Should Attorneys Charge a Consultation Fee?

By Joleena Louis - August 27, 2014
Should Attorneys Charge a Consultation Fee?

This week in Things I Wish I Knew…Joleena Louis approaches the much debated topic of consultation fees among solo attorneys and shares her views on it.

When I first started my matrimonial practice, I solicited advice from any solo attorney in good standing. I mean, everyone and anyone. In fact, the relatively decentralized nature of this information is why I started writing Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Solo Attorney.

Should an attorney charge a consult fee?

Lawyers have to balance time spent obtaining clients versus time spent working on client matters. In high volume consumer practices, charging a small consultation fee will weed out people looking for free legal advice. But in low volume, high priced practices (corporate transactional, complex litigation), a consult fee may be perceived as insulting to potential clients, particularly if they are referred by a colleague.

To charge…or not to charge?

One of the first questions I asked any practitioner was their opinion on charging clients an initial consultation fee.

To be honest, I was relatively split on the matter. On one hand, I didn’t want to come off as greedy, but on the other hand, I did not want to waste three to four hours of my day on client leads that may not materialize.

As solo and small firm attorneys, our worth is literally measured by the hour. (That’s why they call it a billable hour, right?) This makes us different from many professions. Further, my experience with matrimonial consultations is that they rarely last just an hour. In fact, I almost always book one of my shared law offices, 4 conference rooms for 2 hours, anticipating that initial consultation may run long.

I toiled over whether to charge for initial consultations.

Initially, I just wanted to have actual clients, and I figured that charging a fee was one more hurdle to signed retainer agreements. I was practicing in a fool’s paradise.

To charge or not to charge, that is the question #consultationfee #soloattorney Click To Tweet

Lack of consultation fee resulted in people attaining free legal advice…

My lack of consultation fee directly led to many people who cold called me basically using the following consultation as a mechanism to obtain free legal advice. I know this because I never heard from ANY of them again. At first, I thought it was me. Maybe I was a poor attorney. Then I figured I would change the game up a bit. I quickly decided to start charging a consult fee to weed out the people looking for free information.

The game did change. Clients who had skin in the game were more likely to retain.

My rationale, and the rationale of most attorneys that I have spoken with is that anyone who can’t pay my consult fee would likely not be able (or willing) to pay my retainer. Even further, my belief centers around the logic that if a person cannot come up with a minimal fee to take care of something extremely important in their life, they probably are not serious about the matter.

In my practice, when I charge a consultation fee, I credit it back to their account when they retain me. Honestly, this mechanism has led to many potential clients choosing to consult with a different attorney. They could not get past the initial hurdle of minimal payment to actually get face time and legal advice. In reality, they are not the type of clients I want anyway.

However, I do not charge a fee to meet with referrals. So far 100% of referrals I’ve met with have retained me so I’m less worried about wasting my time. And I feel like it’s easier for my referral sources to send someone to me if that person has nothing to lose by merely meeting with me. And it makes the referral source look good because I always let the client know my consultation fee and that I am waiving it because of my relationship with the person who referred them.

I also started offering a flat fee service for clients who just want information and do not necessarily want to retain me. It lasts longer than a consultation and they walk out with more actionable information. Once they hear my spiel about this service, many of the free advice seekers hire me for this service.

I chose to charge for my consultations…other attorneys may feel differently.

Now, the above information is my personal experience as a consumer based attorney. I assume that a commercial litigator or a corporate transaction attorney may have a different view on the subject of free consultations. In fact, I know many other matrimonial attorneys who have a different opinion.

But, when it comes down to it – I am a solo attorney with only so many hours in the day. I made a business decision to charge for a consultation. While many potential clients can find the information they seek on the Internet, they may not be able to validate the veracity of the information.

As attorneys, I feel we offer something more than a blank information field on search engine website.

What are your thoughts on consultation fees? Do you charge for them?

Updated for 2021.
7 Deadly Mistakes That Prevent Law Practice Success

About Joleena Louis

Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a firm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial firm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Financial District location. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew... explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law firm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur. Follow Joleena on Twitter.

78 thoughts on “Should Attorneys Charge a Consultation Fee?

  1. As professionals, we must remember that we carry out a service for which we must be paid. Clients to expect to pay a consultation fee in the same way in which they pay their doctor to discuss how they are feeling and to find a solution to the problem. I don’t see the dilemma to be honest.

    Our fee arrangement may differ depending on the client etc., but as a general rule it is my view that Attorneys should charge a consultation fee.

    • Comparing doctors and lawyers can be a bit like comparing apples and oranges. We interact with our clients differently, insurance often covers doctors’ fees so the client is out of pocket minimally, and the demand for medical services (at least for specialists) is significantly greater than 99% of attorneys.

      The initial consult is tricky, and varies widely between consumer and B-to-B type practices. In my practice, which falls in the latter category, initial consults are more about the client evaluating me as a candidate for services. I don’t believe that clients should pay to hear my sales pitch. I consider that time a cost of doing business.

