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)


  1. Avatar Matthew says:

    Almost every time I have offered my attorney skills for free, I have come to regret it. Ingratitude is just the beginning. I have had clients get upset when I charged them for the second meeting, even though I outlined my fee schedule in the first meeting in some detail.

    As you noted, the clients typically want you to do all the work when it is free. Part of being very clear about charging a fee and then doing so is that your client is much more likely to be aware of how valuable your time is. Outside of divorce, they are a lot less likely to waste it.

    On a meta note, I like the technology emphasis on your blog. As a micro firm lawyer, I’m forever looking for solid technology to do tasks.

  2. Avatar Andrew Flusche says:

    Now I’m wondering if I have the wrong approach. I just checked my intake logs, and I had 19 potential clients contact me during each of the past two weeks. Whew!

    But some of those people were wanting free advice. And some weren’t even in my main practice areas. I spend a lot of time just fielding these calls, referring some out, and finding out that others don’t want to actually pay for help.

    Maybe I should experiment with paid consultations for 2 weeks and see what happens.

    (By the way, do you know that the TAB key doesn’t take users from the comment box to the submit button?)

  3. Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

    Try it and see. Experimentation is good for business.

    On the tab key, that sure is annoying. I will see if there is anything I can do to fix it.

  4. Avatar Greg Broiles says:

    Switching from free consultations to paid consultations is one of the best things I’ve done in my practice – it’s amazing how many people think I should spend my time solving their problem, but it turns out that having their problem solved isn’t worth at least $300. My receptionist reports that people even say that – “Oh, $300 is too much, this isn’t that important.” Cool. That’s a bunch of my time that wasn’t wasted.

    My policy is that the initial consultation fee will be applied to whatever work I end up doing – so it’s effectively a “free consultation” for people who hire me, and people who just need an hour of my time pay for the hour.

    It’s also done wonders for my no-show rate and I got rid of lots of tire-kickers who want to meet with 3-5-10 attorneys until they find someone who tells them what they want to hear.

    And I like the meetings much better because I’m not trying to play the “I could solve your problem but I won’t tell you exactly how unless you hire me” game; as far as I’m concerned, they’re paying me for advice, and I’ll give them my best advice, which might be “you should hire me to solve this problem” or “you can solve this yourself by doing X” or “you have no problem, relax”. I feel like a lawyer, not a salesperson.

    That’s how I explain the policy to people who ask – a “free consultation” is really a free sales meeting. It’s like having a “free consultation” with a car salesman or a mattress salesman. Sure, they’ll talk to you for free, and listen sympathetically, but everyone knows what their advice is going to be – buy something.

    When I charge for a meeting, we’ve already moved past the “sales” stage into the attorney-client stage, and I can focus on problem-solving, not selling.

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