To Consult for Free or Not—Is That Still the Question?

By Lisa F. Geherin posted 09-24-2018 09:24

​A longtime friend from law school recently left the San Diego District Attorney’s Office to open his own law firm, and he mentioned that he had decided not to offer free consultations. His reason? His time was too valuable to give away. By charging a small sum for a consultation that could be applied to the cost of his services, he could automatically screen out customers who never had any intention of hiring him in the first place.

Marketing experts agree. “Your time is your most valuable resource,” says Kimanzi Constable in his article 3 Reasons Why That “Free Consultation” Is a Losing Strategy for Entrepreneurs. Free consultations are usually used by “someone who’s not in the financial position to afford your services right now, but would love the free advice.”

Another reason not to offer a free consult? “People value what they pay for,” comments Pia Silva in Free Consultations Are Killing Your Brand. “If you offer the same information for free, or after a client has paid for it, they will more seriously consider what they paid for.” Thus, if they value the information more, they will value you more and give more weight to your advice. Charging for a first step positions you as an expert and tells prospective clients that what you have to offer has monetary value.

In addition, charging for a consultation allows you to do the choosing, explains Raj Jha in Why Lawyers Shouldn’t Give Free Consultations. In other words, rather than hoping that someone who is “tire-kicking” chooses you, the tables are turned, giving the lawyer more control over who he or she represents.

Finally, there are plenty of other ways a prospective client can learn about you without sacrificing a free hour of your time (e.g., through well-placed website content such as blogs, videos, and testimonials). “The personal aspect of a well-done video can convey a message of trustworthiness to the potential client who is already concerned about making a large payment,” explains Bradley Shaw in Law Firm Marketing: Skyrocket Your Practice Online. “[T]estimonials on your website can help drive home the reason why your law firm is the best possible choice.”

On the other hand, there are still many lawyers who believe in a free in-person consultation and have built a successful practice using this approach. The primary reasons lawyers typically have a free consultation policy are the following:

  1. They want to interview prospective clients before agreeing to do work for them.
  2. They believe a face-to-face meeting with a prospective client will give a competitive advantage over other lawyers.
  3. Other lawyers in their practice area offer free consultations.
  4. They believe people will not meet with them if they have to pay for the initial meeting.

Unsure about which option is right for you? Consider a hybrid approach—possibly a time-limited phone call rather than an in-person meeting. But be “stingy with the advice that you give over the phone,” Dan Jaffe stresses in What’s Better, In-Person or Phone Consultations? “You are giving a free initial consultation, you are not a clearinghouse for free information and phone advice.”