Offering a “Free Consultation” is, without a doubt, a valuable sales tool. Unfortunately, this tactic also bears several downfalls, especially for sole practitioners and small law firms, where an attorney’s time and expertise is directly related to their income.
While the goal of offering free consultations is to lure potential clients into your office, the problem with this tactic is that it doesn’t guarantee you will be hired. Another issue is that the client’s motives or someone’s perceived value of your time and knowledge prior to a consultation is unknown. This leads to legal professionals wasting valuable time with prospective clients who lack respect for attorney’s time and attorneys providing insight and often advice on cases without being compensated. As a solo practitioner, you do not have the luxury of wasting your valuable time and knowledge on such fruitless practices.
Over the years, attorneys have attempted to address the issues by offering restricted consultations, for example, free initial consultations or free 30-minute consultations. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t address the root of the problem: wasting valuable time.
So how do attorneys remain competitive but avoid the pitfalls of free consultations? By rethinking the consultation process.
For many prospective clients, the term consultation conjures the notion of free advice. Providing a “free consultation” gives the prospective client power and control of the situation and can diminish the value of an attorney’s expertise. The average individual expects to present their folder of documents, lay it out for the attorney, and get their questions answered all before deciding if it’s worth paying for legal representation. This practice does not place you, as a solo attorney, in a favorable position, nor is it an effective business strategy for growth.
The critical missing piece of the process is qualifying clients. Through the right qualifying process, attorneys can establish the value of their services while retaining power and control of the situation.
Instead of providing the outdated free consultation, attorneys need to implement a qualification process initiated by a case evaluation. Anyone in the office can perform a case evaluation, whether it be an attorney, paralegal, or receptionist. By asking a series of specific qualifying questions, an experienced attorney will quickly determine the quality and potential of a case.
The case evaluation can be performed through various means of communication such as email, live chat, or over the phone, rather than in person. Offering a “free case evaluation” provides clients the same perceived value as a “free consultation” but allows attorneys to retain control, establish their firm’s credibility, and convey the value of consulting with an experienced attorney.
Once a client is qualified, the attorney is positioned to offer various options regarding a full consultation, including a discounted rate, a flat rate, or an hourly rate. Many attorneys offer to apply the consultation fee toward future costs if retained. Charging for consultations allows attorneys to reinforce the value of their services and avoid spending time on people who are not seriously considering retaining an attorney. This process will also enable attorneys to provide more direct guidance regarding a client’s situation, which creates a worthwhile experience for the client.
While providing free consultations has been the standard for attracting prospective clients in the legal industry, the critical process of qualifying a prospect before investing any meaningful time is often overlooked to the detriment of small firms. Qualification should be a core business practice for every attorney and, if followed diligently, will lead to a more profitable business.
It’s time to rethink your firm’s consultation process. If you need assistance creating a qualification process for your legal practice, contact Bardorf Legal Marketing and learn how to boost your business through better marketing.