IF I'M PAYING, YOU'RE PAYING: CHARGING CONSULTATION FEES
Meeting with a therapist to discuss your deep-rooted trust issues: $200.00 per session.
Dental consultation to discuss pre and post operative procedure: $100.00
Sit with your accountant to prepare your taxes for filing: $150.00
Engage in repartee with your realtor before looking at houses: $300.00
Obtain a vehicle assessment in anticipation of your seasonal maintenance: $80.00
Parking your vehicle to complete a 15 minute errand in the city: $20.00
For everything else, there is Master Card, right? Perhaps; but the point is time is money, service is a commodity, and everything costs. Despite this, some clients have a preconceived entitlement to free consultations for legal advice. This unfortunate expectation might be attributable to a non-legal professional's inability to quantify a conversation with an attorney classifying the meeting as “small talk”. Alternatively, it could be the result of the “I can do it all by myself, but I want affirmation” syndrome. Whatever the reason, it is unacceptable for lawyers to have to continuously explain why their advice is accompanied by a fee.
Lawyers offer a service and whether that service is preliminary or extensive, they work to facilitate your needs, give you direction, and help you find a resolution for your legal disputes. This notion that lawyers must simply chat on the phone or schedule you in “to answer a few quick questions” without compensation problematizes the value of a lawyer and, in some instances, degrades the profession.
Why should Lawyers Charge a Consultation Fee?
To manage expectations – The last thing you want to do as a lawyer is waste time. Consultation fees establishes and emphasizes that you are a valuable lawyer and that there is quality in the advice that is being solicited
To give clients direction -- When clients are able to obtain free advice on an ongoing basis, they are less likely to retain a lawyer. The initial investment of the consultation fee helps them commit to the process.
To weed out the bad seeds – Clients who are reluctant to consultation fees, especially when they are on the lower end, will generally find it challenging to retain lawyers as the matter progresses. Clients that are agreeable, tend to be most serious about their matter and put their trust, wholeheartedly, in the capabilities of their lawyer
To get paid – This is obvious. If a lawyer has four, 30-minute to an hour consultations in a single day without fees, that is about four hours of work that she has not been compensated for despite spending those hours meeting with potential clients. Multiply that by a few times a week, then months. It is simply unreasonable.
It is important to assert your value and the expertise you bring to the table. Again, if you are providing a service, you should be compensated.
Is it Ever Okay Not to Charge A Consultation Fee?
Although it is our position to charge consultation fees, there are firms and lawyers who get on just fine without them. Different areas of practice in law requires mitigating standards. For example, it is common practice in labour law to offer free consultations following the preliminary questionnaire because a great lawyer can ascertain successful retainers and construct contingency plans that are clear-cut wins. If you do not practice in an area that benefit from free consultations you can consider advice time caps. Specifically, limit consultations to five to 10 minute phone calls and be strict about your approach. Anything after the 10 minutes will be billed. You may have to be quite the salesman or saleswoman to make those first 10 minutes count, but it has been a successful tactic.
Concluding, you've worked hard to be a lawyer, don't diminish that and fall for the “just a few questions” pity party. Besides, we all know a few questions will turn into the old and new testament.
Author: Jamie-Lee Denton, Editor-in-Chief