As an attorney, every minute of your day has a dollar value, which means the bulk of your time is spent taking billable action: case research, time in court, paperwork & filing, etc.
But what about your consultations?
Should you charge for those, too? Or will you deter more people than you attract?
This question has sparked debate among lawyers for decades, and there is no simple answer.
A free consultation can spark a boom in new leads, but it can just as likely flood your office with those who are just looking for free legal advice.
On the other hand, paid consultations can save you time and money by filtering out unqualified leads, but they can also significantly lower your volume.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of each option...
The argument for free consultations
Let’s face it—if you’re a solo attorney with a relatively new practice, offering free consultations might not be a bad idea.
Because free consultations are an additional incentive that gets more people through the door, giving you more case opportunities.
Furthermore, if most of your competitors are offering free consultations, charging for consults can quickly get your firm overlooked by prospective clients who are price conscious.
It’s important to remember that not every person who shows up for a free consultation will retain your services. Some are simply seeking legal expertise without any intention of hiring an attorney.
However, many attorneys just consider this a cost of doing business.
If you need to significantly increase your lead volume or you’re in a market where charging for consultations will put you at a competitive disadvantage, free consultations may be your best bet.
The argument for paid consultations
For many people, a free consultation means “One Free Hour of Legal Advice,” and when that hour is up, they’ll happily leave your office and call the next attorney on their list.
And that’s an hour you could have billed a signed client.
Another problem is that “free” tends to be associated with “cheap.” So by offering free consultations, you can actually hurt your credibility and authority with prospects by making your time appear less valuable.
By charging for consultations, you’re requiring prospective clients to “put some skin in the game,” which forces them to take your time (and theirs) more seriously. That, in turn, weeds out unqualified leads and attracts people who are genuinely considering (and able to pay for) your services.
Here’s one attorney’s take on why paid consultations are effective:
“I charge a consultation fee of $100 per hour which is a discount off my normal hourly rates. I use to do free consultations but learned that a lot of times people just wanted to talk and they really did not have a strong claim. If someone cannot pay a consultation fee, they likely cannot afford any type of retainer.”
Bottom line—people tend to value the things they pay for, so if you want to make the most of your time with prospects who are willing to demonstrate their interest in your services, then use paid consultations as a qualifying tool.
And here’s how you benefit from both free AND paid consultations
Whether you should offer free or paid consultations will depend on the unique circumstances of your firm. But as you make your decision, here’s one thing to consider...
Your initial phone call with the prospective client CAN BE the “free consultation.”
As an attorney, you should be able to discern the critical details of a prospect’s case within a 15-minute phone call. This initial screening will save you both time and money and allow you to capture the widest set of leads possible without wasting hours qualifying poor prospects.
If you answer a call and determine a prospect has a strong case, you can then set a meeting for an in-person consultation where you can have a more in-depth discussion about their case and your strategy to help.
In this scenario, the in-person consultation should be charged.
However, if you still want to offer the prospect a financial incentive, you can always offer to waive the consultation fee upon the signing of a retainer agreement.
Keep in mind: The consultation fee that you charge should be manageable—the cost of a billable hour of your time or less. If the prospective client has qualms about paying the fee, be sure to emphasize the value they stand to receive from that time and money spent...sound legal advice and better chances of building a winning case.
Want to learn more about how to turn leads into new clients for your firm? Read this post.