Conferencing Eased Via the Web

Leaderphone allows law firm to control, monitor calls, helps reduce costs.

Just about every company that uses conference calling has experienced the same frustration: As soon as the last participant is linked into the call, another participant who was previously connected somehow gets dropped.

To get around the vicious cycle, the law firm of Crabbe, Brown & James LLP, in Columbus, Ohio, is using an updated Web-based conference calling system from Leader Technologies Inc. While the firm still uses its telephone system for calls with a single participant, it sought a simpler, more efficient system for communicating with larger groups.

"To hold one person or mute him or get him back if he drops off was almost impossible with our telephone system. The more people who use it, the more it degrades," said Doreen Mazzanti, the firms MIS department manager, adding that operator-assisted teleconferencing is not cost-effective. "The big [telecommunications] companies are ridiculously expensive—enough to make you have a heart attack."

LeaderPhone is the first in a series of enterprise communications tools Leader Technologies plans to market, company officials said. The Westerville, Ohio, software maker filed two patent applications last month.

Later this year, the company plans to launch a scalable platform that will incorporate an enterprises digital communications into a common work environment. In essence, it acts as a secure intranet accessible over the Internet, making all voice and data traffic available over a single platform and stored in a single repository, said Mike McKibben, president and CEO of Leader Technologies.

With LeaderPhone Teleconferencing Service, the law firms attorneys or secretaries, using ordinary phones and browsers, can monitor a call over the Web and control the functions available to as many as 55 participants. The system calls all participants simultaneously, so no one has to wait for others to be added. The call initiator determines which participants are put on hold and which are muted—essential functions in a legal environment in which portions of a call are restricted, Mazzanti said.

Also, law firms often bring judges into telephone calls for pretrial conferences, and it is not in anyones interest to keep a judge waiting unnecessarily, Mazzanti said. "They want to wait until everyone else is there," she said. "It is important that a judge comes on when he wants to be there and that he goes when he wants to go."

Leader Technologies last month reduced its rates to 9.5 cents per minute on a per-second basis, rather than rounding calls up to the nearest minute. There are no setup fees or monthly charges. For very large enterprises that use millions of call minutes each month, Leader Technologies will license the LeaderPhone appliance, which is the size of a refrigerator, and install it on-site. The service is also available via Palm Inc.s handheld devices.

"We charge one rate for everybody, which is totally unique in the industry," said McKibben. "The primary cost in conference calling is the cost of the operator and administration of calls. Because weve automated the operator, weve eliminated the major cost."

On the flip side of the cost savings is one small—and manageable—annoyance, according to Mazzanti. When the system dials main switchboard numbers, rather than participants direct-dial numbers, and receptionists have not been notified that they will receive an automated LeaderPhone call, they often hang up, thinking that the call is from a telemarketer, she said.

"If the system calls you and a receptionist answers for you, its most likely that the receptionist doesnt know whats going on and would hang up because its not a real person calling them," Mazzanti said. "But more often than not, [call participants] give you a direct dial."