"I love giving advice. I write blogs, articles and a newsletter. I host a radio show. I tweet, Facebook and share nuggets of advice almost daily. So what is it in all of that, that would make anyone think they can still have the right to “pick my brain”?"
This article created quite a discussion on one of my lawyer list-serves this week after it was posted by a fellow list-member.
I highly recommend the article; I think Graham makes some great points in her post. And what she says applies to lawyers, too.
Are you squandering your most valuable asset?
Too many lawyers offer too much free advice. That may sound funny coming from me, since I've got not only this blog, but I contribute to the Lawyerist blog as well as Slaw.ca and I do a free e-newsletter and offer additional free articles on my website, LawyerMeltdown.com (not to mention speaking for free at various bar association CLE programs). Up until recently, I did fairly extensive initial consultations for free - even though I was advising my clients not to do that if at all possible. (I'm changing that in my practice).
Part of the problem with giving free advice is that people come to de-value it and they expect more and more for free.
Other than offering a potential client a free consultation, is there any other way you might be able to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise or show the potential client how your consultation will benefit them so that they feel more comfortable paying for the consultation? Do you have other free materials you can give, send or direct them to (like those mentioned above) that will establish your expertise and provide information, but not advice?
As Graham acknowledges, you can give away information for free - specifically, talking to people about what they should do and why they should do it - but the *how* is a different story.
Sean D'Souza, one of my early marketing mentors, calls this "giving the idea, but selling the system."
You can give information for free - but in a limited way. Direct people to your blog or free resources on your website. Agree to a BRIEF no-cost consultation either in person or by phone, just to find out what the potential client might need, whether you can help them and whether you *want to* work with them. If both you and the potential client want to proceed to the next step, it's time for paid work - even if that turns out to be a one time only paid consultation.
Why? In part to eliminate the tire-kickers who don't really value your advice or who aren't in a position to pay. And in part to send a signal to everyone else that your knowledge is valuable.
Want to 'do right' by your actual clients? You can always offer to apply the consultation fee to the client's first payment so that it becomes free for those who move on to work with you, but not for those who take your valuable advice from that first consult and run with it.
Crediting the consultation fee to people who actually become clients and are paying for your work can be a wonderful way of building up loyalty with a client from the beginning of the engagement. And I often tell my clients that there is no reason that they cannot refund a consultation fee to someone who decides not to retain them (or, more importantly, who the lawyer decides they just don’t want as a client) *after* the potential client has demonstrated their commitment by forking over the fee for the consult.
But telling them ahead of time that you won’t bill them for the consultation is the same thing as saying, “Sure, you can pick my brain for free,” or worse, '"My advice isn't valuable enough to require a fee."
Many of my clients who have instituted a paid consultation system say that they waste less time with potential clients who aren't serious or who wouldn't be a good fit for their practice. Many of those who pay for the consultation actually become clients, but of those who don't, the lawyers feel that at least they were compensated for the effort they put in to conduct the consult.
Does this work in all practice areas? Perhaps not. If your practice is a contingency-based one (such as personal injury), where a big selling point is that the client doesn't have to lay out any money for legal fees up front, and that legal fees are paid from settlement proceeds or otherwise at the end of the engagement, a paid consult might not work. But beware how you conduct the initial consultation and how much you give away before the client signs a retainer agreement.
One final footnote: whether you institute a paid consultation system or not, be sure to send a non-engagement letter to those with whom you choose not to work, or who choose not to retain you.
What are your thoughts? Can lawyers successfully charge for initial consultations? What has your experience been?
photo credit: http://flic.kr/p/61eaPC