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May 05, 2010


Mary C. Polansky-Gravatt

I am of a similar quandry. However my reasons for providing free consultations stem from when I was young and needed a lawyer for child custody/visitation issues and had no money to pay for it, and legal aid services were not willing to step in. It is one of the reasons I went to law school. The free legal consultation was and remains a goal to give them peace of mind, and if they really want to achieve the goal they discuss with me, then, hopefully, they will think about it and come up with the money to achieve that end, understanding that they will not get what they need by doing it themselves; they need a lawyer. I just spoke with a potential client yesterday who was most distressed about a contempt case brought concurrently with a child support motion. I gave him various suggestions on what to do when he left my office. Gut feeling is he will feel overwhelmed and come back to ask my assistance. But, if not, then I have helped a person with no money, for one hour out of a 12 hour day, and I can make it up on a Saturday (tomorrow). So while that might not make the best business sense, having to work extra to fill the billing time, I dont mind the Saturday trek and I have helped someone, and know for sure if he does not retain me later that he will refer me to someone down the road. Of that I am confident (hopefully rightfully so.....). Anyway thank you for hearing this one out. I would appreciate any input as to the approach here. If I am dead wrong or even a little wrong, I am most happy to hear it.

John Harding

Hi Allison. I do not disagree with anything you write. Here are my thoughts: In my family law practice I abandoned the "free consultation" in favor of a for-a-fee consultation several years ago, and found it to be a wise move for the following reasons:

My practice is targeted at high net worth clients. Those clients understand the nature of sophisticated legal services. They appreciate that legal services are expensive, and are prepared to pay for all services, including a consultation. Since beginning to charge for consultations, the number of consultations has gone down, but I end up getting retained by roughly 80% of the people that do consult with me.

During the many years that I did offer free consultations I probably invested 10-15 hours a week meeting with new people, and the rate of hire was no more than 20%. Many would flat out tell me that they had no intention of hiring a lawyer, they just wanted a free hour of advice, and then they were leaving. The free consulations certainly did help to circulate my name within the community. However, I also began to appreciate that the people seeking out the free consultations were not likely to be a legitimate source of referrals to the high net worth clients I was after.

I guess it is just a matter of the market you are targeting. There certainly is merit to giving away your time. It really depends on what you are hoping to accomplish with it.

Keep up the good work!

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  • Allison C. Shields
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