How to Use Free Consultations to Get More Legal Clients (and Stop Giving Free Advice)

We encourage our member attorneys to offer free consultations as a way to build trust with potential clients, demonstrate your expertise, and establish value in a way that helps legal leads become paying clients.

We understand that having invested years acquiring professional expertise and experience, your time is valuable. Providing a free legal consultation, even a short one, means offering your time and attention to a potential client without immediate compensation.

But this is not about giving away your professional expertise to people who have no intention of hiring a lawyer and just want free legal advice. The key to making this tactic work for your legal practice is to use your initial consultation as a professional sales call.

Once you understand how to frame your initial consultation in a way that establishes value, you can turn more of your legal leads into paying clients. This article explains how to stop giving away legal advice and start using free consultations to get more legal clients.

Establishing the Value of Your Legal Services

When deciding whether to hire you as their attorney, potential clients must overcome several internal objections. When you understand this, you can listen with empathy and kindness to show you care, and then speak to their concerns in a personalized way that helps each client feel more comfortable about paying for your services.

The concerns clients have about hiring an attorney are often not spoken aloud, so you’ll need to listen carefully and get a sense of what the client is not saying. In some instances, you might sense a specific objection about which you can ask directly. Being direct yourself and offering realistic assurances can go a long way towards generating trust with your potential clients.

Overcoming Client Objections

The most common client concerns are related to cost, uncertainty, and the interpersonal relationship they are beginning to develop with you through the initial consultation.

Cost-related objections:

  • “Your fees are too expensive.” Many potential clients are facing financial constraints. For this reason, it’s important to explain your fee structure in a way that highlights the value you bring to their case and be prepared to offer payment options if possible.
  • “I can’t afford an attorney, so I’ll try to handle it myself.” Use your consultation time to emphasize the potential risks of handling complex legal matters without professional guidance. If they really can’t afford your fees, you can increase the chances of a referral by connecting them with alternatives like legal aid organizations.
  • “I’m not sure your services are worth the cost.” This is often the real concern underlying other cost-related objections. Most clients do not understand the legal process or the value added by an attorney. So explain the potential benefits you can bring through your expertise, strategy, and representation and help the client see how these translate to positive outcomes for them.

Uncertainty-related objections:

  • “I’m not sure if I need an attorney for this case.” Often clients do not understand the complexity of their situation. Use your consultation time to help them make that assessment and demonstrate how, as their attorney, you can help them navigate legal intricacies, protect their rights, and maximize their chances of success.
  • “I’m uncomfortable sharing such personal information with you.” Assure the client of your confidentiality and explain the importance of transparency in building a strong case strategy. This is easier to accomplish when you also address their relationship-related concerns as described below.
  • “I’m worried about the outcome of the case. Can you guarantee success?” Of course you cannot guarantee a specific outcome, but you can explain your legal approach, potential challenges of their case, and set realistic expectations to demonstrate your skills and commitment to helping achieve an outcome that’s in their best interests.

Relationship-related objections:

  • “I’m hesitant to give up control of my case.” Before they decide to hire an attorney, many clients need reassurance that you will work with them collaboratively, and keep them informed and involved during every step of the process. So be sure to explain how their input is crucial for a successful outcome, and be prepared to back that up with regular communication once their case is ongoing with your firm.
  • “I prefer to handle things myself. I’m afraid of being dependent on an attorney.” Once clients understand the complexity of their legal situation and how you can help them logistically, they may still be unsure whether you are the right person to do so. Use the consultation to clearly acknowledge their autonomy, demonstrate your kindness, and make them feel safe about hiring you to advocate for their rights effectively.
  • “I’m not sure I click with you.” When it comes to turning legal leads into paying clients, we cannot overstate the importance of building rapport and trust. The initial consultation is your opportunity to demonstrate your capacity to actively listen to client concerns, address them with empathy, showcase your communication skills, and establish a comfortable working relationship.

Structuring Your Client Intake Process

paying clients depends on your ability to establish the value of your legal services. To do this, you must develop rapport with each client you want to work with and help them understand not only the complexities of their case, but also how you can provide solutions and what makes those solutions worth even more than the cost of your fees. But none of this needs to happen in your very first contact with a legal lead!

