Elizabeth Davidson reports

Richards Butler is to install a messaging system which will enable its staff to reply to e-mail via the telephone and to voice mail by e-mail, and to access both from either their phone or personal computer.

The firm has just piloted the use of Lucent Technologies' Octel Unified Messenger product among 80 staff members, and is about to install the system for all 400 staff at its City headquarters.

The aim is to create a personal communications centre for each member of staff which will incorporate internal e-mail, external e-mail, voice mail and fax.

Richards Butler signed a deal with Lucent for the technology in September for an undisclosed amount, although the partner in charge of IT, Ken Ollerton, claimed it was 'a reasonable cost for what it achieves'.

Ollerton said the new system meant lawyers could now ring their voice mailbox and listen to their e-mails, or send e-mails directly down the phone.

The firm's next move is to integrate a fax service into the system, although Ollerton said he was not yet sure if the system would enable lawyers to send faxes directly down the phone.

The messenger system works by adding a voice mail facility to Microsoft Exchange e-mail.

The Richards Butler system will be the largest of its kind to be installed in any business in Europe.