Some prospective clients are surprised to learn that we charge a $400.00 “consultation fee” for a one (1) hour in-person or telephonic discussion of whether we can and should represent them. We understand that many lawyers offer “free consultations.”
We do not – and for good reason.
For many, many years we did not charge for consultations. During that time, we gave away thousands of hours of our time, and expended substantial energy visiting with hundreds of prospective clients who were “kicking tires,” “lawyer shopping,” or just looking for free advice. Because we are blessed with dozens of prospective client calls each week, consulting (for free) became a full-time job. That business model quickly became unsustainable, and we finally reached the point where there was no choice but to have non-lawyers conduct a large share of our initial consultations. This never sat right with me, especially since many of our cases are highly complicated, involve unique factual circumstances, and have tremendous consequences on the parties.
As with any business, a law firm’s clients are its lifeblood. New blood is an essential component of sustaining a business; yet, we came to dread consulting with prospective new clients because, truth be told, there were just too many. We were so busy consulting for free that we had a hard time keeping up with the work required to service our existing clients’ cases. Even worse, we were frequently left with the lingering feeling that the prospective client had consulted for the sole purpose of obtaining free advice, with no intention of ever retaining the services of any lawyer.
Something had to change, and in 2010, I decided to start charging a nominal consultation fee, while also enhancing the meeting to a valuable “strategy session,” as opposed to a generic interview. This was one of the best business decisions I ever made – for us and for the people who are genuinely interested in obtaining the services of a serious, knowledgeable and dedicated lawyer with a track record of proven results. Below are the key reasons why we charge a “consultation fee,” and fervently believe that a “free consultation” is worth nothing more than what you pay for it.
- YOU WILL CONSULT WITH AN ACTUAL LAWYER
Very few law firms that advertise for a “free consultation,” allow you to meet with an actual licensed attorney before you formally retain their services. Rather, prospective clients of these firms typically meet with legal assistants or paralegals. Too often, these non-lawyers are trained to hurriedly interview prospective clients to determine whether speaking with them is even worth an attorney’s time. Only if you get past the “gatekeeper,” will you speak with an attorney.
We do not employ this system of case culling, and all of our consultations are handled by a licensed attorney. You will have the opportunity to interview that attorney, and he will simultaneously interview you. He will understand your case and explain the legal issues implicated by your particular fact situation. You will instantly know whether you believe that there is a good “fit,” whether we are the best law firm for your needs, and the feasibility of the financial arrangement under which we would consider undertaking your representation.
- OUR CONSULTATION IS A LEARNING TOOL FOR YOU, AND NOT A SALES PITCH FOR US
Too many times, lawyers who advertise for a “free consultation” use this as a sales gimmick to attract more clients. Our consultations are intended to be educational opportunities for the prospective client, and not a “sales closing” for us. The purpose of your consultation with any lawyer should be to gain knowledge about your legal situation and obtain insight about the strategies available for potential resolution.
The very fact that you want to meet with a lawyer means that you have determined that the problem is bigger than you, or beyond your level of expertise. Given that realization, prospective clients are often vulnerable to sales pitches that appear to offer quick, cheap or simple solutions to complicated problems. This quickly converts the benefit of a consultation to the lawyer’s advantage.
We believe that initial consultations should function solely for the benefit of the prospective client, provide them with insight and knowledge about the law, available remedies, potential outcomes, risks and costs associated with their legal issue. In other words, the prospective client should receive value, and not a sales pitch, from a consultation.
During our consultation, we will listen to you, review related documents, and understand your desired outcome. At the conclusion of the consultation, we will provide initial legal advice and make appropriate recommendations with the full understanding that not all legal issues require a lawsuit – or even a lawyer – and that we may not even be the best lawyers for you. You will walk away from our consultation feeling better and far more knowledgeable than when you walked in.
- WE ARE SERIOUS ABOUT UNDERSTANDING YOUR LEGAL ISSUE, AND UNHURRIED IN DISCUSSING IT
Because prospective clients schedule their consultations with us in advance, we are able to set-aside time to prepare for and conduct these initial meetings. The nature of a real estate law practice is document-intensive, and we are frequently asked to review documents in advance of a consultation. We gladly do so, and also conduct preliminary research so that we may have a better understanding of the legal issue presented by a prospective client.
Unlike law firms who overschedule free consultations, and are then hurried when a prospective engagement does not present an opportunity for profitability, we take the time to understand and explain the legal consequences of your circumstances. We conduct one consultation at a time, and afford to the prospective client the opportunity to ask questions, and gain knowledge. We utilize our intimate familiarity with online databases to educate, and often our prospective clients leave the consultation with documentation they did not previously have or know existed.
- WE WANT TO ENSURE THAT YOU ARE SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR LEGAL ISSUE
We are serious lawyers with passion for the cases we undertake. We have serious clients with legal issues of consequence. Many of our existing clients have been with us for a decade or more. Some have entrusted multiple legal matters to our care, while others look to us for advice and counsel on an almost daily basis.
Our clients regularly refer their own colleagues, friends, family members and even clients to us. They nominate us for awards and ask us to attend and speak at events. Many have become personal friends. The bottom line is that we obtain results and deliver value for our clients. However, our clients also understand that practicing law is how we make our living, and support our families. As Abraham Lincoln said – “a lawyer’s time and advice is his stock in trade.”
An unfortunate reality of the American legal system is that legal services, including attorneys’ fees, are not inexpensive. Where lawsuits are involved, the high costs of litigation frequently threaten to eclipse the amount in controversy in almost all but the largest cases. One factor driving the costs of the battles we frequently are called-upon to fight, is the passionate love affair Texans have with their land and water. Mess with those, and a fight is almost certain to follow.
Virtually all of the legal disputes that we handle involve the expenditure of thousands of dollars, and sometimes the stakes are so high that the costs involve tens of thousands, or more. Transactional matters are usually far less expensive, but are still not “economy-priced.”
We believe that any prospective client that is unwilling to spend $350.00 to obtain our strategic insight on their legal matter and/or explore the viability of our representation, lacks the seriousness that our relationships require. Quite frankly, if you do not believe that your case merits a $400.00 discussion, we are probably not the best law firm for you.
- CONSULTATIONS HAVE OPPORTUNITY COSTS FOR US
San Antonio has a surprisingly small community of “go-to” attorneys who focus their practices on real estate and water-related matters. For this reason, we regularly encounter the same opposing counsel on various cases. This is generally an advantage, and these existing relationships sometimes help move disputes to a quicker resolution.
The down-side of San Antonio’s “big small town” environment is that parties looking for a “go-to” lawyer sometimes make the rounds of calling the “usual suspects.” On several occasions over the years, we have been contacted, separately, by both/opposing parties to a legal dispute.
Meeting or consulting with one side – even if they do not retain our services – results in us being disqualified from considering representing the opposing party to a given dispute. This conflict-of-interest scenario can present an opportunity cost to us, and more than once, we have been told that a party contacted us for the specific purpose of ensuring that we would be conflicted-out from representing their opponent.
By charging a consultation fee, we are minimizing the financial impact of expending time considering a prospective client’s case, when there is no guarantee that an attorney-client relationship will ever materialize. We are also offsetting the opportunity cost of being disqualified from representing an opposing party to a given legal dispute.