Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

Who Answers Your Phone?

After twenty years of operating my own law firm, I still answer my own phone – much to the pleasant surprise of many of my callers. Though you’d think that having the firm principal pick up would signal a one-person, fly-by-night operation, to the contrary, callers’ ability to get in touch with me directly conveys the impression that I’m an accessible, hands-on kind of lawyer.

Of course, answering the phone works for my practice because frankly, I don’t get all that many calls. Most of my clients and referrals who want to speak with me by phone will typically email me initially to determine a mutually agreeable time for a call. And because my work is so specialized and many cases come via referral, when clients reach my voice mail, they’re not likely to move on to the next lawyer on the list of internet search results. That means if I’m too busy to talk, I can let calls go through to voicemail without fear of losing a piece of business.

But what about lawyers who aren’t in such a position?

Take lawyers with consumer-based practices or who represent clients in criminal, drunk driving or family law matters, who often get calls from people who need a lawyer immediately. Likewise, lawyers with extensive online marketing campaigns may often field two or three calls a day from prospective clients. Answering the phone and chatting with every caller isn’t feasible in these situations.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for lawyers who can’t or don’t want to pick up the phone every time it rings — but who also don’t want to hire a full-time employee to answer. For example, lawyers who have a shared-suite arrangement can often arrange for the receptionist in the suite to pick up and forward their calls. Bear in mind that sometimes these arrangements can pose confidentiality problems — for example, if the receptionist leaves notes with client information in a common part of the suite or speaks with the client about case details in an open area.

There are also many other virtual answering services like Ruby Receptionists, DaVinci Virtual or Total Attorneys that offer virtual answering service plans on a monthly or per-minute basis. Though the cost can add up for a high volume practice, having a live receptionist answer calls may also help retain clients.

Who picks up the phone in your office – when you’re there, and more importantly, when you’re not? Please share your comments below.


Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.com since 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at elefant@myshingle.com or follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.

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