Line Two from General Information, Inc. of Kirkland, Washington. It is a memory resident program which means that it pops over any other program that you are using. If you do not have expanded memory in your computer (you should know if you have it--it is fairly expensive now, but not so expensive perhaps six months from now, when the computer chip memory shortage is expected to subside) it takes up perhaps 72K to 85K of memory. If you have expanded memory in your computer, it takes up only 3K of RAM and the rest resides in expanded memory. Hot Line Two assigns about 10 "hot keys" which cause certain actions to occur from within what ever other program you are working on, such as your word processing program.

One hot key will bring up a personal phone book. Type a few letters of the last name and the name and phone number instantly appears. Type the return key and your number is dialed instantly. When your party answers, press the space bar on your computer and the program disappears from your screen, except for a one line high one inch long timer that stays on your screen to time the call. Compare that with the time it takes to buzz your secretary and have her place a call.

Simply being able to dial a number is not the only feature of this program. Once you have located the number that you want to dial, you could press the edit key F10 and bring up a screen of information for you to change that persons address, add a comment line or store other information, which is saved by simply hitting the return key. When the phone call is over, by pressing one of the hot keys, the timer goes off the screen. Another key will show you a time log, showing who you called, the phone number, date and number of minutes on the phone.

There are several features of the program that appear rather frivolous and features that you probably would not ever buy if it was not for the automatic dialing feature, but as long as they exist, can be somewhat useful. Press another hot key and an area code key comes on the screen. Type the area code to find the area in the country serviced by that area code. Type another hot key and an area code finder comes on the screen. Type a few letters of the name of the city, and the area code for that city will come on the screen, along with the time of day for that region of the country. Press the return or enter key on the computer keyboard and the telephone is already dialing directory assistance for that area code.

In addition to allowing you to have your own directory, the program comes with a national directory of business telephone numbers throughout the United States. Sounds useless? Almost. It does have all the airlines, major hotels, major corporations, and even major law firms listed. For example, type "GIBS" and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher comes on the screen. "O'" brings up O'Melveny & Myers and "LATH" brings up Latham and Watkins. Other specialized directory files can be purchased from the company. Probably the most useful file for lawyers which they apparently do not offer at the present time (are you listening, Parker's?) is a directory of lawyers in California such as the Parker's directory with name and address listings.

Assume you are working on a document in the computer and a phone number appears of a witness that you would like to call. Simply pop up Hot Line Two over the screen, press a few keys and the program tells you it has found a telephone number on the screen. Press the return key and it dials the number. If your number was busy, another hot key will redial the last number you dialed. Trying to call the court or a government agency? Of course its busy. Hot Line Two will continue to redial it at intervals of your choosing until it gets through.

One of the problems you may have today is connecting a computer to the phone systems that are currently in use in the law office. If you have a single line telephone, connection is simple. The problem is that no one practices law with a single line phone. However, most modern phone systems are capable of connection to modems. AT&T sells a device for several hundred dollars that allows you to use this feature with their Merlin telephones. Other telephone companies and third party suppliers have telephones accessories with similar features. If all else fails, have Pacific Bell bring in a separate single line to your office for you to use solely for outgoing calls and connect a simple inexpensive speaker telephone to the line through the modem. The cost still will be relatively nominal, and the time and effort you save in being able to let the computer do the dialing will ultimately be a time and money saver.

Suggested Title:

"Let Your Computer Do The Dialing"

By: Paul D. Supnik


Paul D. Supnik is a partner with the Beverly Hills firm of Nemschoff & Supnik and practices in the areas of entertainment, copyright, trademark and unfair competition law. He is a past chair of the Intellectual Property Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, as well as founder and former chair of the Lawyers Using Computers Committee.



The article explains the benefits of using a computer with a telephone to dial calls. A new computer program is reviewed, "Hot Line Two" which quickly dials calls from a computer.