      I am also a frequent consumer of legal services through this company, and similarly, I would never hire a lawyer who charges a consult fee for me to interview them to see if they are good fit for my matter. In an initial consult, as counselor I don’t give legal advice, and as a client I don’t expect it.

      Of course, there are situations where clients are looking for advice in the first meeting. But these clients can easily be weeded out in a quick phone call. In those cases, the meeting is often a hybrid of sales pitch and legal counsel, and it’s appropriate to charge a fee for the consult. However, I typically discount my hourly rate to adjust for the sales pitch portion.

      In many cases, I think lawyers are less like doctors, and more like general contractors. Ever get quotes from a general contractor to do work on your home? You wouldn’t expect to pay a fee to get an estimate, and they usually put in a fair amount of work to spec out a job. If you ask any GC, I’m sure they would tell you that they, too, contend with many tire kickers.

      This all being said, I agree with Joleena about clients referred from other attorneys. Because you are implicitly endorsed by the referring attorney, that business is yours to lose. You always have more to lose by annoying the referral source by charging the referral fee than the few hundred dollars you will gain.

      • I disagree. My parents are doctors. If you want free consulting – forget about it. They won’t even listen to you. Likewise, we charge initial consultation fee in our law firm. Any professional should not work for free. Ever heard about free construction workers?.. Respect yourself and charge for your services. Paid initial consultation is also a good way to weed out cheapskates.

        • Thanks for the note Anna!

          I guess it depends on how you view initial consults. If you view it as a marketing opportunity, then like any other marketing activity, you are not disrespecting yourself by not asking for a consult fee. In fact, many attorneys take the view that the more meetings you have, if you are good at marketing, the more you can leverage those meetings into new clients by giving the prospect a good experience, and marketing to them for their referrals even if they do not end up retaining your firm. If you look at it as “legal work”, then you should consider getting paid for the time, but risk upside value of the marketing opportunity.

          My opinion on the issue of consult fees is based upon the context of my own practice area: my firm typically has long term relationships with clients on high value matters, so squeezing a couple of extra hundred dollars out of a qualified prospect, for us, is short-sighted.

          Notwithstanding, in a high volume practice with lower value engagements, a consult fee may be necessary.

          Every practice is different, and the decision to charge a consult fee (or not) will be unique for every type of practice.

          If one thing is clear, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

          • I agree with Anna. But then, I don’t do matrimonial law; I do IP and business law.

            I have spent four years in undergraduate college, three years in law school, and over 10 years in practice as a solo attorney, on top of the 20+ years I spent doing something else between college and law school. I passed both a state bar and the patent bar the first time I took them. I’m a good lawyer with a solid background and a solid work ethic. I add value to my clients’ transactions.

            There was a time when I didn’t charge an initial consultation fee. During that time, potential clients got good, actionable legal advice for free, and never came back. I felt used, taken advantage of, in a position of weakness.

            I fixed that by starting to charge a nominal fee for an initial consultation. The client still walked out of the consultation with good, actionable legal advice, but they now do so for a (minimal) fee. Sometimes they don’t come back; more often, they do. I no longer feel used or abused, either way.

            I charge a set fee for however long the client takes for an initial consultation. If the client takes five minutes, I charge the same fee as I do to the client who takes three hours. I charge that fee for my bank of knowledge, not for my time. And my bank of knowledge is worth every dime of my initial consultation fee.

            I also use that initial consultation fee as a weeding mechanism. If a client objects to paying the consultation fee, the client won’t pay the fee for my actual work for them. I don’t need any more no-pay clients (outside of the pro bono work I do through recognized pro bono agencies)

            I learned the hard way that, in my area of practice, if I give a free initial consultation, I devalue myself in the client’s eyes (and in my own). I am not willing to do that.

      • When I opened my practice, 35 years ago, I tried free consultation. What that brought me was an unending line of potential clients with a rare signup. From that time I began with a $20 consultation fee and have periodically increased it to the current level of $200. Raising the consultation fee has not hurt my practice, In fact, it increased it. Of course it is most important that the lawyer is successful in the cases he accept and never to accept a frivolous or looser of a case. My thought are for lawyers with a high volume practice. I practice immigration laws.

    • Anil Thomas
      on said:

      Consultation fees is a must in legal profession.A Client comes to a lawyer when he has a problem.You are bound to give him legal advice for his problem.Whether he accepts your advice or not is secondary at the initial stage.So if you don’t charge him initially ,you mayn’t get anything from him later.

      • Hi Anil,
        But what about situations where the client is choosing between several lawyers and is meeting you to see if you are the best fit? Do you think it’s right to charge a client a fee to hear your firm’s sales pitch? Does your practice area permit you have a quick meeting/call where you do not provide specific legal advice in the meeting, and then schedule a paid consult once they take the next step with you?

