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Are free consultations “really” in the client’s best interest?

10th December 2012

Many Firms offer potential clients “a free consultation meeting” as part of their marketing regime. At Berlad Graham LLP we do not consider this to be a requirement of our general practice. Perhaps it is time to dispel the myth of a free consultation being a benefit and, therefore, clarify what a free consultation is and what we believe it is designed to achieve.

We have already addressed “the many ways to charge a client” in a previous article. When a client chooses to instruct the firm in a specific matter, a free consultation is of little benefit given there are plenty of opportunities throughout the relationship to make concessions which are far more effective.

If, for example, as a Solicitor your expertise is Matrimonial law then what is the purpose of a free consultation for a client who chooses to pursue divorce proceedings?  Once a client has chosen to commence proceedings against their spouse and, furthermore, instruct you to act on their behalf it is difficult to see how a free consultation can add to the relationship between a client and their Solicitor.

Another misconception of a free consultation is when clients tend to think it should be incorporated into the time allowed to explore whether they have a case.  Surely, understanding whether a client has a case (or a defence to a claim against them) could, potentially, be a complex legal issue that requires many hours of research work and reviewing documents. To an extent it would be irresponsible to advise clients in a preliminary meeting as to the merits (if any) of their case without the time to consider their case appropriately.

So, in view of the above why would we still, in ‘rare’ circumstances, entertain a free consultation meeting?

In today’s day and age Solicitors, like many any other professionals, are specialising in specific areas of law and certainly this is the case with Berlad Graham LLP.  Quite often a client would have a complex legal issue that requires expertise across various legal disciplines. Should a client be expected to pay for a meeting so the Solicitor can establish ‘if’ he or she is capable of taking on the case? No, and certainly not at Berlad Graham!

If a decision has to be made as to whether the expert Solicitor can take instructions from the client then it is also perfectly legitimate and understandable that a client should not be paying for such a meeting.  The Solicitor should bare the time and the expense given there is no better way to determine if he or she can take the matter on.

In these circumstances it is also inappropriate to charge the client given that the clients are not provided with any benefit in terms of legal expertise. In contrast, when a client attends an initial consultation to discuss the merits of their case, next steps, or legal position, clearly they are benefiting from the legal advice given by the solicitor and for that reason they should expect to pay.

Whilst many solicitors use a free half-hour consultation as a marketing tool, clients should bear in mind that in the overall scheme of things the benefit they receive from this is very small. Given the potential billing in any case, there are many much greater benefits clients can enjoy throughout their relationship with their Solicitor and it would be in the client’s best interest to explore these.

A free half-hour initial interview is simply a headline that really delivers very little long-term benefit.

There are better and far more effective ways to make concessions which are discussed specifically on a case-by-case basis.