NYC virtual office attorney, Vivian Sobers, tackles the controversial subject of initial consult fees, and explains why she does not charge them.
Recently a colleague in my NYC virtual office space wanted to refer a case to me. It was for one of his clients in a practice area that he did not handle.
But before he would send the client’s contact information to me, he asked whether I charge an initial consult fee. This lawyer had made it clear that if I did, he would have sent the case to another attorney who did not.
As a rule, I do not believe in charging initial consult fees. Before I get into why it is not right for my practice, let me first say:
1. I am aware that the subject of consult fees is something that solos feel strongly about, both for and against.
2. I don’t believe that there is a “one-size-fits-all” recommendation when it comes to charging consult fees, what works for a high-volume consumer practice may not work for a commercial litigation practice.
3. This is what works for me in my practice niche, the same may not be said for yours.
I don’t feel right charging clients to hear a sales pitch.
In my practice, many of my clients are small business owners who will (hopefully) retain my firm for repeat cases over many years. So every new client has a significant lifetime value.
Squeezing a couple of extra hundred dollars out of a qualified prospect, for me, seems short-sighted.
My firm’s typical client can afford any number of attorneys to handle their cases. When I meet with prospective clients for the initial consult, the meeting is more about the client evaluating me as a suitable candidate to perform services they require.
The meetings tend to be more sales pitch than legal consult. Though I admit, it is often necessary to give some tidbits of legal advice to demonstrate your competence. But that does not mean that I give away enough information for prospect to go out and represent themselves pro se.
I do not believe that it is right for prospective clients to pay to hear my sales pitch. I consider that time a cost of doing business.
I want to maximize lead traffic.
The same is true for referring attorneys who represent these types of clients but in different practice areas.
In my practice, my goal is not to just get retained for the matter at hand, but I want them to come to me for every other matter that they have, and every matter that their friends and colleagues have too.
While I may risk wasting an hour with a tire kicker, by not charging the consult fee I find that I get in front of more prospective clients, which means I retain more clients, and then I am in the best position to then earn their referrals. It’s putting the law of averages to work in my favor.
I greatly increase future sources of referrals.
Even in cases where I end a consult by coming to the conclusion that the client does not have a strong enough case to justify the cost of pursuing it, you would be surprised at how many of those people refer me to their friends and colleagues.
Having that in person consult gives me the opportunity to build rapport, credibility and trust, the best foundation for referrals.
It’s important to look at each prospect’s value not just for their immediate matter but getting referrals to their friends/colleagues.
I get to refer cases to the other attorneys in my NYC virtual office.
Sometimes I end up not being the best fit for a case, but I can usually find another attorney to to refer the client to (one of the perks of renting shared law office space with dozens of other self-employed attorneys). My efforts help out my community, which always comes back to me. It’s like having money in the bank for a rainy day.
It’s all about balancing profits and efficiency.
I think attorneys who are very fixated on getting paid for their time may, at times, miss the big picture when it comes to to the issue of charging initial consult fees. It’s important to look at each prospect’s value–not just for their immediate matter–but getting referred to their friends and colleagues, and also the potential to refer to other attorneys.
It has been my experience that by maximizing lead flow, I have been able to grow my practice exponentially, and in short order.
At the end of the day, it’s all about maximizing profits in our practices, and there is a delicate balance between bringing new business in the door and making the most efficient use of your time.
Instead of simply asking “do I charge a consult fee or not”, I think attorneys would be much better served to really wrap their heads around how asking for a consult fee will affect client perception and retention in their practice niches, and how that may affect profitability.
There is no one way to be successful as a lawyer.
Read our eBook “Virtual Lawyers Dish: Strategies For Success” to learn more!
Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.