The Differences Between Legal Assistants and Virtual Receptionists


Law firms are busier than ever. They’re also trying to make do with fewer employees to maximize their budgets and reduce overhead. However, that should never come at the expense of client communication, client intake, or lead qualification. 

One trend in the industry is the use of legal assistants as receptionists. While the two positions do have some overlap, the positions are not identical, and there should be room for both legal assistants and virtual receptionists within even a small law firm. How do the two roles compare?

What do legal assistants do?

Legal assistants wear many hats. They’re something of a jack-of-all-trades within the legal profession, but they should not be confused with paralegals. In most cases, legal assistants work within the office on an in-person basis. They’re part of the on-site team. 

According to the American Bar Association, a legal assistant “is a person, qualified by education, training, or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, government agency, or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” 

These tasks can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Fact-checking and compiling case evidence
  • Communicating with court employees/representatives to confirm dates
  • Managing documents and files within the office
  • Scheduling court appearances and other appointments
  • Communicating with clients and other parties regarding legal matters

However, a legal assistant is sometimes called on to perform other duties that blur the line between legal assistants and receptionists or even legal secretaries. These can include the following:

  • Answering calls
  • Greeting clients
  • Handling lead vetting/qualification
  • Handling client intake

The most important thing to understand is that legal assistants are required to have legal education or experience, much the same as paralegals. Virtual assistants do not. This means that using a legal assistant as a legal secretary or office receptionist is an enormous waste of talent, education, experience, and potential.

What do virtual receptionists do?

If you’re looking for a way to reduce the amount of time your legal team spends answering unproductive or spam phone calls, a virtual receptionist could be the right solution. You might be more familiar with other terms – legal call answering service, for instance. 

A virtual receptionist performs almost all of the same tasks as an in-house receptionist, many of which overlap with those of legal assistants. That can include things like answering the phone and forwarding calls. However, the right virtual receptionist service can do so much more. It can help you grow a thriving practice. Some of the tasks these professionals can handle include the following:

  • Answering phone calls 24/7
  • Communicating with clients and leads via live chat
  • Transferring calls
  • Handling client intake
  • Handling lead vetting/qualification
  • Scheduling calendar appointments
  • Screening calls to reduce robocalls and spam
  • Taking messages from clients and prospective clients
  • Gathering preliminary information from prospective clients to save attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants time

However, not all virtual receptionists offer the same range of services and capabilities. That’s because some legal answering services rely strictly on technology and don’t employ human beings. Ideally, the answering service you choose will fuse the two. Technology can do many things, but human receptionists bring the warmth and connection that your clients want and deserve. 

Do you need a virtual receptionist or a legal assistant?

Many legal offices and law firms are seeking ways to reduce overhead by combining the responsibilities of different positions. Replacing legal secretaries and in-house receptionists and giving those duties to a legal assistant might seem like a smart move. Still, the truth is that this is a waste of the legal assistant’s time and expertise. 

A better option is to employ both a legal assistant (or assistants, depending on the size of the firm) and a virtual receptionist. By outsourcing your receptionist’s responsibilities to an experienced call answering service, you’re able to redirect your legal assistant’s time to areas where their experience and education are essential. At the same time, you gain an ally in the answering service, provided you choose the right service. When you work with a reputable virtual receptionist service like, you can opt to be charged per call or even month-to-month, with no long-term contracts so you can keep your costs low.

What to look for when choosing a virtual receptionist

Because answering services are not created equal, it’s important to make an informed decision when hiring one. What should you look for? 

While affordability should be near the top of your list, it’s also important to consider other factors, including the range of services offered and whether the service uses live receptionists or relies strictly on technology. Again, combining advanced AI-based technology with the warmth and expertise of human receptionists is always the better idea. 

Look for an answering service that employs virtual receptionists to provide the following services:

  • 24/7 service: Potential clients call at all hours of the day and night. Make sure there’s a live respondent on the line to answer questions, take information, and begin the intake process, even if it’s well after hours.
  • Lead screening and intake: How much time does your team waste handling lead screening? What about client intake? These are critical tasks, but they don’t require the same legal experience and education as others and are best handled by an experienced virtual receptionist.
  • Spam and robocall blocking: If your practice is like most, you receive an inordinate number of robocalls and spam calls daily. A virtual receptionist can ensure that your team never has to answer another and can focus on what they do best.
  • Appointment setting and follow-up: Let a virtual receptionist handle important yet unspecialized tasks like appointment setting and email/text follow-up with clients.

The difference is clear

Ultimately, legal assistants and virtual receptionists can both play critical roles in any legal practice. However, they’re not interchangeable. Hire a legal assistant to help your team with matters that require legal experience and expertise, and let virtual assistants handle your phones, appointment setting, lead screening, client intake, and more.

At, we offer both advanced AI-based solutions and expert human virtual receptionists. We have deep experience working with legal practices. We can deliver 24/7 service, appointment setting, lead screening, client intake, and other essential services to free your team up to focus on serving clients and building stronger cases.

To learn more, schedule a consultation or reach out to

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Written by Samir Sampat

Samir Sampat is a Marketing Manager with He has experience working with businesses of all sizes focusing on marketing, communications, and business development.

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