Total Attorneys Virtual Receptionist Service

After I reviewed Ruby Receptionists, Total Attorneys President Kevin Chern emailed me to ask me to review his company’s Virtual Receptionist service, saying “We consistently hear from customers that we kick Ruby’s ass.” After using Total Attorneys’ service for a couple of months, I don’t share that assessment, even though TA’s Virtual Receptionist has some important advantages over Ruby Receptionists.

Read on for my in-depth impressions.

Pricing and setting up Virtual Receptionist

One of the most attractive features of Virtual Receptionist for me is the price. Instead of paying a flat monthly rate, as with Ruby, you pay per call. For about $200, you get 50 calls (I got a free block of 50 calls in order to review the service). The length of the calls doesn’t matter; you get 50. Those calls don’t expire, either, so you can take two weeks or two months to use them up. (I’m not sure what happens when you run out. I assume Total Attorneys will let me know so I can stock up on calls.) I’ve scaled back my practice considerably, so I get maybe thirty calls a month. That makes Total Attorneys a pretty cost-effective option for me, at least compared to Ruby, where the lowest-priced plan (with a lot more minutes than I need) is $219 per month.

Getting set up with Virtual Receptionist is pretty easy. You fill out a questionnaire with your personal information, how to pronounce your name, and call handling instructions. Once you’ve done that, Total Attorneys will give you a phone number to use. I used Google Voice to redirect my calls to Total Attorneys. It took us a few tries to get that right, but my Virtual Receptionist liaison was helpful, and I think the difficulty was due to Google, not Total Attorneys.

This experience was similar to my Call Ruby setup process, except that Ruby sent me a thank-you package as soon as I was set up (during the free trial period, even!), and called soon after to make sure everything was working how I wanted it to work. I’ve never gotten so much as a thank-you note from Total Attorneys, much less a check-in phone call or care package.

Those perks don’t make the service itself better or worse, but it is nice to feel like your business is appreciated.

Working with Virtual Receptionist

Total Attorneys staffs its call center 24/7, meaning someone will pick up your phone no matter when it rings. (This is an advantage over Ruby Receptionists, which is only available during coast-to-coast business hours.) As a civil litigator and business lawyer, I don’t get too many 2 a.m. phone calls, but you might have a need for 24/7 coverage.

TA Virtual Receptionist calls are answered in Chicago—I actually visited the call center earlier this year during the ABA TechShow conference—according to your instructions. You can have your calls handled in a number of different ways. My instructions were to get a name, phone number, and the reason for the call from every caller. Anyone who specifically asks to speak with me should be put through. This can be a “warm transfer,” meaning the receptionist calls me, first, to see if I really want the call. I can accept the call, send back a message, etc. Otherwise, I just get a message by email. I prefer this to voicemail, since the receptionist can just give me the salient details, and I don’t have to listen to a long-rambling message. And it works better than the hit-or-miss voicemail transcription feature of Google Voice.

As with Ruby, you can update your instructions on the fly. So if you are going to be in court for the day, you can log into your dashboard and tell Virtual Receptionist to hold your calls. There’s no iPhone app, but it’s not difficult to log in from a smartphone, anyway.

Everything works very smoothly, from the customer’s end. It feels just like having a receptionist, except that you don’t have to find office space for one—or pay a salary.

What callers experience

When you get right down to it, though, none of the above really matters. The only reason to have anyone answer the phone is for your callers. Just as I did with Call Ruby, I made a couple of test calls and asked callers what they thought about my receptionist. Here’s where Total Attorneys really distinguished itself from Call Ruby: the reactions were 100% negative.

Every caller I spoke with said they were put off by the receptionist’s manner, didn’t have confidence in the receptionist’s competence (i.e., that I would actually get the message), and that the receptionist did not reflect well on my firm. The first time I got this feedback, I chalked it up to bad communication or my receptionist having a bad day. After three or four other people agreed, I decided it was a bigger problem.

