When I started my own law firm nearly five years ago, I knew that I would need a phone number, email address, and all of the other means by which clients and counsel could reach me. When I signed up the business for a phone number, a fax number was also included in the deal. I never owned a fax machine, but since setting up my fax line, if anyone uses my business fax number, I get an email containing the faxed materials. Over the years, I received some faxes from vendors and counsel, but I can’t remember a recent time that I received or sent a fax. However, most law firms still seem to maintain fax numbers, and in some instances, fax numbers can be helpful to legal professionals.
Perhaps the main reason that faxes are sometimes useful is when people want to create less of a record when conducting legal business. For instance, some judges have traditionally preferred receiving faxes rather than emails from lawyers. I once asked a court clerk why this was the case. The clerk explained that faxes can create less hassle for a judge. With an email, a record of the communication is saved forever, which can create issues if a request is made for communications with chambers.
However, with faxes, the court receives a copy of a communication and any attached materials, and there is simply a hard copy rather than a soft copy of the communication that exists somewhere. As a result, there is less of a record associated with the communication. Of course, faxes are less convenient when communicating with courts, since it is more difficult to confirm that a fax was sent, there is less of a record of the communication, and faxes are difficult when sending numerous pages. Moreover, a smaller record is only created if the recipient uses a traditional fax machine and eschews a fax-to-email application. However, faxes can still be helpful in reducing the record of a communication in some instances.
I once spoke with a court clerk who said that some judges also prefer to communicate by fax when sending draft opinions between jurists. Apparently, sending a draft by fax might make it more difficult for a fax to leak and may ensure there is less of a record of a draft opinion. This can be helpful if a final opinion varies greatly from draft opinions, and circulating items via fax might be more secure than sending opinions and other sensitive information by email.
Some vendors might prefer to use faxes for a variety of reasons. For instance, I once had to communicate with a medical vendor via fax. I did not really understand why this vendor preferred fax when email or an internet application could be used to coordinate matters between the vendor and other stakeholders to a matter. I asked the vendor about this, and they said that faxes were better for sensitive information — medical information, social security numbers, and other such items that could cause damage if leaked — because of the risk of an email account getting hacked or some other IT breach.
However, if matters were faxed, and no soft copy of the materials was exchanged between the vendor and others, there was no risk of a breach unless someone accessed the hard copy files of the vendor. Of course, faxing matters with the vendor could make it more difficult for the vendor to keep track of communications and records related to the matters upon which the vendor was working. However, the vendor thought that any disadvantages were worth the increased security associated with using faxes.
Although faxes might seem like antiquated technology from the past, they still have uses in the practice of law. Whether faxes will be useful in the next decade or so is anyone’s guess, but for now, it wouldn’t hurt if law firms continue to maintain their fax numbers.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.