Ask Daliah: Free client consultations can cost you
Dear Daliah: Should I offer free initial client consultations?
Dear Readers: Unless you have a very streamlined process for fielding new clients or can delegate the task to a non-attorney, my recommendation would be to charge.
When I first started out, I offered prospective clients a free initial consultation. I figured I had the time and that free consultations would help me attract more clients. Some of these free client meetings resulted in the client ultimately retaining me, but the majority resulted, instead, in wasted preparation and meeting time. This was especially true when I pored over client information only to let the client know, at the free meeting, that she did not have a case.
I continued to justify this practice as the cost of doing business—until my call and meetings schedule became unsustainable. I found myself repeatedly teaching copyright and trademark law, explaining how our litigation system worked, or worse, explaining why that post on [pick your website of choice] did or did not constitute defamation.
To recoup my precious billable hours, I eventually implemented two changes. First, I created a series of YouTube videos, embedded into my site, that provide answers to frequently asked questions. Second, I invested in a custom appointment scheduling tool that integrates with PayPal.
At the top right of my website clients are directed to “Book An Appointment.” When they click on that link they get the following message:
To get a sense of our expertise and how we work with new clients, feel free to call us at (312) 527-4100. If you have substantive questions about a specific issue, please book a consultation. Such questions include:
• How should I set up my business?
• How do I protect my intellectual property?
• How do I bring or defend a lawsuit?
• Can you read this contract and tell me what it means?
• How should I structure my sweepstakes or contest rules?
• Is it legal to … ?
Clients have to pay $100 for the initial consultation, in advance, in order to secure an appointment with me or another attorney at my office. Clients are also informed up front that this is a reduced fee and that our hourly rate is higher. The best part of this appointment widget is that prospective clients can book an appointment without having to call the office.
If a client is serious about retaining you or learning more from your expertise, $100 should not scare them off. You, in turn, can recoup some of your time and attract more discerning clients.
Daliah Saper opened Saper Law Offices, an intellectual property, digital media, entertainment and business law firm based in Chicago, in 2005. Saper is regularly interviewed on national TV, radio and in several publications, including Fox News, CNN, CNBC, ABC News, 20/20, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. She is an adjunct professor of entertainment law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.