I did send my concerns to Total Attorneys. I was hoping for some assurance that my results were an anomaly, or that my instructions had a “programming” error that was responsible for the negative reactions (even though Ruby Receptionists got the same instructions). That was weeks ago, and I haven’t received any follow-up. (If I had sent the same complaint to Ruby, I’d probably have five thank-you notes and a gift basket within hours. Plus, when I was using Ruby, several callers actually told me—unprompted—how nice my receptionist was.)

It is definitely possible that my callers were unusually sensitive, or that they had unusually high expectations, but I don’t think so. The callers I polled included my wife, potential clients, an attorney who wanted to refer a client, and a networking contact. I think I had a pretty good sample that gave me representative feedback.

It is quite possible that Total Attorneys has fixed these problems by now, and just forgot to respond to my email. Or that I just had rotten luck and got a series of receptionists in the middle of a bad day. Whatever the cause of the poor service my callers received, they did receive bad service, and that is counterproductive.

Downsides of going virtual

Regardless of the quality of service I received from Total Attorneys in particular, there are some important concerns with using a virtual receptionist, in general.

For example, while Total Attorneys was handling my calls, I started getting calls from a debt collector for “Jane Doe.” (This wasn’t Total Attorneys’ fault, obviously.) Virtual Receptionist took the messages, and I received the messages by email, as usual. This was a lot better than talking to the debt collector personally, although if the calls were going through, I could have just asked the collector to stop calling.

When I did finally call the collection agency, however, I found out that Virtual Receptionist was saying that they would be sure to pass the message on to Jane Doe. There is no Jane Doe at my firm. There is nobody but me, in fact.

When I told Total Attorneys that I had a problem with virtual receptionists making up new members of my firm, here is the response I received:

I can assure you that our receptionists have not been intentionally lying about who works in your office. Sometimes, we are not given the names or information for new employees in our sponsors’ offices. To be sure that we are delivering all messages and calls that come into your toll free number, our receptionists have been informed to take a message unless we are provided with information proving otherwise.

It’s great that Total Attorneys wants to be sure it is delivering all messages and calls, but that doesn’t mean it has to give callers the false impression that someone works for me. A receptionist should have a list of people at the firm. If a caller asks for someone not on the list, the response should be honest. Something like this would be better: “I don’t see that person on my staff list, but I can give your number to a manager, if you like.” If Total Attorneys isn’t asking for a list of staff, it should be.

Similar issues may arise from time to time that threaten to “expose” the fact that your receptionist is not in your office. First, this should not be a secret. If you choose to use a virtual receptionist, both you and your virtual receptionist should be up-front about that fact, should it arise. You don’t have to shout it at every caller, but your receptionist should never conceal it (like mine did, when they pretended to know that Jane Doe works at my firm). In my case, the receptionists’ deception just meant I just had a harder time convincing the collection agency that it had the wrong number. I can think of wrong-number scenarios with much worse consequences, however.

Total Attorneys—and any virtual receptionist—needs to get a staff list from its customers and come up with a better way of handling calls to people who aren’t on that list.

So what’s the best virtual receptionist for the job?

Without taking price into consideration, I think Ruby Receptionists is the better option. Its customer service is outstanding, and so is its quality of service to callers. The receptionists at Ruby handle your calls like seasoned professionals, while the receptionists at Total Attorneys seem more like inexperienced law clerks.

For many of us, though, price remains an important consideration. Depending on your call volume, Total Attorneys could cost far less than Ruby, and you might want to have someone answering your phone even when you can’t. But if you decide to give Total Attorneys a try, make sure you get feedback from your callers to make sure you are happy with the way your calls are being handled. 

With my low call volume—twenty to forty calls per month—I’m going to go back to answering my own phone for a while. But the month my call volume goes up to fifty or more, I’m going back to Ruby. I already know I’m not the best person to answer my own phone, but I’m not willing to pay good money for someone who doesn’t do a better job.