        • Michelle Brown
          on said:

          I agree with you 100% such is the case for us. We are looking to interview several attorney for a legal matter for my son. I’m not expecting legal advice. I want to know about experience, if they have handle this type of case. What’s the experience in the particular jurisdiction. If people are coming in expecting free legal advise at a consult shame on them. I dont expect legal advise until I have retained them.

          • Thanks Michelle,

            I’m glad you posted here, and hope that other attorneys see this because it’s refreshing to hear from a client’s perspective.

            I have been a ‘buyer’ of legal services many times, and have refused to do business with an attorney who wants to bill me to hear their sales pitch. I can find dozens of others who would be willing to have a quick conversation so I can form an opinion as to whether I want to trust my sensitive matters (and legal budget) to them. Given the high cost of handling most legal issues, that’s not an unreasonable thing to ask.

            I’m not sure many of my attorney colleagues have been in the position of needing to purchase legal services in a practice area where they didn’t already know someone through their professional network that they trust. Prudent buyers will meet with a few people and go with the attorney they feel most comfortable with.

          • Just sharingsome general and some Indian experiences. Seen from the individual client’s point of view I recognize his need to know about alternative legal remedies, chances of success, assessment about fees and selection of the best lawyer.. This need has to be balanced with lawyers need for optimum time utilization, avoidance of entertaining non-serious, window shoppers whom one meets a lot. Such initial consultations often last approx 2-3 hours and some pre-research and application of mind is undertaken by the lawyer to supply the prospective client an indication of the possibilities, remedies and showcasing his own skill to deliver the goods. After all this majority of them dont turn up presumably because they found the clue to handle their problem, chose other lawyers or were not serious in the first place. But that is the nature of competition.

            A usual practice of Indian lawyers is to meet prospective clients briefly in chambers, rendering a very broad opinion/advice, asking them to visit another time with papers and payment for counsel, evaluation and advice. With so much competition in India, the system works well for both parties.

            Things in the U.S. and probably Europe are different as I see. There seems to be lesser access and free shopping since lawyers rarely agree to meet without appointment and hourly payment.

        • Kerith Kentish
          on said:

          Hello Anil,

          Interesting discussion you have going on here. My view is that larger firms can afford to give free legal consults. They have additional man power. Solo practitioners and smaller firms have to be very calculated with their most valuable resource, time.

          I wanted to write to address the point you raised about whether it is fair for a client to be charged if he is lawyer shopping. That is the Client’s decision. If your view is to find favour it would mean for instance that if a client went to lawyer A to get a problem solved but it wasn’t fully solved or not properly solved Lawyer B who is retained to fix the problem shouldn’t charge because the Client is already out of fees.

          I think clients are wise and resourceful. There is so much more access in terms of social media, press, websites that invariably help clients get a feel for who the lawyer is.My view is that if the Client can afford to lawyer shop, then he can afford to pay my consultation fee.

          Consultation fee is not a time for sales pitch. We do advance the sale pitch in terms of our language, conduct and professionalism throughout the consultation. However the consultation is where I am paid to give a client advice. I wouldn’t charge a client to hear my sales pitch but if a client is asking for legal advice he or she will pay for it.

        • You bet I charge clients. The client hears more than my firm’s sales pitch at the initial consultation; they become actual clients for that consultation and get actual, if provisional, legal advice. I charge for that.

          • That’s a reasonable approach Nancy. If you’re giving actual legal advice, then clients should pay, and your discounted consult approach (from the comment above) is fair. My firm takes a similar approach for certain types of consults, in particular those where the client is looking to leave the meeting with some specific form of guidance. I describe this in a comment above.

            I think to answer this question fairly, we need to parse out what part of the initial consult is sales, and what part of it is legal counsel. In many practice areas you can do the former without doing the latter.

            Many legal consumers, including me, will not pay for legal services from anyone (consult or otherwise) until I can have a dialogue with them about their experience with my type of issue, whether they have worked with clients like me before, their billing structure, estimated rates for certain types of projects, and general conversation to see whether we can get along. This could be accomplished in a short phone conversation, which is how my firm handles this, and also how Barry Seidel (one of the commenters here) does as well.

            To do otherwise would be a waste of my time and resources.

            Once that threshold is met, I would gladly pay for a consult that includes precursory legal advice needed to make a final hiring decision. If a lawyer is unwilling to work with me on that basis, then I can simply go to one of the dozens of other lawyers in their area who will.

        • You don’t seem to be a small firm lawyer or, even if your firm is small, it isn’t typical. Most of us don’t have “long term relationships” with “high value clients.” You strike me as being completely out of touch with the realities of solo and small firm practice. The best thing I ever did was stop talking to people for free on the phone and start charging consultation fees. I used to kiss a lot of frogs looking for a princess and all I got was warts. Charging an initial consultation fee saves me a lot of wasted time and money. I have no less work to do. In fact, I probably have a lot more work to do and people respect the fact that I can charge and stay busy. It shows I’m in demand and not desperate.

