I'm trying to sell a consultation without sounding sketchy
October 29, 2012 9:43 AM   Subscribe

You have your own business (or like me, help manage one). You have an initial consult fee which is lower than your hourly rate but still a high number ($250). When you receive cold calls, how do you broach the number without clients freaking out. We do not to any free consultations. Examples inside.

I work as a clerk for a small boutique law firm. When cold calls come in, they go to me. We provide advice for an initial fee of $250.00 (a substantial decrease from the hourly wage). The consultation is not limited to an hour and provides for initial research on the potential case and allows us to give the client preliminary advice.

Most cold calls are looking for a 30 minute free consultation. We by no means do any free consulting (or at least advertise as such). How can I broach the initial fee in a positive way to potential clients to get them in the door, especially when in my (non-legal) opinion speaking to a lawyer is something they need to do.

I feel incredibly awkward when the client themselves don't bring up the cost and want to be able to provide the number in a professional and persuasive way (without sounding sleazy, or looking for a quick buck - the lawyers I work for are some of the best in their field and really just stand up guys).
posted by Danithegirl to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"It sounds like your case is relevant to our practise, and I think you would benefit from speaking to one of our partners (?). We offer an initial consultation service, which provides for preliminary advice and allows us to do some preparatory research. Would you be interested?"
followed by
"The fee for an initial consultation is $250."
I think if you bring up the initial consultation as a service you offer -- as opposed to just implying its existence on the phone -- it would be much less surprising to expect a charge for it.
posted by katrielalex at 9:49 AM on October 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'm not an attorney, but I do occasionally charge a fee for initial consults. I present it as a necessity given our volume of clients, and also a gentleman's agreement that communicates the clients' seriousness to work with us.

The statement itself typically goes something like "I'd like the chance to sit with you and discuss your expectations and possibilities for this project. As professionals, we must charge for our time though we discount our standard rate. We trust you understand." etc.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:56 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Thanks for your inquiry about "issue X", I can confirm that our firm is quite experienced in addressing "issue X", and one of our Associates, Mr bob, has significant expertise in the area.

We'd be very happy to assist you further with your inquiry, however we can only provide legal advice to clients of our firm, for which you will need to come in and sign a retainer agreement, and pay a initial consultation fee at the time you speak with Mr bob. How's Friday morning looking for you?"

Oh ... a free consultation ... unfortunately we are not able to offer free consultations. We, as with all other lawyers in this state, are only legally permitted to offer legal advice to our clients, which is why we will require you to sign our retainer agreement and pay an initial fee.
posted by jannw at 9:59 AM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Excellent question.

First of all, just as a medical specialist doesn't practice for free, neither does a legal professional. So absorb and retain that.

Another thing to know is that 1/3 of people were going to come to you no matter what, 1/3 won't, no matter what (most specifically because you don't advertise during Judge Judy and you don't do contingency billing) it's the other 1/3 that are up for grabs.

I like katrielalex's suggestion. It's an excellent way to get down to brass tacks.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:59 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of what you may be running into is the many places (including AskMe) where "most lawyers will offer an initial 1/2 hour consultation free of charge" has become accepted wisdom. I think it started out as 'some' and got upgraded to 'many' and then 'most' over time.

If I was calling I'd want it to be really clear what was involved in the consultation, and whether there was some pre-determination that you would/could take the case. But to be honest, I also feel like if I'm about to hire someone for whom $250 is a substantial discount on their hourly fee, I'd want a chance to at least get a feel for them personally and ask a couple of questions before I hired them. So perhaps be clear about what kinds of questions you can answer for them on the phone before their consultation appointment, and what kinds need to wait and be dealt with once they're a client? That might reassure them that they're not getting roped into something without information to make a good decision.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:05 AM on October 29, 2012

We, as with all other lawyers in this state, are only legally permitted to offer legal advice to our clients, which is why we will require you to sign our retainer agreement and pay an initial fee.

This implies that receiving a fee is a legal requirement from the state for giving advice, which it is not—it is just your policy. Do not mislead your potential customers before you even start.
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Perhaps make the fee refundable in the limited circumstance in which the firm declines to accept the case after the initial consultation? (But not, obviously, if the client decides to turn down the offer of representation.)

I'm prepping for the MPRE, so I'm probably being alarmist, but I see issues with regard to formation of a client relationship when you demand and accept money up front for an initial consult. You can't know if you can competently or ethically represent the prospective client until you at least get a bare read on the facts of the case....
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:13 AM on October 29, 2012

(To be clear, my understanding is that charging for the consult is allowable--it just sort of feels unsavory to me if without a refund if the firm rejects the case.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2012

@snuffleupagus We do preform a conflict check before any meeting is had.

We also do not demand money up front, we have the meeting and bill the client afterwards (either we open a file and continue working on the case, or provide information to the client if there has been no illegal action done against the client). We have in the past not billed the client if we found that yes there was an illegal action but our firm could not provide any remedy.

The reason for charging is the costs and time require to prepare for the meeting at well as the actual meeting itself.

