Answering the phone is one of my least-favorite parts of having my own business. The phone is always an interruption, and I am rarely prepared to have a productive conversation with opposing counsel who wants to argue a point of substantive law, or a client who wants a detailed analysis of a brand-new business problem. These are all reasons why answering your own phone may not be a good idea.

For a while, I worked with a virtual assistant who did a fantastic job of answering the phone, managing our intake process, and much more. But I’ve since scaled back my practice, and I don’t need that much help—nor can I afford to pay for it. After answering my own phone for a few months, I was ready to hang it up for good, so I decided to give Call Ruby a try.

Enter LAWYERIST or mention Lawyerist when you sign up, and Ruby Receptionists will waive the $90 setup fee if you decide to stay on after the free trial!

How Ruby Receptionists works

Call Ruby is a Portland (OR)-based virtual receptionist service. (It keeps hours that work for business hours coast-to-coast.) You get a phone number that you can use, or you can just forward your regular number so that Call Ruby gets your incoming calls. (Couple Call Ruby with Google Voice for some seriously powerful options.)

The receptionists are a bunch of cheerful, highly-caffeinated women who answer the phone and handle calls according to your instructions. For example, my instructions are to capture name and phone number for every caller, take a short message, and forward the call to me if the caller asks to be put through. This last bit works just like it would if you had a receptionist sitting at your front desk. A Call Ruby receptionist calls me and announces the caller, and I can take the call, ask them to take or convey a message, or whatever.

You can change your instructions by phone, email, or app. For example, if you are going to be out of touch all afternoon, you could update your instructions from the app and tell Call Ruby to hold your calls. Or forward them to a different phone number. Or whatever. You can get pretty detailed.

Call Ruby can also make outgoing calls. We recently had a baby, and I prepared an email to Call Ruby with a list of people to call in order to cancel appointments. When we left for the hospital, I sent the message, and got an email a few minutes later letting me know that they contacted everyone on the list and let them know I would be in touch to reschedule as soon as possible. (They also sent a lovely gift for my new baby, which was thoughtful—that just seems to be how Call Ruby operates, though.)

Working with Ruby Receptionists

All in all, I’m thrilled with Call Ruby. Working with Call Ruby reminds me of my great experiences with Freshbooks, another great company with an awesome product and outstanding customer service. Call Ruby’s plans start at $219 per month (which is all I’m likely to need), and for that, you will always have a cheerful, polite, and professional person answer the phone, because you are rarely all of those things at once, even when you are actually available to answer the phone.

Pricing

My only complaint is that I generally need about half the minutes of the smallest plan, and unlike Freshbooks, Call Ruby won’t create a custom plan for me. That means that if I want to stay with Call Ruby, I have to pay for about twice the minutes I need. So I am still looking at alternatives. For example, the Total Attorneys pay-as-you-go virtual receptionist service charges about $4 per call, instead of charging per minute. I expect 40–50 calls per month, which would be about $140–200 with Total Attorneys. That’s not a clear advantage on price (depending on the actual numbers of calls in a month, obviously), but the Total Attorneys service is available 24/7, not just during business hours. On the other hand, Total Attorneys doesn’t offer quite the same flexibility. It doesn’t appear to handle transfers personally (calls are simply forwarded according to your criteria), and it doesn’t appear to have the ability to update instructions on the fly.

I just got an email from Kevin Chern at Total Attorneys clarifying some of features of the Virtual Receptionist service. Kevin says that forwarding works the same as it does with Call Ruby. The receptionist will a “warm transfer” by speaking with you before handing off the caller. You can also update your instructions on the fly. In fact, Kevin says that Total Attorneys will customize their procedures to your liking. Which leaves price as the main difference between the two services, after all. If your callers tend to spend more time on the phone, or you don’t get a lot of calls, you will probably spend less with Total Attorneys. If your calls tend to be quicker, you might be better off with Call Ruby. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of the Total Attorneys service in a month or two, once I’ve had time to try it and reflect on the experience.

For now, I’m going to spend another month or two with Call Ruby, and see where my usage falls. If I consistently get about 50 calls per month, I think the extra flexibility of Call Ruby is probably worth paying a bit more per month. Plus, I’ve had really great experiences working with Call Ruby so far, and I really like working with companies that treat me well. Call Ruby’s obvious effort to go the extra mile (or three) has made me a truly delighted customer. (I’ve never tried working with Total Attorney before, so it could be just as awesome, for all I know.)

Benefits for solos and small firms

Call Ruby is an awesome solution for solo practitioners who don’t need or want the overhead of a full-time employee, and for small firms that don’t need or want to pay for someone to spend all day sitting at the front desk (or that don’t have a front desk). In any case, the first 14 days are free, and getting set up is a piece of cake, so it’s definitely worth a try, especially if you don’t already have someone to answer your phones.