Monday, April 18, 2016

In which the lawyer-blogger tries, and so far fails, to get rid of his fax line

I remember when fax machines were the new, bleeding-edge, must-have technology for law offices.

Well... maybe not so new in the 1980s... something like a fax machine, a wirephoto machine, figures prominently in the plot of the 1948 Jimmy Stewart classic, Call Northside 777 (filmed in Chicago, and based on a real-life wrongful conviction case).

But, whether the concept had been around for awhile or not, it wasn't until sometime in the mid-1980s that actual fax machines became ubiquitous in office settings.

The firm I worked for in those days resisted acquiring a fax machine for as long as possible. The senior partners there were wise enough to know that the very ability to pose questions instantaneously creates expectations that those questions will be answered just as quickly. With a fax machine, a client's question about a document could not be fended off by saying, well, I'll have to take a look at the document in order to see if it means what you think it means... you know, building in some time for reasoned consideration, evaluation, maybe even some research... oh no, just *ring, ring*, *whir, whir*, and the document was there, demanding instant interpretation.

And no fax machine ever went off on Friday after 4:30 p.m. with good news.

So I've never liked fax machines. And I haven't shed a single tear as fax machines gradually became yesterday's news, joining floppy disks and pocket pagers in the Office Technology Graveyard.

And yet, for years now, largely because of inertia if nothing else, I've maintained a fax machine and a dedicated phone line for said fax machine. Even though the faxes I receive on said machine look mostly like this one:

You know, once I remembered that I am a solo practitioner, I was able to figure out fairly quickly -- within a day or two, certainly -- that I probably didn't have an H.R. Department.

Hey, what's a little extra overhead among friends, right?

But AT&T finally motivated me to act.

For several years now, every single year -- long about this time -- AT&T would send me an office phone bill for roughly twice the amount I had been paying.

Technically, of course, the fault was mine. In 21st Century Corporate America, the customer is always wrong, whatever that old fool Marshall Field may have said: AT&T would send me letters or leave me messages asking me to sign up for a new plan -- these being different from the usual batch of letters that AT&T sends, or the voice mails that AT&T leaves, asking me to sign up for this or that, because these said my current plan would expire and I would lose my special business rate if I failed to act.

It took me a couple of years to realize that some of AT&T's junk letters and messages were just junk, but others were traps. And in the course of the passing seasons, and the press of business, I would forget the bitter lesson learned. And the double-whammy phone bill would arrive in predictable course, like the swallows at Capistrano.

But not last year. Last year, I wrote about my frustrations -- and I resolved to prevent this from ever happening again.

I would cut the cord.

A colleague had shown me the way: She kept her landline office number but 'ported' it to a cell phone. That way she could work from home, or from the hospital, just as if she were in the office (she was caring for a sick relative when she had her epiphany). And she already had a cell phone, so adding one line was quite a bit cheaper than the cheapest landline.

I had hoped to wait until March, the better to tie in with the annual expiration of my annual AT&T "business rate," but the catastrophic failure of my youngest son's cellphone at the end of January necessitated that I advance my plans. And Costco had a deal. And, after numerous calls and web visits while I stood around looking dumber than usual, the sales clerk said he'd started the process by which my office number would be successfully ported.

He said.

A week went by.

And my office number was still active as a landline.

I steeled myself for the ordeal, like Hercules undertaking his descent into Hades, and plunged into AT&T Phone Hell. After fending off all the computer guardians set to block my access to a real human, I finally spoke with a young lady and asked her why my account was still active.

It's scheduled to be disconnected, she assured me. All three lines? I asked (I had a rollover line in addition to the fax line; this was another holdover from the days when conference calling was pretty spiffy stuff). I'm closing out this account, I told her, and she asked why. I told her.

And, lo and behold, within a few more days, the main number was disconnected. My cellphone office number was up and running.

I disconnected my landline phone. I wanted to pull out the fax machine, too, but, alas, when I pressed "Hook" on the console, I still got a dial tone. I got the fax shown here after I asked for the disconnection of my AT&T service. It has since been joined by a sheaf of brother and sister junk faxes.

Meanwhile, I got another bill from AT&T. Now my old rollover number was the account number -- but, admittedly, there was a price decrease reflecting the change from three lines to two. Except that I had requested -- you'll recall -- to go from three lines to none.

I paid the bill. I marked it "Final" and "Under Protest" and put both account numbers on it -- all the things that we learned, way back in law school, that were supposed to be helpful in preserving rights but which we now know, in reality, to be a complete waste of ink.

So I girded my loins for another descent into Phone Hades.

Why did I get a bill? I asked, when I finally made it through the multiple menus and "all of our service representatives are still assisting other customers" announcements.

The new young lady looked up my account. Never mind that I'd given my new account number, my old account number, my shoe size, and my high school transcript to various computer guardians en route to speak with her. You are scheduled to be disconnected, she told me, eventually.

I am?

That's what it says here.

Can you tell me why I haven't been disconnected yet?

I can't tell from this screen, she told me (and I was not at all surprised), but you are scheduled.


I can't say for certain. Soon.

I let it go at that.

What a dope I am.

The double-whammy bill has since arrived. And I'm still getting faxes from my "H.R. Department."

Update: It took a complaint to the Illinois Commerce Commission, but I finally got AT&T to disconnect my fax line. The AT&T employees who responded instantaneously when the commerce commission complaint hit were very nice and entirely apologetic. But, seriously, should it have had to come to that?

Judicial blogger interviewed again on NTNM

I am a guest on an upcoming episode of Northtown News Magazine. However, with the permission of NTNM host and moderator Avy Meyers and his entire technical crew Sonny Hersh, you can avoid the wait and watch the interview now.

NTNM airs Thursdays on CAN-TV at 7:30 p.m., and again on Fridays at 2:30 p.m. It airs in Evanston on Cable Channel 6 on Thursdays at 5:00 p.m. and Sundays at 10:30 p.m. NTNM also airs on a number of cable systems in the suburbs Thursdays and Monday. Check your local listings for air times.