(photo: Shutterstock)

Practice Management

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  • Adron Beene

    I use Call Ruby. All my clients love the spirited service. You keep whining about the cost. First it is an expense and far less than hiring a person. What is your hourly rate and how much time to you spend with telemarketers when you answer your own phone? Or how much time do you spend callingnin for messages? I pay about $400 per month because of call volume. I get emails with the number of the caller and a wave file so I do not have to call in for messages. All that means I save time getting back to clients. It is worth the cost.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Whining? I think I’ve said over and over that Call Ruby is well worth the cost if you are going to use the minutes. It’s not worth the cost if, like me, you have a very low volume of calls you want to route through a receptionist. Right now, I wouldn’t use a tenth of the minutes in the lowest plan, which means I would be paying Call Ruby something like $1,000+ per hour.

      I would love to see Call Ruby implement some actual usage–based (as opposed to prospective usage–based) pricing, but I understand why it has the plans it does. Ruby has to pay receptionists to wait for your calls whether or not you get those calls. You pay for availability, not just phone time. It makes sense, even if it’s not ideal for me.

  • http://www.hamplaw.com Shawn Hamp

    I use business connections based in Oregon. They provide a local number to forward your calls and offer good quality service. Messages are forwarded via text message and email and urgent calls or potential clients can be handed off to your back line or cell phone.

  • http://lawyersgetsocial.com/ Randy Wilson

    There is another alternative, Reliable Receptionist, where I have visited the call center and seen how professional the receptionists are. They allow for customized scripts that not only pass messages but will also help field routine issues so that you as the attorney are prepared for the caller before calling them back. Check them out:

    http://reliablereceptionist.com/

  • http://capstonelawmn.com/ Rob Shainess

    I for one have always been put off by these receptionist services. I always feel that I’m being “screened.” I prefer using Google voice, and answering my own phone. If I don’t pick up, clients leave a message, and I return their call promptly. When I was a big-law, I had a secretary, but instructed her not to answer my calls, because I didn’t want my clients feeling screened. Each to their own, I guess.

  • http://www.lawferrell.com Jami Ferrell

    I’m an attorney who uses Total Attorney’s virtual receptionist service and have done so for over a year now. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed good service since I started using them.

    There are definitely pros and cons of using a virtual receptionist service, and I would tell anyone who is looking into using a vr that they should be prepared to sit down and really think through all the small details of how they are wanting their calls handles. This is a must if you’re wanting to help your vr be sure to do the best job possible when handling your calls. For me it meant writing a fairly long “scenario book” on how to handle different calls, and then making sure that I kept tinkering with it until I had it right (or as close to right as I could get).

    Because I took the time to work on this I now use Total Attorneys to screen prospects, book meetings with clients directly into my calendar, and take payments for initial consultations. Again, I’ve found them very helpful in doing the things that my staff and I, being a small office, just don’t have enough time to do on top of everything else we’re busy with.

    Each month I make sure that I have at least three “mystery” calls to my number to see how well they are doing. And over the past fourteen or fifteen months there has only been one time when someone felt that “my receptionist” didn’t do a great job. And even then I was told that it wasn’t bad, just not great. I’ve also had more than a few of my clients tell me that the person answering the phone was very nice and helpful. So again, I’ve been really happy overall.

    I don’t think that any vr is going to be able to do as good a job as great assistant who answers the phone and is actually in your office and knows your clients. But a vr also doesn’t cost nearly as much, is always there, frees up time for other staff members (or your time if it’s a one-person show), and doesn’t require constant attention.

    I wish your experience had been like mine. I know that after reading your review I’ll be sure to continue monitoring the service I get from Total Attorneys. And hopefully I’ll continue to be happy with what I’m provided. I know that I am for now.

  • Stephanie Quigley

    I love Ruby. I have been using them for almost 4 years now. I really think that they have helped made my firm what it is today!

