When current resources are stretched to their limits and you need help meeting demands, hiring staff can become essential. If you want someone who can work from wherever, a remote staﬀ person is often the ﬁrst thought—but you should also consider outsourcing to a virtual receptionist or assistant. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they contain key diﬀerences that set them apart:
- Remote staﬀ. They work entirely remotely on either a part- or full-time basis. They can be an independent contractor or an employee, based on various factors. See our practice aid for more information about those classifications. You can find remote staff through networking, staﬃng agencies, popular job search websites like LinkedIn or ZipRecruiter, or other traditional job search methods.
- Virtual receptionists or assistants. They also work entirely remotely, but they are an independent contractor already employed by a professional staffing company. Depending on the services oﬀered by the staﬃng company, these workers can fulﬁll various roles within your ﬁrm, ranging from basic administrative tasks to more specialized or complex projects. Generally, this would not be just one person, but various people assigned to your account. Virtual receptionists focus more on front-end administrative tasks like answering and transferring calls. They may also provide intake services like screening potential clients and scheduling meetings. While a virtual assistant may also oﬀer call handling and intake services, they often go beyond that and provide additional services like calendar and email management, document drafting, legal research, data entry, and billing.
The comparison chart below describes pricing and common services provided by speciﬁc staﬃng agencies:
When deciding whether to enlist the services of a virtual receptionist or assistant and which company to utilize, dive into the details of your ﬁrm and ask yourself (and the staffing company) the following questions:
- What type(s)of services do I need and what does the company provide? If you only need someone to answer the phone, a virtual receptionist would be a good option. Find out whether they offer greeting customization, call screening, and answering callers’ questions. Additional receptionist services may include routing or blocking spam calls, recording and transcription, transfer to text, and scheduling appointments. You would need a virtual assistant for more complex services like legal research and document drafting. Determine whether the assistant should have additional expertise, such as experience preparing trial exhibits, knowledge of a particular practice area, or familiarity with a state court’s ﬁling rules.
- What is the pricing structure? Most staﬃng companies oﬀer tiered monthly or annual subscription plans. Before signing any plan, ask if they charge a cancellation fee. For call answering, are you charged per call or per minute? How many calls or minutes are included in the plan? Do unused minutes roll over to the next month? Can you purchase more time if needed before the end of your subscription period? If you are paying for virtual assistant services, is it a ﬂat fee or billable? If billable, can you specify a maximum?
- Is there a time diﬀerence? If the person works in a diﬀerent time zone, issues may arise if you need to communicate quickly or need projects completed by a certain time.
- Do I need someone who speaks a particular language? Many virtual receptionists speak English and Spanish. If you need additional languages, be sure to ask whether that is available and, if so, whether availability is impacted by the number of personnel or time zones.
- Can I work with the same person each time? Most staﬃng agencies, especially those offering virtual receptionist services, do not assign you the same person each time. But some companies, like Lawfecta and Get Staﬀed Up, can provide you a dedicated virtual assistant.
- What is their availability? If the virtual receptionist or assistant has other clients they’re serving, they may not be available for you immediately or within a short time period. If that is what you need, virtual staﬀ may not be a good ﬁt. Some virtual receptionists are available 24/7/365. Determine whether this is necessary for you and your clients, as it can be expensive and result in calls being routed to call centers outside the United States. Even if you have a dedicated virtual assistant, they may also be working other jobs. Be sure you understand their availability to you and whether they have a required response or turnaround time.
- What are my options if I’m unhappy with someone’s work? Do you receive a refund for what you’ve been charged? Can you request that you not be assigned that person again?
- Will they have access to my system? If you are allowing a virtual receptionist or assistant any access to your system—such as your calendar for scheduling appointments or client documents for drafting—be mindful of your ethical obligations, including conﬁdentiality and non-lawyer supervision. Even if they have already signed a conﬁdentiality agreement through the staﬃng agency, you should have them sign an additional agreement with you if possible. See our sample conﬁdentiality agreement on our website at https://www.osbplf.org/services/resources/ > Practice Aids > Staff > Confidentiality in the Law Office.
If you choose to outsource to a virtual receptionist or assistant, eﬀective use of their services depends on having the systems in place for them to complete the work:
- Communicate with the staﬃng agency about what services you will be utilizing and any changes that need to be made to things like software applications or user licenses.
- When assigning speciﬁc duties, give clear instructions and outline expectations. Always follow up with assignments in writing and ask that they acknowledge receipt and confirm their understanding of the task or project.
- Carefully review ﬁnal work product and provide feedback for improvement if necessary. These simple steps can help you optimize the services these support personnel can provide to your ﬁrm.
Many legal professionals struggle with the concept of hiring. However, seeing the potential of virtual receptionists and assistants can dissolve those apprehensions and unveil a realm of tailored choices. They can oﬀer speciﬁc solutions aligned with your unique needs, alleviate some of the burdens that come with being an employer, and provide a cost-eﬀective avenue to do more with less.