    • Steven Carl Vickery
      on said:

      You’re also a professional being interviewed by a client. Why do you think they are there for a consultation. Most of the things you discuss during a consultation can be found on google. It’s a formal interview to discuss things with an attorney to see if he or she is a good fit for the client. Personally if you’re going to charge me 200+ for an hour you’ve just lost a client.

    • In my case, I asked an attorney to quote me a price to handle an IRS matter for me, the Streamlined Disclosure. I provided all th3 relevant problems briefly and clearly, gave ample background info and asked for a range. It was rather clear I had to pay for that estimate. I’m not spending my time to explain in extreme detail, and pay to do so, only to find that the attorney has priced himself out of representing me. Innthis case, the attorney lost the complete chance to do so. And guess what? It was quite easy to find other attorneys that were willing to briefly discuss the matter and give a quote.

  2. Stephanie
    on said:

    A lot of the information and “advice” I find online is basically common sense if you any general knowledge on the subject. This post was actually very helpful (I love the idea of crediting back the consultation fee when retained). I love your model and the rationale behind it. Someday, when I open up a practice, I will do the same for my clients. Thank you!

    • Hi Stephanie, I think the key is finding what strikes the best balance for your practice. Not limiting the amount of lead traffic, but making efficient use of your time. Remember though, that if a prospective client is not a good fit for you, you can always refer that client to another attorney (like having money in the bank in terms of return referrals), or if that client has a good experience with you in the consult, they may refer you to friends or colleagues who are a better fit for your practice.

      It’s important to look at each prospect’s value not just for their immediate matter but getting referrals to their friends/colleagues, and also the potential to refer to other attorneys, you will grow your practice exponentially, and in short order. I think some attorneys, who are very fixated on getting paid for their time, may be, at times, missing the big picture when it comes to to the issue of consult fees.

  3. Of course they should. Indeed, it is surprising, and a measure of the perverse changes in lawyer economics, that the question is even asked.

  4. Yvette Dudley
    on said:

    I have had my practice for over 20 years and have always charged a consultation fee. In fact it has increased over the years. When I was establishing my office, a more seasoned attorney told me that my time is valuable and so is my knowledge and information. Yes, there have been people who opted not to pay the fee and decided to go elsewhere but overall I believe that I receive a better client when I place a value on my time upfront. Also as mentioned above, many have said that they cannot afford the consultation fee which only tells me that they absolutely cannot afford anything thereafter.

    • I think that what is interesting about topics like this (an also billing practices, retainers, marketing strategies and similar topics) is that we, as a profession, often talk about it from a “one-size-fits-all” perspective, which doesn’t work. An attorney’s position on the issue is always rooted in our particular practice area, but it’s impossible to compare my corporate transactional practice with, say, a high volume immigration practice. If I get a meeting with an investment banker to discuss a potential representation, you’d never get work if you demanded a consult fee (in fact, you’d never get the meeting). But on the other side of my practice, where we represent entrepreneurs who often find me through press mentions or on the web, I get a lot of tire kickers looking for fee advice. A quick phone screen, either by me or an assistant, can identify these types of clients. We make them an offer for an hour consult, usually at a discounted rate. They walk away with some specific legal advice and I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time.

      This being said, I can see how a more b-to-c type practice where there is greater concern about clients being able to afford services, the initial consult fee may be more appropriate.

      I may approach this topic from a slightly unique perspective because I am also a frequent purchaser of legal services through Law Firm Suites. I will not hire an attorney (or any other professional for that matter) who charges for an initial consult. And as a frequent referrer of legal services to other attorneys, I will not refer cases to attorneys (including our clients at Law Firm Suites) who charge an initial consult to my contacts. I feel strongly that clients should not have to pay to hear a sales pitch. Sales is a cost of doing business, and the fact that you haven’t structured your practice to account for the time may mean you need to rethink the business of your practice. This is my opinion, based on my experience, and realize that others may feel differently.

      At the end of the day, it’s all about maximizing profits in our practices, and there is a delicate balance between bringing business in the door and making the most efficient use of your time. You definitely touch on this in your article. Instead of asking simply do I charge a consult fee or not not, I think attorneys (who are rarely consumers of legal services) would be much better served to really wrap their heads around how asking for a consult fee will affect client perception and retention. I suspect the answer will be different not only by practice area, but the specific type of client that the attorney services in the practice area.

  5. David Wasonga
    on said:

    just as when they are charged while seeking consultation from a medical doctor so do they need to do the same while seeking such consultation from attorneys. in my view, law is a practice just like other should therefore be well compensated right from day one.

  6. Ananda Gomathy
    on said:

    At India the practice of charging a consultation fee is not much rampant. However I have had bad experiences of the client sitting in my office for more than a week and then walk away without paying a penny but I also saw clients who insisted to pay a consultation fee even when I waived it.

