Illinois Bar Journal

December 2016Volume 104Number 12Page 38

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Attorney Fees

From the Newsletters - Should you quit offering free consults?

There are plenty of good reasons to dispense with free consultations for consumer clients. But you might want to test the water before diving in.

"Should 'free consultations' R.I.P.?"
By Nicole Sartori
The Bottom Line - October 2016

As Nicole Sartori notes in the most recent issue of the ISBA Law Office Management and Economics newsletter, consumer clients have arguably come to expect free initial consults after years of come-ons in Yellow Page and other advertising. But there are good reasons to start the meter running at the first meeting, she says, assuming your consumer clients aren't personal injury victims, where the culture of free initial meetings is long established.

Screening out people looking for free advice. Some people drawn by free consults are "time robbers," as Sartori describes them. They "have no intent on hiring or paying for legal advice but they want the legal advice," she writes. They will not become your clients.

Attracting better clients. People who visit you despite the fee "appreciate that a lawyer's time is valuable and are willing to pay for it," Sartori writes. "You may have fewer consultations but the percentage that turn into clients will be higher."

Discouraging people from conflicting you out. "Particularly in family law, a person may meet with several attorneys in order to stop their spouse from being able to retain those attorneys" by creating a conflict, Sartori writes. "This is even more deplorable than the time robber."

All good reasons not to offer free consults. But the potential downside is daunting - eliminating free consults might leave you with no consults. "It is hard to make the phone ring," Sartori writes. "It generally takes years of building your reputation and building your referral network in order for it to ring." You may simply be afraid of losing business from clients who balk at paying a fee when they aren't even sure they need a lawyer.

If that's the case, consider starting small. "[T]ry charging a fee for in-person consultations but not for consultations over the phone," Sartori writes. "Offer to apply the fee towards their retainer. You may also waive the fee as a courtesy to your referral source."

Sartori also admonishes that you "must build up your personal and digital reputation before you begin to charge a consultation fee. Get out in the community and be active," she writes. Recruit satisfied clients "to write online reviews on your Google Plus business page, Yelp, AVVO profile, Facebook firm page, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Publish articles that reach the pool of potential clients that you are seeking."

Then measure the results of your no-more-freebies approach. "[T]rack the number of potential client inquiries you receive, the number of consultations that are scheduled, the number of consultations that show up and pay the consultation fee, and the number of clients that pay their retainers to determine if it is working for you," Sartori writes.

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