We are located in the province of Ontario - there is no law stating that we need to be paid to provide legal advice. The consult fee is something we do as a firm policy.
posted by Danithegirl at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2012

Yep. I sort of tripped over your reply. That sounds about right. Do you work that into your conversation with the prospective client? From a counseling perspective, I'd feel better about committing to the consultation fee if I knew it would returned (or waived) in a situation like that.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2012

Shoot - thread sitting!

We don't normally tell clients that since it is a case by case basis. We deal in labour and employment law and a lot of the cold calls are just a review of a termination agreement/severance package. Most of the times the client has been let go justifiably and there's nothing more we can do, but with the time to review the agreement and meet with the client we can't just write that time off - hence bringing in the consultation fee.
posted by Danithegirl at 10:31 AM on October 29, 2012

odd ... Ontario solicitors act states:

“client” includes a person who, as a principal or on behalf of another person, retains or employs or is about to retain or employ a solicitor, and a person who is or may be liable to pay the bill of a solicitor for any services; (“client”)

I'd question what level of "advice" you can give, and you are covered for by your PI insurance, without someone being formally made a client of your firm.
posted by jannw at 10:33 AM on October 29, 2012

@Jannw - when we do a consult meeting they are then considered a client.

OK - I'm going to keep busy and leave this thread alone! Great tips so far, planning my wording as we speak!
posted by Danithegirl at 10:36 AM on October 29, 2012

I like katrielalax' response, but I would state that "The fee for an initial consultation is $250," and then say, "Would you be interested in making an appointment?"

You should let people know that there is a fee before asking if they're interested, otherwise it seems a little shyster-ish.
posted by shoesietart at 10:52 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

If the $250 fee puts them off, then they're not the kind of client you want and that can afford you when the fees go up later.

If you're wanting us to tell you how to have people not turned off and fleeing from the fee even if they desperately need legal help, I honestly can't come up with something. It would sure as hell drive me off, especially if I wasn't 100% sure I desperately needed legal advice even if it left me broke to get it. If someone's not 100% sure they want/need a lawyer, they're more likely to give asking a lawyer a try if they don't have to commit to a large amount of money (which it sounds like to the legal noob) in order to do it. But if that's a requirement for them to talk to you, then I don't think there's a magic way for you to get around that. If they're that broke, they need to go elsewhere, not to you.

I think your better move is to mention the money up front/almost immediately, so you don't waste time talking and trying to convince someone into getting help, and then having them freak and bail once they find out how much it was. I'm kind of reminded of those websites that have one looooooooong scrolling page of HOW SUPER AWESOME their class/service/whatever is, and you cannot find the price until the very very bottom (or worse, you have to click to another page, or even worse, you have to click on "Add to Cart" to find out!) because it's hundreds of dollars. They're hoping that you'll be snowed by the awesomeness so much that you won't mind the $397 price tag buried at the bottom. But if that price tag is where they're gonna stop no matter what? Weed them out now, not later.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perhaps lead off with "our standard hourly fee is $XXX but for the initial consultation we have a discounted flat rate of $250"
posted by anon4now at 11:37 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

describe this as part of your firm's procedure for working with new clients:

If you are interested in working with us, we will arrange for a initial evaluation of your case. One of our lawyers will review the key documents and meet with you to discuss the case. Afterwards, they will be able to advise you if there are grounds for legal action and recommend what the next steps should be. Our normal hourly rate is $xxx- $zzz but we only charge $250 per hour for this initial consultation."

if they ask about a free consultation, tell them that your firm believes that it takes more than 30 minutes to give an informed opinion. The benefit of the paid initial consultation is that you will actually receive informed professional advice specific to their situation and at a discounted rate from your normal fee.
posted by metahawk at 12:13 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

"You may expect this already, but I just want to be clear: while some law firms advertise a "free initial consultation", we're a different type of practice. We do some research before meeting you and hope to offer you useful information even at the initial meeting, so of course we need to be compensated. We recognize that there's some risk since you haven't met us yet, not only financial but also your time in finding, communicating, and meeting with us, so rather than billing at our usual hourly rate, there's a flat $250 fee for the first meeting."
posted by amtho at 12:30 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think even how you say the number will make a difference, to you and to the potential client. "Two-fifty" is too informal, it needs a "dollars" in there. "Two hundred AND fifty dollars" sounds like more than "two hundred fifty dollars". Say "two hundred fifty dollars", and say it flat, no emphases, and with the full confidence that someone who wants to retain you will both understand its necessity and not be fazed by the amount. That number is part of what makes that 1/3 - 1/3 split; if your firm is concerned about not gaining needed clients from that other third that's on the fence, an adjustment probably needs to be made to the fees rather than to your presentation of them.
posted by attercoppe at 6:17 AM on October 30, 2012

That the person needs legal advice is not your responsibility. Your firm provides a service for a fee. If the caller can't or won't pay that fee there are other options: legal aid, law school clinics, lawyers who do a free consult, lawyers with a contingent fee schedule.

The fee for the consultation is $250 which is discounted from our hourly rate of $X. At the consultation you'll receive a preliminary review of the case and recommendations for how to proceed.
posted by 26.2 at 8:16 AM on November 2, 2012

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