    The mantra is to judge the person before you take a call. I sometimes advice on the periphery and outline what can be done and when they need the intricate details I set the fee and go in for further advice only when the paycheck materialises.

  7. Although Ihave not yet charged a consultation fee, I am likely to change that Policy in the near future. With a highly focused practice, I simply cannot justify giving free legal advice to people who want to knowhow they can do A Or do I think they have a case. The next question is how would you deal with the issue. Since is invariably going to compare these answers, you endue giving legal advise.

  8. Sometimes on an initial phone call, I will ask enough questions to determine what a matter is about (and in my mind what the threshold legal issues are). If the client wants to come in for a consultation, and asks me if I give a “free consultation”, I say “You just had it”. Then, to prevent any bad feelings or ill-will, I politely point out that I already have a pretty good idea what the case is about and what the legal issues are. I then offer a consultation for one hour at a flat fee that is half my usual hourly rate. Sometimes that ends the call, sometimes they come in and pay for the consult, and sometimes they come in and retain me.
    I agree with Joleena, many times these are clients who really can’t afford an attorney and will be trouble. I’d rather cut my losses. There is almost never an upside. One exception would be a personal injury case where on the phone “there may be something to it”. If there are serious damages, I would give a free consult on that, even if I would then seek to refer the case.

  9. I have never charged a consultation fee since I became a lawyer 31 years ago. My practice is diversified including divorce and family law, bankruptcy, personal injury and criminal law. No one in the personal injury field in the NYC area charges for consultation. I try to limit the consultation to under a half an hour. At that time I advise the client that the free consultation is over. They have a choice to retain me or to pay for a consultation on a regular hourly basis.

  10. Stuck In the DMV
    on said:

    Recently I needed to consult with a lawyer related to security clearances.
    I received a large list of potential lawyers through several POC’s and decided to touch base with several of them to go over information and provide Feedback.
    I have to say about half of them charged initial consultation fee’s and I pretty much ignored them all.
    I did end up going with a lawyer whom, while he didn’t spend 3 hours. He did spend roughly 20 minutes going over some information. Based on his ability to non greedy I did retain his services which bad for me but good for him yielded several thousand dollars.

    Beyond working with federal government I also assist pro bono with several nonprofits and inherently had a consistent issue with greedy lawyers. Or greedy people in general.
    For me one of the most important questions I wanted an answer to was what was the feasibility of the case.
    Again the individual I spoke to was able to sum up the process and feasibility in 30 minutes or less and that was good enough for.

    So I believe lawyers should be open to free consultant but set a time limit on that. Granted some people can babble on for ever. I will also divulge I consult in the federal government so much like many lawyers my time is based off an hourly rate. But I can say empathically I would receive very little business if I told everyone I wanted to charge just to talk.

    • I think your references to lawyers being “greedy” because they want to charge for an initial consult would tell me I would not want you as a client. And then you describe retaining the lawyer as “bad for you and good for him.” No, it’s good for you too, but you despise lawyers. This convinces me further that charging a consultation fee keeps away the wrong clients.

  11. Harry Hackney
    on said:

    I’ve been charging a consultation fee for many years. The only affect it has had on my practice is to reduce the amount of time I spent kissing frogs to find the very occasional prince. I used to waste huge amounts of time giving out free legal advice to people so that I worked twice as hard for my money. No more. Do a lot of people take a pass when informed of the fee? Absolutely. Do I believe those people were serious potential clients? Absolutely not. Generally, the consultation takes 90 minutes to 2 hours. In many cases, I engage in preparation for the meeting as well. Thus, I usually end up making a fraction of my normal hourly rate. But something still beats nothing every time.

    As for the gentleman who considers it “greedy” for me to be paid for my time, good luck to you. I wouldn’t want you as a client anyway. You’ll no doubt whine about every bill because, after all, it is a product of my “greed” and not payment for my time and advice. Somehow you don’t see it as greed for you to demand something for nothing. Whatever.

    I practice litigation in the areas of commercial law, probate, guardianship, and trusts.

    • Thanks for your input Harry. What we’ve learned is that a one-size-fits-all approach to this issue doesn’t work.

      Can you let us know what your practice area is? Also, what do you usually charge for your consult and how is this different from your billable rate (you mention you take a hit on the fee sometimes)?

      Also, will you talk to a prospective client for a few minutes by phone prior to them committing to the consult? From the buyer’s perspective, how do they determine if you are a good fit for their matter (and personal needs) and whether paying you for a consult fee is a good value for them? Is your position that they they just have to risk the fee to find out?

      This is an issue that is routinely reported to us by clients, and we are curious how other lawyers handle the “pre-sell” so to speak.

