Lawyers have the notorious reputation of being expensive. So, when legal consumers search online for a lawyer, they have money on their mind. Nearly one-half of those scouring the web say free consultation is important to them when selecting an attorney. With that said, lawyers must ask themselves 1) Why is a free consultation so important? and 2) what do prospective clients expect from it?

Avvo conducted a study in 2018 about the criteria consumers use when choosing a lawyer. 48 percent of respondents indicated that free consultations are important. The only thing more important is the practice area, which matters to 58 percent of those surveyed. Offering this free consultation hooks the prospective client. Figuring out how to maximize that consultation is what will reel them in.

Using a Solid Online Presence to Make the Initial Cut

Consumers have options, lots of them. And they know how to make the most of the tools available to them to explore their options. A solid online presence is necessary for attorneys who want to grow their client base with new clients. If a prospective client can’t find you online, it doesn’t matter what your strengths over your competitors are.

As with most, online shopping options can be overwhelming. Consumers are well-practiced at utilizing “filters” to weed out attorneys who don’t offer what they need — and what they need and want is a free consultation.

Identifying the Consumer’s Objectives

One attorney’s free consultation may differ significantly from others, but legal consumers generally have a specific goal in mind. The 2018 study revealed that clients expect a free consultation, whether conducted in person or over the phone, to fill some important blanks about a prospective attorney.

  • Price: was the most valuable decision criteria for survey respondents. Consumers want to know what’s included in a price and whether or not rates are negotiable. They want to benchmark costs when researching online, but they don’t expect to know the actual cost until talking with an attorney.
  • Pro Bono Option: Will this attorney take me on as a pro bono case?
  • Current Caseload: Will the attorney have enough time to spend on my legal matter? Will my case get the attention it deserves? Has the attorney handled my type of case before?
  • Win Ratio. Attorneys typically do not include a win ratio online, unlike consumer reviews, the number of years licensed, and practice areas. And while it may not be an initial factor a prospect considers before contacting an attorney, it is important. Consumers want to leave a free consultation knowing what percentage of cases the prospective attorney wins.
  • Moving forward, how will the attorney and I communicate? In person, via email or by phone?

Getting to Know Each Other

Soft skills – things like response time and front desk friendliness – matter to some, but not all, consumers. Survey respondents fell into one of two categories:

  1. Those whose relationship with their attorney is merely transactional.
  2. Those who need emotional support from their attorney throughout the process.

Regardless of which category they’re in, clients need more than an online screening to evaluate soft skills. They cannot rate these things without actually interacting with an attorney and/or office staff.

So, while some consumers may rely on online client reviews to gather this information, most expect to determine soft skills during the first meeting or phone consultation.

Avvo’s survey found that soft skills might include understanding, personality fit, empathy, support, and customer service. Whether or not an attorney is easy to talk to falls into this category, as does the perception that an attorney is a bulldog or hard hitter.

Making Free Consultations Work Both Ways

Don’t expect your free consultations to give you a 100 percent conversion rate. Some prospective clients will find that your personality doesn’t gel with theirs. They may balk at your rates or decide that your win rate doesn’t meet their expectations.

That’s okay because you’re not necessarily going to want to do business with some of the consumers you consult with. So, rather than looking at it as a negative pressure to give away valuable time, consider it a weeding out process of your own.

Separating the Free Consultation from the Initial Intake

Ideally, the free consultation will lead to a paid meeting in which the consumer becomes a client, discussions about specifics in the case, and completion of the engagement letter. The details covered at this level of the process are beyond the free arena. If you communicated effectively in your initial meeting, then your new may client show up with a check in hand.

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(2) Comments

  • If a potential client balks at a nominal consult fee, they will really balk at the real fee.

    Attorneys do a lot of pro bono that they did not intend to do. Free gives a feeling of entitlement. Five free minutes on the phone is the limit. Just make sure its something that you do.

  • What the general public doesn’t realize is that free consultations increases their attorney fees. The attorney covers the cost of providing “free” consultations by increasing his/her hourly rate or flat fee rate.