Law firms are no different from any other business. They market to clients like you, because law is a competitive industry. Very competitive. On the Gold Coast alone, there are almost 1,000 lawyers. Marketing is a necessary tool to stand out amongst the crowd. One frequently used tool is the offer of a ‘free’ first meeting with a prospective family lawyer. This can seem like an attractive offer as it is ‘something for nothing’, but what should you consider before booking a free consultation?
FREE CONSULTATIONS – THE PROS
Cost: Everyone likes something for free, and this meeting comes free of charge.
Meet and greet: These meetings can provide an opportunity to see the office and get a feel for the firm’s culture. It’s important to feel comfortable with your family lawyer, particularly when you are telling them about your private affairs.
FREE CONSULTATIONS – THE CONS
Time: Any experienced family lawyer will tell you that you can barely scratch the surface of a legal problem in 20 minutes. Information is limited to broad procedural advice which is not tailored to a particular problem. That information is likely to be widely available online. You will have given up part of your day for a free meeting which may only deliver to you that which was already free.
Junior staff: The person conducting these meetings is often a junior lawyer, providing only general information. The firm’s experienced family lawyers are generally working on other clients and don’t have the time to meet prospective clients free of charge.
Advice is not tailored: To get tailored advice, you may have to go back for a further meeting, for which a fee is charged. This can be time consuming, particularly if you have organised time off work or a babysitter to look after children. If your matter is urgent, time may pass by before you can get advice which is specific to your case.
On the flipside, paying for an initial consultation may seem expensive but is that initial investment a better application of your time and money?
PAID CONSULTATIONS – THE PROS
Time: Paid consultations are usually one hour to 90 minutes in duration as opposed to 20 or 30 minutes with free consultations. This time allows you to discuss your own unique family law problem and receive some detailed preliminary advice regarding your specific circumstances.
Value: By paying an upfront fee, you may have a greater perception of value for your time, rather than listening to general information you can find online. That perception will increase if you are time-poor, or if you have matters needing urgent attention, as the advice given to you in that meeting covers all areas of family law that apply to you, so that you know what will be relevant, as well as what process and outcomes you can expect.
Know what you’re getting: With a paid consultation you are more likely to meet the family lawyer who will represent you in your matter. From this meeting you will have a better indication as to whether that family lawyer is ‘right’ for you. With unpaid consultations you are likely to meet a junior lawyer who is not going to represent you long-term, or who may not be the right fit for your case if it is complex and requires a more senior lawyer.
PAID CONSULTATIONS: THE CONS
Cost: An initial consultation usually costs anywhere between $300-$500 per hour (PLUS GST).
You decide not to go with that lawyer: You’ve outlayed $500 and you’ve decided this lawyer is not the one for you. While you are likely still able to ‘use’ that advice, the reality is that the search continues for a lawyer who is the right ‘fit’ for you and your case. That may cause you to feel as if you have ‘wasted’ part of the fee paid.
That risk can only be neutralised by doing research up front – many law firm websites now have video profiles of their lawyers; libraries of articles those lawyers have written; and reviews of the lawyers’ services; allowing you to ‘check them out’ before making an appointment. That way, you’ve identified a lawyer you think you can work with from day one.