  12. I think it depends on the practice, but let’s not ignore the fact that in many cases, the attorney is interviewing the client at least as much as the client is interviewing the attorney. We want to know if the case worth taking – and that requires an analysis of the client’s situation. In my practice area – immigration – people often fish for information in order to do their own petitions but attorneys are also using the consultation to recommend (i.e. ‘sell’) visa projects. I have even seen cases in which an attorneys knowingly applied for relief for which the client was not eligible (and charged handsomely for these applications) – and then blamed USCIS for denying them. Or where negative consequences of filing for certain categories were not addressed because they would have scared the client off.
    I usually charge for my consultations and credit back if a project results – because I want my clients to know that I will recommend what’s in their best interest. I want to be free to take the time to look at each client’s personal situation (including potential negative tax consequences, family issues, strategies, etc.) before I recommend any project. This is money well spent because it provides clarity and allows people to plan for their careers, their families and their ultimate success. Also – we expose ourselves to liability for our advice, even if that advice is free or – my favorite – the consideration is a ‘cup of coffee’ or a ‘glass of wine.’ Not worth it.

    • Your approach is a reasonable one Norma, and I agree fully that it depends on practice area. I have heard the same complaint from our immigration colleagues at LFS. The matrimonial folks also seem to deal with similar issues.

      But to play Devil’s advocate, exposing ourselves to liability for advice potentially given in a consult context is just part of the business (and why we carry malpractice policies). Getting paid a few hundred dollars for a consult that gets credited back to the client if they hire you doesn’t really mitigate that level of risk (as compared to a free consult), but may materially curtail some attorneys’ lead traffic.

      Thanks for your comment!

  13. It does depend on the practice area. I represent employees in Texas. Jobs are very important to people, but the laws here aren’t particularly favorable to employees. So a lot of employees call because of a “hostile environment” or something similar, to see if they have a case. Often, no they don’t, but they could use advice that improves their life. Make a complaint to HR by email, and BCC yourself. Document your work performance. Start looking for another job because you have no legal rights here. Do X to improve your chances of getting unemployment.

    The list is endless. My employee rights firm’s mission is “To improve the life of every Texas employee that comes to us for help.” That improvement has value, so I think it’s best to charge for the initial consult *in my particular situation*. I am just changing my practice right now. And I agree on referrals – you want to *take care* of that referral, so that your referring friend of colleague looks good.

    • Thanks for your comment Kerry. In your instance, given the likely high volume of calls, percentage of inquiries that do not result in a case but where you are able to give sound advice, charging a consult fee will weed out people who are serious or not.

      Does it ever concern you that you may lose potential clients with good cases because they will do a consult with a competitor who does not charge a consult fee?

      Also, just curious, do you offer a discount (as compared to your standard hourly rate) for the consult or credit it against any fees if the case is signed?

  14. My approach is similar to charging a consultation fee and crediting it to the retainer. My consultations are “no cost, no obligation” BUT I do charge a $100.00 “no show” fee to be paid on line 24 hours before the meeting, or the meeting is not scheduled. I refund the fee by check at the meeting, or credit it to the retainer should the client choose to retain me.

    I tend to see merits in both arguments that a service is being offered and the meeting is a sales pitch and “first date” to consider the mutual compatibility of client and attorney. Making the meeting “no cost” lowers the expectation that I am really providing a service and can be held liable for any errors or omissions should someone seek to rely only on that meeting for advice. (This is posted online as a “term and condition” see ).

    By the same token, the prepay of a “no show” fee eliminates a lot of deadbeats, people trolling for free advice, bozos and tire kickers. Not to say no shows themselves, of which there used to be a LOT (perhaps 1 in 3, and then the people were unreachable). What I think happens is that in a consumer practice, panicky people call a bunch of attorneys to set up meetings, and, if there is no up front fee, just decide to ditch the meeting if they have decided on another attorney or to self-represent. In that case, they are usually too lazy, embarrassed or rude to call me and tell me they have other plans. No one will do that if they stand to have a Franklin returned for simply cancelling a meeting a day in advance.

    As I work from home and only have meetings at a co-working conference room facility I’m a member at, the no shows used to kill half a day and really annoy me. With the no show fee up front, I’ve totally eliminated the no show problem, eliminated most non-serious tire kickers and free advice folks and greatly improved my conversion rate, Now most preliminary consultations result in a sale (and I also do fixed fees, so I leave the meeting at the end with “if you want to hire me, pay the retainer online or by dropping off a check by [date several dates before court date]”.

    • From the string of comments, it seems that B-to-C practice seem to have the most trouble with no shows for the reasons you explain. This is an excellent and creative example that is fair to both lawyer and client. I’m glad that you have mentioned that by doing this, you have struck a balance between protecting your time and not having your consult fee cause you to lose out on potential clients. Thanks for the comment!!