Instead, the objectives of your first contact are twofold:

  • First, because clients are most likely to hire the first attorney who reaches out to them, it’s in your best interest to respond as fast as possible to every lead who might be a good fit for your practice.
  • Second, once you make that first contact (using your customized templates, as described below), it’s also in your interest to schedule a brief screening call (also described below) where you can determine whether it makes sense to invite that lead into a more in-depth conversation (your free consultation) where you can uncover their concerns, determine whether they are truly a good fit for your practice, and – most importantly – overcome their objections to hiring you as their attorney.

The remainder of this article walks you step-by-step through a LegalMatch-assisted client-intake process designed to help you stop giving away free advice and start bringing more clients into your legal practice.

Framing Your Initial Consultation

It would not be an effective use of your time to have a full consultation with every legal lead that comes to you through LegalMatch. Some percentage of clients will simply not be a good match for your practice.

And there is no need for you to waste effort or give away free legal advice, because the LegalMatch platform is designed to help you easily determine which leads are most viable for your practice goals.

The Client Screening Process

To keep your efforts focused on the most valuable leads for your law firm, we recommend you use the LegalMatch system to set up a screening process that includes:

  1. Templates: Customize your templates right away so they can function as your first-step screening tool.
  2. Lead Notifications: When a client posts a new case in your practice area and geographic location, LegalMatch will send you a notification.
  3. Case Details: As leads come in, you can review detailed case information to determine which ones seem viable for your practice goals.
  4. Templated Response: For leads with case details that seem viable, you can send an instant response from anywhere using your customized templates.
  5. Preliminary Call: If a lead matches the conditions included in your response template, schedule a brief phone call during which you can further screen that lead and decide whether to give them any more of your valuable time.
  6. Initial Consultation: If there are no red flags during your preliminary call, you can either continue to provide a full consultation or schedule a different time during which you can uncover their concerns and overcome any objections they might have to hiring you as their attorney. We recommend this be a free consultation, because you will use it as a sales call to convert the lead into a paying client.

Setting Up Your Templates

Because other LegalMatch attorneys have received the same leads, and clients are more likely to engage attorneys that respond quickly, it’s important for you to respond to many cases, and to do so as fast as possible. To help you accomplish this, your LegalMatch membership includes customizable response templates.

The very first thing you should do as a LegalMatch member attorney is set up your templates to emphasize the kinds of cases you find most profitable and desirable. Let the client know a little bit about you and your practice specialties, emphasizing what you do and do not do for clients.

Your straightforward, informative response (via template) is the first step in screening clients. When you set up your response templates ahead of time, you can get more responses out the door faster. Which increases your chances of being hired or receiving a word-of-mouth referral.

Calling the Client

The difference between a preliminary call and a full consultation may not be immediately clear to you, and in many instances these will not be separate calls. But each stage of your conversation with a potential client serves a unique purpose. Structuring the client lead conversation correctly is one of the “secrets” behind many of our LegalMatch member attorney success stories.

Because potential clients are more likely to hire the first attorney who contacts them, your first call should happen as soon as possible. Ideally, as soon as you review their case details in the lead notification, you will send your custom template inviting the lead to have a quick call. Remember that other LegalMatch attorneys may have this lead’s information as well, and  moving fast gives you a competitive advantage.

The sooner you reach out, the more likely you are to sign that client. When you structure your first call as an opportunity to vet your leads, you will be able to determine whether it’s worth dedicating time to a full consultation. And by thinking about the first call as part of your screening process, you’ll reduce the likelihood of accidentally giving away free legal advice to a non-viable client lead.

This is why we encourage you to call as many leads as possible, not to give each one a full consultation, but to increase the chances that they will hire YOU (rather than a different attorney) if they turn out to be a good fit for your practice.

Using Your Initial Consultation to Screen Legal Leads

You want the client to be willing to hire you, but you also want to determine whether the client would be a good addition to your book of business. Your goal with the consultation is to make a good impression and establish your value at the same time as you continue to screen the client.