  • http://Www.sddefense.com Matt

    I would never recommend virtual receptionist from Total Attorneys and let me tell you why. I have actually been waiting for a review like this so it would give me a platform to share my experience.

    I started using the service after I found the cost was significantly less than my local receptionist service. I used it for about 8 months thinking everything was great. At first I noticed that it would sometimes take them over 8 rings to answer but they said that was some hardware issue that they were going to fix. I have them the benefit of the doubt.

    It wast until after 8 months that I got a call from a potential new client that said they tried to call the other day and couldn’t get through. I decided to compare my call records to the messages and logs from my TA virtual service. I noticed immediately that this clients call went through but was never answered by TA.

    Upon further research, I found out that TA had even completely missing an average of 2 calls every day since I signed up! This is estimated to have cost me over $200,000 in new business as I own a criminal defense practice that operates off flat fees.

    I would NEVER recommend them. They are not capable of handling volume and don’t have the technology in place to serve people effectively. If you do use them be sure to have proper auditing methods in place to assure they are getting every call.

  • Eric

    Ruby is my Virtual Receptionist from 9 am to 9 pm. They are awesome. They are professional, friendly, smart, and courteous. They pay great attention to the smallest (but very important) details.

    I’ve used TA as my night and weekend answering service. They are barely acceptable. They mispronounce my name, despite the fact I’ve told them many times how to pronounce it. They also never even try to route calls to me, even when I’ve asked them to. If I can find a replacement for TA, I will.

  • http://www.sportsandentertainmentlawplaybook.com joe bahgat

    Thanks for writing this, Sam. I was considering Virtual Receptionist because of the pricing model (Call Ruby is way too expensive and inflexible for my present practice) but now I think I’ll pass. I had an equally negative experience trying out ReceptionHQ, where callers were being hung up on or not even getting through, and consequently I’ve been reluctant to even try any other service — e.g. DaVinci has been calling and emailing me like crazy, but I’ve heard some negative things about them too. I wish Ruby would just get to work and put together a different package, for those of us who don’t need what their minimum plan includes.

  • http://www.carpenterlawpa.com Benjamin Carpenter

    My experience with Total Attorneys Virtual Receptionist has been very positive. There are many things I appreciate about the service, but the most important to me is that the receptionists are intelligent and adaptable. For example, not long ago a prospective client walked into my office and asked whether I was the person he’d been talking to on the phone. It turned out that he’d been lost and my virtual receptionist had not only obtained his location and used Google Maps to provide directions, but had stayed on the line and “walked” him right up to my door. That prospect walked through our doors for the first time with a fantastic impression of our firm. It’s especially significant that Total Attorneys invests this kind of time and effort in every call without per-minute charges, so that 15 minute discussion didn’t cost me any more than a 45-second “take a number” call would have.

    I would recommend Virtual Receptionist to any solo or small law firm that is looking for an affordable and reliable service that understands the challenges of answering calls for a law firm.

  • Eric

    Has anyone used Total Attorneys for PI leads? I was wondering if anyone could share their experience.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Since that’s off-topic for this post, you should post a thread in the LAB: http://lawyeristlab.com

  • Deb

    As a previous owner of two call centers, one center that billed on a per call billing and one center that billed on a per minute billing; the per minute is actually more fair for the call center and for the client, provided the delivery method is via text, email or fax. Excellent service is hard to put a price tag on and quite honestly, we get what we pay for. Polite, helpful staff that will go above and beyond what is required is worth more money. Sounds from this thread that the Ruby staff is winning.

  • http://www.18-wheeleraccidentattorney.com/ Greg Baumgartner

    I have tried and like total attorneys- they are very professional and be a good job. However, if your volume exceeds a few calls per day the cost adds up very quickly. I will highly recommend the TA service for those with lower call volume.
    I suspect I will give Ruby a try to see if the service and cost compare.