  15. Hamoody Hassan
    on said:

    I charge . It works. It let’s people know I am serious. & I mean it when I explain we are evaluating each other for a modest fee. It allows me to waive the fee. This is food practice. It is suitable for various cases that will. Be hourly. You recover mod

  16. I do not charge a consultation fee. The reason is that I cannot determine an appropriate fee until my questions are answered by the client and phone consultations do not suffice. Once I have determined the scope of work; I can quote an appropriate fee. Often the scope of work is more involved than initially thought by the client.
    My practice is limited to the State of New Jersey.
    Best regards,
    Keith A. Singer, Esq.

  17. Excellent article Ms. Louis! I still struggle as to whether I should, or shouldn’t charge a consultation fee. However, your article has definitely put me at ease with my current decision to charge. Thanks!

    • Hi Joleena. Great article! I’m just now considering charging for in person consultations after 9 years of giving 20+ minutes of free telephone consultations. Do you know of any online sample consultation agmts you could recommend? My area of law would mean that a consultation is really issue spotting. It would be impossible for me to give any concrete opinions. I’d like to limit the consultation to that in writing? Any thoughts would be helpful. Thank you.

  18. Luke Yancey
    on said:

    I think it is good that you are charging your potential clients for questions or consultations. Like you said, you are not working as part of a practice, and need as much money you can get. I would do the same if I were in your place.

  19. It has been interesting reading all the comments. It’s obvious that the practice of law requires different approaches to similar problems. What works for one may not work for another. Good discussion. As a nonpracticing attorney, I don’t deal with this issue but there’s certainly merit behind each side of the issue.

  20. always charged for any consult unless it is a 5-10 minutes consult over the phone. Can you walk into a pizza restaurant and ask to “test” their pizza? Cheapskates are a plenty, pretending to ask for free consult for 30 minutes or so just to find “comfort level” in buying legal services. Current clients are tricky lot to manage especially corporates – they may retain you for a few cases and asked for free advice for the next 5 ! – anyone has any advice out there dealing with current but looking for free advice? charged them in their next bill ? Thanks

  21. This is a great article, thank you!

    I also waive the consult fee if the client retains that day and I don’t charge from referral sources.

    How much is your flat fee for those who just want information? I’m finding it challenging to set the right price. Thanks again!

    • Hi Michele, thanks for your comment! In my corporate practice, I generally charge enough to make sure the person is serious, but less than my hourly rate (since I will still try to get my marketing pitch in). Usually I charge 40% – 50% my hourly rate (more than $150 and less than $300 usually strikes a good balance).

      • Thanks Stephan for the lovely article! I do understand your point of view.

        But I agree with Anna and Nancy 100%, We yourself used to NOT charge a consultation fee and a lot more people came took the advice and never came back, Now we charge a fee and that converts better. The person is more serious to register the case further. Still, it is up to the lawyer.

        Thanks, Sarah

  22. Al Allison
    on said:

    Wow! This has been a great read, guys! I’m a fairly new solo, and my couple years of free consults have been soiled with “visitors” either sopping up free legal advice or standing me up for consultations. I’ve struggled the entire time on the question of whether to charge, but have been reticent to do so for fear that the short-sighted potential client might go elsewhere and follow the free consult with a cash retainer. Even after reading all of this, I’m still not certain that charging will prove a better way to go, but I agree that the initial consult is part sales pitch and part legal advice and that charging for my time – even if said charge is later refunded – would likely weed out more time sinks than would it, sacrifice visitors that would have otherwise become clients.

  23. As a client I believe the first initial contact should be informal. It is extremely important from my point of view to have a good idea if this or that lawyer is worth my investment. Because that’s what it is. I invest my money and trust. So I expect honest, professionalism and the legal help that I need/requested. It comes with a fees. This year I have experienced that lawyers took advantage of me as a client. One did everything off the books under the table method, no taxes on the invoice. And overcharged me for work I could have figured myself. The other one I put my trust in for 6 months and suddenly disappeared with no news whatsoever. Very unprofessional. Bare in mind this is Portugal and legally things go a lot different. But now I am scouting for a new lawyer who can sue the other lawyer and also deal with my issue where I need legal help with. So 9 out 10 lawyers here charge an initial consultation fees ranging from 70-170 USD. That is a lot for just listening to my problems haha. Sorry but I want to know first whether you as a lawyer are qualified enough to help me that you have the expertise to get the job done. So I decided to go with that 1 lawyer out of many who does not offer a consultation fees. If he is good he will show to me that is the right person that I again have to put my trust in. Then we can discuss money. I prefer a fixed fees so that I do not get any surprises. Because we all know that lawyers like to add a bit here and there and suddenly I go over my budget. I rather agree on a fixed fees. I pay 50% upfront and the other 50% when the job is done. Seems fair.

    • Mary Odum
      on said:

      As a Paralegal I have been with firms on both sides of this coin My experience with the attorney not charging a consult fee was more into “selling himself” type initial consult, and generally IC was scheduled to last no more than an hour, so he wasn’t investing a lot of his time, but he had lots of experience and a charming persona to offer; and the attorney that did charge for IC would go beyond the sell-yourself charm, give actual, helpful advice, while spending it seemed too much time for the standard, nominal fee. I guess it would be all in how each person perceives the definition of an Initial consult, and how much of themselves they are willing to put into the meeting.

