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Striking the right balance with free consultations

Offering free consultations is a good way to get a conversation started with potential clients. This is particularly true early in your career when you do not have a long track record of trusted relationships with people who can refer work to you. When you are a young professional, you need to find ways to build trust and one way to do that is to show potential clients, in some limited way, what it would be like to work with you.

Free consultations work best when you set limits on your time. If you get in the habit of spending too much time giving free consultations, you may find you are giving way too much of your time and you may also discover that the individuals who are most eager to use your time without paying for it are least likely to become paying clients.

The paradox is that by giving away too much of your time, you devalue your own worth. Setting some limit on the amount of time you give in your free consultations is a way to send a signal that your time is valuable. So, tell a prospect you are happy to give a free 30 to 60 minute consultation (depending on the nature of your practice -- closer to 30 minutes if you do high volume legal work).

You will use up valuable time that could be spent cultivating relationships with referral sources. In other words the opportunity cost is you may be missing the chance to get a better mix of referrals of the types of clients you really want to serve (and who are actually willing to pay for your services).

The ability to set these kinds of limits comes with experience. As your confidence as an attorney grows, you will value your own time in a way you might not when you're just starting out. By being aware of any tendency you might have to give away too much free time early in your career, you will be on the lookout for people who really have no intention of paying you for your services; i.e. individuals who are really just looking for free advice.

Tip courtesy of Stephen Seckler, president, Seckler Legal Consulting and Coaching.

Published April 11, 2013

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