Here’s what’s really happening during that “free” consultation
We get it, lawyers have a reputation for being expensive. In fact, dispelling that reputation has become the cornerstone of a lot of legal advertising. Pay nothing and receive excellent legal advice and representation. You hear it a lot, and it sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately, it very often is just that: too good to be true. In reality, there really is no such thing as a free consultation. The quality of your consultation experience might not be up to your expectations either.
We’ve put together this article to give you an insider’s perspective on what’s really happening during that “free” consultation.
1) You get what you pay for
Experienced and busy lawyers who are in high demand usually don’t have the hours in the day to commit to working for free when they have important deadlines and court dates for existing clientele who have paid for legal services.
It’s tempting to think of a free consultation similarly to how you might grab a free sample of a meal at a food court. The difference; however, is that you can be confident that the sliver of general tao at the end of that toothpick is going to taste exactly like the meal you’re about to order. Unfortunately, when it comes to lawyers, you really don’t know what you’re buying until it’s too late. By the time you realize that your lawyer has made some serious error due to inexperience or lack of attention, it’s usually too late, and that free consultation that initially filled you with confidence is already long behind you.
Like most goods and services, the market price of a product or service will tell you whether it’s in high or low demand. The fact that your lawyer is charging a consultation fee should signal that their time is actually worth paying for. On the other hand, when you’re paying nothing for a product or services, the value of what you receive might just be reflected in the price.
2) If you’re not paying for your own consultation, you’ll be paying for someone else’s
Think about it, your lawyer has to pay for his or her office lease, support staff, malpractice insurance, law society membership fees, legal software and, very often, student debt. That money has to come from somewhere, and it usually comes from clients who’ve paid for that lawyer’s time. So, if a lawyer is giving you a free consultation, it’s because someone else has paid enough money to that lawyer to enable him or her to set aside a few hours of each week (or even each day) to provide free consultations. If you choose to proceed with a lawyer from whom you received a free consultation, you’re eventually going to be that "someone else".
3) Your lawyer’s attention during the consultation is divided
Law firm owners are always conscious of their overhead expenses, and law firm associates have intense pressure to meet billable hour targets. Therefore, in any free consultation, your lawyer’s attention is likely to be split between processing the information you’re giving to him or her, and meeting their financial obligations, either to their boss or their landlord. The pressure to convert you into a paying client will be ever-present.
Remember, a lawyer is a knowledge worker, they get paid for the contents of their minds, not their physical strength or skill with a screwdriver. If your lawyer’s mind is distracted by things that don’t have anything to do with your case, then the single most important asset that they have to offer you isn’t functioning at its best.
This distraction can be dispelled by simply paying for the consultation, so your lawyer can give you his or her full attention. In fact, he or she will likely go the extra mile for you during that first meeting if he or she knows that you’ve purchased their full attention.
4) Your lawyer’s entire calendar is divided
The reasoning in point #3 above extends to the lawyer’s entire calendar. In any given hour of any given day while the lawyer is at work, he or she has to choose to spend that hour between working for his or her clients, or soliciting new business by giving free consultations. Obviously, this results in less time working for clients who have paid for legal services, and more time giving numerous free consultations.
Lawyers who work this way often want to begin charging a consultation fee, but fear that they will meet with fewer clients. Although it is true that consultation fees result in fewer consultations, nothing could be better for the lawyer’s existing clients. With fewer free consultations filling up his or her calendar, your lawyer will be more likely to spend any given hour working for you: the client.
If there’s one thing that client’s dislike more than lawyers’ fees, it’s the speed (or more accurately, lack of speed) at which results are obtained. Of course, much of the delay experienced by clients is inherent in the justice system and is outside the hands of the lawyer, but that makes it all the more important not to give your lawyer another reason to impede his or her speed.
Admittedly, although KPA no longer offers free consultations, we did so for a long time as a way to help people who couldn’t otherwise afford legal services.
We realized that this wasn’t the best way to help others and also maximize our attention to our current clients. We’ve been able to help a lot more people by hosting free public info sessions, which are often sold out events with large audiences. These events occur after hours and ensure that our team is able to provide more focused attention to current clients during usual business hours.
If you’d like to purchase some time with one of our lawyers, click here.