  • http://www.equitablemediation.com Joe Dillon

    We tried working with Total Attorneys but they didn’t want our business. I spoke to Mike who picked up the sales line who transferred me to Annie who called me back a day later who then sent me a contract and when I said I had some questions, she said I’d have to speak to her boss.

    That was a week ago. No word from anyone. As a new client, wouldn’t you think they’d be a little more interested in me? If I have to work this hard to give you my business thanks but no thanks!

  • LegalEagle

    I’m a solo who has used Ruby off and on for maybe 4-5 years. I was totally wowed with the service when I first signed up (at a considerably lower price than they currently charge) but at some point I took a hard look at office costs and decided to switch to a Virtual Receptionist where I wasn’t paying $100+/hr for reception time. Don’t get me wrong – Call Ruby was staffed with professional, courteous “receptionists” but when you’re paying by the minute, it adds up. After a year or so with the Virtual thing, I missed the service switched back to Call Ruby. The sales staff was just as friendly as ever but I really think something has gone slightly “off” with their expansion.

    I’ve noticed a slight but identifiable difference in the Call Ruby receptionists over the past 6 mos or so. They seem — well, maybe to not be hiring la creme de la creme anymore. I’ve had messages with really butchered client names (I realize “Terry” can sound like “Jerry,” etc. but we’re talking names not recognizable), receptionists hanging up (my primary number had required pressing a button to accept the call, Ruby was simply hanging up rather than pressing the button), and some receptionists (not all) seem to be missing that extra touch. If I had to put it in some quantifiable numeric form, I’d say that Ruby used to be 100% wowing whereas now maybe 50-60% great answering, 30-40% decent and the remainder (0-10%) not impressive at all.

    Also I’ve been noticing drawn out patches with a slight pause as in when patching a call As in: “Hi (pause), this is Stephanie from call ruby (pause), I have Mr. Smith on the line (pause). He says… ” rather than simply “Hi, Stephanie from call ruby, Mr. Smith on the line…” I have no way of knowing if this is practiced to draw out the minutes or simply an attempt to be friendly. I like friendly but save that for the clients. When simple patch calls take 2-4 minutes each at the $200/hr rate or whatever it is, it makes a difference.

  • http://www.callruby.com Katie Wilson

    Hi LegalEagle! We just came across your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your recent experience with Ruby! We’re always working to be better, and we really value and appreciate your feedback. We would love to chat with you about your account; it sounds like we’re missing the mark, and I think there are adjustments that we can make that would bring your experience back to wow!

    We try to appear as your in-house receptionist and act with as much familiarity with your callers as possible, but we would be happy to verify the spelling of your callers’ names. Although we may not be perfect, you should see a marked improvement, and if you do ever notice an error, we would certainly appreciate knowing about it so that we can continue to improve and strive for a high degree of accuracy.

    With regard to receptionists hanging up, sometimes recorded messages begin once the call is forwarded to Ruby, so by the time the receptionist picks up (typically on the first or second ring), she may not hear it. We can definitely add instructions to your account so that they know to press a button to accept the call.

    The average call is about 1 minute to one and a half minutes, so please do let us know if your bill reflects something different, and we’d be happy make suggestions to decrease call times. We absolutely value the feedback about pauses when receptionists introduce calls, and we actually discussed your comment in our monthly service meeting. Our receptionist training reflects a speedy introduction, and then recommends following the client’s lead whether or not to indulge in some brief small talk. Our Receptionist Cultivators (managers) and Team Captains are now keeping an eye out for unnecessary pauses and are making sure all receptionists are consistent in the way they introduce calls.

    Please feel welcome to call us at 866-611-7829 and chat with our Client Happiness Cultivator, Christina Burns. She would be delighted to go over your account, and we’d love the opportunity to make sure we’re providing your firm with the excellent service you deserve!

  • Stephen G. Cobb

    I used Total Attorneys for “leads” yet they apparently thought I meant “send me garbage traffic” and charged me for it. So, I wouldn’t even consider them for reception when their definition of “leads” was completely and totally worthless.