Saturday, November 21, 2009

Attorney Fees: About My No Free Consult Policy

Lat year I decided that there would no longer be free consults in my office.  Part of this came about because I was without a secretary and I was using the initial telephone call to decide if it was worth having the potential client come into the office.

Underlying my policy are several concerns:  1) a free consultation means my other clients are subsidizing the time I spent discussing a new case and 2) it sorts out the clients who lack the funds and the seriousness to take on as clients.

Divorce Discourse posted Free Consults? makes legitimate points in that post.  Taking care of lead generation is a good thing that I accomplish on the telephone rather than stopping all work on other cases for evaluating a possible new case.

I find most potential clients view consultations in one of three ways:  1) a way to get free information; and 2) as a beauty contest to see if they want to hire the lawyer; and 3) a way to save money.  I think aiding the potential client in number 3 is aiding in a fraud - the time spent on a free consultation has to be paid some way and if not up front then later.  About getting free information, see what I wrote above about my other clients subsidizing the potential client.

About beauty contests, I think that the attorney-client relationship is a partnership where both sides need to get along with one another.  I cannot remember the last time I turned down a case after a telephone interview and a paid consultation, but I came close this past month.  Luckily, the potential client got enough information that they did not come back.

I also had a recent contact who seemed worried that I might not take their case after they paid my $75.00 consultation fee.   As my secretary said, if they cannot afford the consultation fee then they cannot afford the fee for a custody case.  I will add that those clients who cannot pay their bills force my other clients to subsidize their cases in time and money and that is just not fair to my other clients.

to all this I would add the following from Dick Price from his post Why Is There No Free Consultation?:

For potential clients who have trouble understanding why they should be charged for the initial time they visit with an attorney, here are some explanations some attorneys use.

* For the attorneys who charge by the hour, time is money. They keep their business open by charging for the time they spend working in some fashion on the client's problems. Real information is provided in real time to the client. For the attorney, the service provided is essentially the same type of service they will be providing once they are hired: listen, ask questions, determine needs or goals, gather information, analyze, strategize and create plans.

* Other professionals routinely charge for their time and services at an initial assessment. This includes doctors, mechanics and electricians (just to name a few). The time and skills of the professionals are being applied to the problems at hand.

* For the attorneys who practice what is called value pricing, or use flat fees, they focus on the valuable information, forms and other paperwork they may provide the client. They also add value by listening and counseling with the client. Here is an example on the higher end of service and a corresponding higher fee: There is an attorney in Calgary, Canada who has developed an excellent product for the initial conference. He spends as long as the client wants, usually 2 to 3 hours, records the session and provides a copy of the recording, and produces a customized approach to the client's issues. Other attorneys provide a less robust experience, but nevertheless provide excellent value to the client just by doing the same things some attorneys do as they charge by the hour.

* In addition, when an attorney meets with a prospective client, the attorney becomes immediately disqualified from representing the spouse. That can result in a loss of income for the attorney.

* Another consideration is that the attorney is unable to work on other clients' business when they are attending an initial meeting with a potential new client. That means less income for the attorney and no progress on the other client's issues. Even if it only delays the work, the delay can become a problem for the client and then the attorney. Most clients prefer not to be put on the back burner. They want their matter resolved NOW!

There is not anything on that list that I do not think is a legitimate reason against free consultations.

I realize much has been lately of how free can make money.  I will be discussing this further but posts like Free and the GP from gives a good overview the issue for law firms.  This blog recognizes the idea but the line has to be drawn at responsibility for my clients.

For those wanting free consultations, I have the following advice:
  1. Know what you want from the consultation: case evaluation, free information, education.
  2. Realize that e-mail can never get the details necessary for making a good evaluation of a case.
  3. Call to find out who does and do not do free consultations.

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