Clients that are difficult, non-responsive, or slow to pay their bills are usually more trouble than they are worth. Similarly, a case that requires more than your current capacity can have a negative effect on your other clients and responsibilities. If these sorts of issues exist, it’s better to discover them before you engage the client.

You can accomplish this discovery by asking the client open-ended questions and carefully observing their responses. Details to try and uncover during the initial consultation include:

  • The client’s goals for the representation: Success can take different forms for different clients. Some may want a financial settlement or an injunction, but others may be seeking a moral victory. You will need to be sure that the client’s goals are attainable through the legal system and manage their expectations appropriately.
  • The client’s temperament and communication style: Communication is the bedrock of an attorney-client relationship. If the client communicates or behaves in a way that may cause problems in the future, it is better to know sooner rather than later.
  • The client’s past experience with attorneys: If the client cycles through lawyers frequently, it may be a sign that working with them is difficult. A potential client that has gone through several attorneys solely on the matter at hand is a particularly strong red flag. At the very least, do not assume you’ll be an exception to that rule.

Learning as much information about the potential client as possible during the initial consultation can help you make a more informed decision regarding whether working with them is likely to be good for your practice. You can also use what you learn to inform your own talking points and strengthen your “pitch” by tailoring it to the client’s motivations, goals, and communication style.

How to Use the Initial Consultation as a Sales Call

The most important factor in structuring your consultation effectively is your capacity to listen with empathy and thereby gain a deep and textured understanding of your prospect’s situation. Keep checking to confirm you understand them correctly. The more they talk to you, the more they will feel understood.

All sales calls have an “opening” and a “closing.” At the beginning, your goal is to open the potential client’s mind by asking questions that get them thinking about new possibilities. Towards the end of the conversation, your goal is to bring things to a conclusion by guiding the client from thinking about things to doing something – specifically, taking the necessary steps to officially hire you to provide your legal services.

How to Avoid Giving Free Advice During the Initial Consultation

If you struggle to avoid giving free advice during the initial consultation, here are a few things to keep in mind. Remember this is no ordinary client call. Use your initial consultation as a sales call with a specific, intentional structure. Frame and lead the conversation with questions that build rapport, gather information, determine fit, and secure their business.

Share a few of the benefits they can expect from working with you, but maintain clear boundaries about exactly how much information you’re willing to share for free. Keep a list of free resources and stick to sharing only those items during your initial consultation. Practice until you are comfortable using phrases like “this is something we can discuss under retainer” or “I would need to know more than we can reasonably cover in our time today, so let’s talk about that once you’ve hired me.”

If you structure the initial consultation along these lines and maintain a position of leadership on the call, you can guide each potential client through an experience of what it feels like to work with you and orient them to exactly what they need to do to hire you – without giving away free advice.

The Free Consultation is a Golden Opportunity, For YOU

Your free consultation is one of your most valuable marketing tools. When you use free consultations effectively, they serve as an opportunity for you to build trust with potential clients, demonstrate your expertise, establish value, and retain the client – without giving away free legal advice.

We want you to experience the kind of success we know is possible from happy member attorneys like these:

On a weekly basis, I’d say I get a good 25 leads. I wind up having a consultation with at least half of them, if not more depending on how responsive I can be. On average I’d say I can get up to five new clients a week. Real Estate, Housing & Property Law Attorney, Miguel T. Real Estate Law Attorney, Brooklyn, NY

I usually get three to five leads in a day and I get at least 20 a week. Half of those lead to something beyond the initial consultation. It’s very good! Randy F., Employment Law Attorney, Plantation, FL

If I were to guess I’d approximate about 85 to 90% of my leads. If I can get them to the stage where they want a legal consultation, I would say at that point it’s about 75% to 80% surety that I’m going to get the client. Marvilyn B., General Practice Attorney, Midland, TX

So spend a little time up front to build rapport, assess the client’s legal needs and concerns, and demonstrate that you understand what they’re going through. Then, if you determine they are a good fit for your practice, you can lead a more in-depth conversation structured to fully vet them as a client, introduce them to your professional process, discuss your fees, and secure their business or a future referral.