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?