  24. I charge a consultation fee. It is less than my hourly fee, but enough to cover the advice that is given in the initial consultation. I do agree that it depends on practice areas. I am focused solely on probate, guardianship and estate planning and many times there are ways to resolve either their estate planning needs without anything complicated and if I can do that, then the consultation fee was well worth it to the client (I practice in FL and probate here is generally expensive and time consuming). Additionally, probate and guardianship clients come in expecting to retain me because they are unfamiliar with their options or the law and many times an attorney isn’t necessary, so the peace of mind I’ve given them is also worth the consultation fee. I must admit, there are quite a few times, though, that I get into the consultation and realize it is something that will take 10 minutes to get through and waive the fee simply because it seems wrong to accept it. I also don’t charge clients referred by other financial planners/cpas for the initial consultation. It drives my staff crazy, but I tell them to quote it (unless it is coming from a referral source) and then give me the discretion to waive it. Again, I do believe it depends on the practice area, though. In my early days I was a litigator, and also charged a consultation fee for the reasons stated in the article: if you can’t afford the consultation fee, you aren’t going to be able to pay for the litigation expenses! Great article and I loved the discussion!

  25. William Rivers Freedman
    on said:

    My comment is to”Bill” who wrote, “Can you walk into a pizza restaurant and ask to “test” their pizza? Cheapskates are a plenty, pretending to ask for free consult for 30 minutes or so just to find “comfort level” in buying legal services.” I’m not attorney but have eaten many a meal. Any reputable eatery will gladly let you taste the house specialty.

    As a consumer of legal services I like the business model whereby the initial consult fee is used as a portion of the final bill if the client chooses to retain that particular attorney.

  26. For me a consultation is to find out the following from potential counsel:

    1. Has the experience and knowledge to help with my case
    2. Is willing (believes they can) to help
    3. An opportunity for them to gain or lose my trust.

    Why should I have to pay to obtain those things? None are in themselves legal advice. Its more akin to vetting. I can vet my Dentist, Doctor, plumber and other essential services without having to pay a fee to do it. Granted, this is easier to do today than it was 20 years ago.

    I am OK with paying a consultation fee that they credit back to my account if I choose to retain their services. I think that is fair. However, I have yet to hear a firm offer that.

  27. I had formed to leave a comment, man do I have a
    difficult time writing
    a blog. Im looking to kick start one on my website and I have
    to say
    its not easy at all. I really do admire people like yourself who
    able to reveal anything with ease. Keep up the nice work!

  28. That’s a good point that you could get more people to stick around for your service by charging for consulting. I agree that if they are just there for a little bit of advice then they probably wouldn’t need to use your services. Hopefully charging for them could help you get more business.

  29. That makes sense that you would want to be paid for your legal advice if you were just consulting someone. I would think that adding consultation fees on top of legal services would be a bit much though. If I ever get a lawyer, I should make sure that I am paying them a fair amount for the work they did for me.

  30. It’s interesting to know that attorney consultations can be free and some others may charge a fee to do it, and that doesn’t depend on the government or any laws but the lawyer or firm itself. My mom is currently looking for a personal injury attorney, and since we don’t have right now we’re looking for the best option. I will definitely let her know that free consultations are a thing, and we’ll start looking for an attorney that offers that service.

  31. Before the internet, one had no choice but to pay for someone’s advice. Thankfully in today’s world, people are more educated and can find basic answers to their questions via the internet. Many lawyers do not mind having a website with information to help potential clients. It’s one way to market a lawyer’s services. A lawyer’s informational website can also lend help for simple requests (i.e. services to draw up “Affidavit of Heirship” forms, Transfers On Death Deed forms, etc.), charging a one time fee to prepare these particular forms, with instructions about where to have these docs recorded, and the fee which the county charges.

  32. Hi,
    In my opinion, taking consultation fees is not a big problem, but in some situations, there is no need of taking consultation fees because all this will depends upon the cases or issues.

    if they are getting out of trouble only because of our advice then we can charge a fee and no need to worry about that. In the same way, cheating clients is also not supported by charging extra money from them by making them fools by giving advises.

  33. Robert Noe
    on said:

    I am not comfortable paying a consultation fee without knowing if I could afford to hire the lawyer to take my case much less to see if they could help. No lawyer seems to ever want to give out their price information until after they hear the customer’s case.

  34. I like your idea that if someone can’t pay a minimal fee for a problem in their life then they aren’t too serious about it. Some people just might not have the money needed to pay. But others are abusing the system and that is wrong.

  35. It makes sense that a transaction attorney might have a different view. I would like to see their opinion. Maybe I can find a transaction attorney near me that can help me out.

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