The success of your law practice depends on the number of billable hours you work, especially if you are in a small firm or solo practice. As you provide quality service to your clients, it makes sense that you also want to maximize your number of billable hours.
Like many lawyers, you may think offering free consultations is “working for free.” But contrary to that idea, free consultations are actually the #1 way you can increase your total billable hours. The key is to use that time in a structured way that helps potential clients understand and commit to the investment of hiring you. The secret is to use that time to establish value so you get hired.
This article will help you use free consultations the right way, so that you can ultimately get more billable hours.
Potential clients expect lawyers to offer free consultations, now more than ever. Clients know that hiring an attorney can be expensive, and they’re looking to reduce the uncertainty that comes with navigating a legal problem.
Clients want free consultations, but you should too. Nearly half of people who are looking for an attorney select one who provides a free initial consultation. This means you stand to lose up to 50% of your potential clientele if you do not offer this service. But when you connect with a potential client for their free consultation, it gives you an opportunity to show them why they should choose your firm.
The free consultation is your opportunity to “make the sale” and get hired. To make the sale, and get the billable hours, you must first establish value.
Establishing value means showing the potential client how your expertise serves their most pressing needs in a way that makes them willing to pay you a fair price for it.
You can do this by asking questions that help you understand their specific legal challenges, what a positive legal outcome is worth to them, and what they stand to lose if they try to address their legal issue without you working on their behalf.
Structuring your free consultation in this way not only builds the kind of rapport clients are looking for when they hire an attorney. It also gives you the exact language you can use to help the client arrive at the decision to hire you.
Once the client hires you following the consultation, they will also be much more inclined to recommend you to friends and family. Which again translates into more billable hours.
As for the argument that free consultations are a waste of time and allow people to just use you for free advice, this comes from misunderstanding how to use this time to establish value so you are hired or retained for billable hours.
Lawyers like you provide an invaluable service to legal clients. You are trained to handle their issues and have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the court systems in your area. These advantages can give a client the edge they need to present a successful claim, all of which you can explain to potential clients during free consultations.
Even more importantly, when you structure the free consultation properly clients are likely to ask YOU how to get started working together formally.
To get those billable hours, you must establish value. Here’s how:
Clients will have questions, and it’s important to answer them. But it’s even more important to ask them questions and listen deeply to what they have to say. You may be tempted to make assumptions based on your professional experience and past clients, but this can keep you from engaging in a subtle yet powerful sales conversation.
The best part is, when you get this right there is nothing salesy about it. When you can reflect to the potential client their unique point of view on their legal problem using their own language and speaking to their deepest needs, they will feel comfortable hiring you to be their lawyer.
The key is to ask questions that get the client to share in their own words:
The greatest service you can provide during this initial conversation is to guide the client to connect internally with both how good it will feel to solve their legal problem and how bad it feels to be in their current position. This will help the client give themselves permission to hire you.
All purchasing decisions, including the decision to hire an attorney and pay their billable hours, are made on the basis of emotions rather than logic. If possible, ask questions that guide them to reveal how they believe solving their legal problem will allow them to accomplish something else they really want.
Get them focused on the urgency of their situation and establish a timeline for working together. Resist the temptation to pitch your services until you are both crystal clear about how they could measure success and know that working with you was worth the investment.
Once you establish value in this way, you’ll find that clients are much more willing to pay your professional fees. Give them an experience that builds trust, and watch that translate into more billable hours.
Simply by offering free consultations, your practice has the potential to interact with many more potential clients. Statistically speaking, the more potential clients you interact with, the greater the likelihood that the number of clients you have will increase. More clients means more cases, more referrals, a growing firm, and more income.
Most potential clients have no idea how the justice system functions, either in theory or in practice. Therefore, they likely have many questions and would like to have them answered by a professional. A free consultation gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge base and show your potential client that you possess the knowledge and professionalism they are seeking.
Answering your potential client’s questions also helps to establish rapport. This is an important step to ensure that your client is comfortable working with you and will be willing to disclose all of the necessary information to prepare their case.
During the consultation, you can also demonstrate to the potential client your value as an attorney and how it will help them succeed in winning their claim. You can accomplish this by explaining all of the steps that must be taken to handle their case and pointing out things that regular citizens are not aware of as well as certain steps that only attorneys are allowed to take.
As criminal defense attorney and LegalMatch member Derek W. says, “You’ve got to be able to give before you get.” Spending 30 minutes, or even up to an hour, explaining to a potential client how your help will make their case more successful can mean plenty of billable hours later on.
“I don’t give away the farm in that consultation,” says LegalMatch member and XXX attorney, Jason F., “but you want to be able to give them an indication of what possible remedies there are. What kind of solutions… Offering the ballpark of, you know, what’s this gonna cost them.”
When you do this in your own practice, you are much more likely to make the sale and secure a new client. There are so many lawyers and law firms operating and so many resources potential clients can use to choose their representation, it’s important to give yourself a competitive edge.
When you use free consultations as a tool, both for your law firm and your potential clients, it can give you the chance to demonstrate your value as a lawyer and get hired. These consultations are also a form of free advertising because the individuals you meet with are very likely to share their positive experiences with others they know.
A free consultation can be a priceless meeting for a potential client. Many people find the legal system overwhelming and intimidating. This is where a short meeting between you and a potential client can have a huge positive effect on them. Just a few minutes of your time can help a potential client see the benefits of hiring you.
Any potential client will be concerned about what their hard-earned money is going to buy them if they hire you. A free consultation is the perfect opportunity to explain just what they will receive in return. It provides you with the perfect opportunity to explain to a potential client your nuanced expertise and how it can be advantageous to their cause. In other words, if they hire you, they have a better chance of obtaining the outcome they desire and can do so more efficiently than if they tried to navigate the process themselves.
Potential clients often do not understand how the court system works or how different judges may approach their case. As a lawyer, you’re familiar with how the legal process works and can offer your client invaluable advice on how to proceed through each phase of what is often a tedious and time-consuming process. Offering a free consultation not only provides you with the opportunity to explain the value of your services, but it helps potential clients avoid the sometimes costly mistake of trying to handle their legal issue alone.
Your potential client can leave the free consultation with the confidence that, if they hire you as their attorney, they will have your experience and knowledge of local courts on their side. In other words, they will have a better chance of winning.
If you want to tap into the large market of potential clients who expect a free consultation before they will hire an attorney, you should strongly consider offering those consultations. Offering free consultations is beneficial both for potential clients and for lawyers. So stop thinking about this as working for free and start seeing how free consultations are your opportunity to establish value so you get more billable hours, whether from the consulting prospect or from a future referral based they send your way.