Free beer tomorrowI recently experimented with offering free consultations for all potential clients, something I have not done for well over a year. It was a spectacular failure. In fact, although I originally intended to offer free consultations for at least two months, and then assess the results, I got fed up with the cancellations and unprepared potential clients after only three weeks.

I “went free” during a dry spell, and hoped that offering free consultations would get the phone ringing again (metaphorically speaking; at least 75% of my potential clients contact me by email). Whether because of the free consultations or a bit of media exposure, potential client contacts did pick up slightly.

The problem with free consultations became apparent as soon as I signed up a half dozen or so. The first two scheduled an in-person consultation, but never showed up. I scheduled the next four–all phone consultations–for the same day. Not one of them had sent me documents to review, and two did not even have their documents nearby when I called.

Fed up, I switched back to paid consultations immediately, on a Wednesday afternoon. By the end of the day Friday, I had signed up five paid consultations. All brought their documents to the consultation, and two are now clients.

I don’t think charging for consultations discourages good clients; I think it keeps bad clients from wasting my time. Plus, when someone pays for my time, I can be their lawyer for 30 minutes instead of just telling them whether or not they have a case, and how much I would charge.

I do still give free consultations for potential contingent-fee cases, but I screen those potential clients carefully over the phone before I invite them to the office. During the in-person consultation, I usually spend at least an hour, often more, to make sure we can work together, and that I feel comfortable investing my time and money in the case.

(photo: Lori Spindler)