Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Free Consultations Are Worth The Money

Shelia Manely, Business Manager

Tonight's blog post is written by Shelia Manely, Business Manager for the Manely Firm, PC.

I’m not a lawyer . . . yet.  But, I am a law student, mother of a blended family of five, business manager of our growing law firm and wife.  (That’s the order my husband suggested.)   I can’t give legal advice, but I can give lots and lots of advice.  Just ask anyone who knows me.  I just can’t help myself.  I figure I’m being very helpful if I share everything I know with anyone who asks.  I know you didn’t ask, but, you are reading, which sort of implies consent.  So, here I go.

I had the chance to sit in on a presentation given to fellow law students by the founding attorney from a family law firm with their sole office in downtown Atlanta.  To prove what a great attorney he is, he touted how many speaking engagements he’s had, how many TV appearances he’s made and how dependent upon him the local news channels are for his professional advice.  He said he always makes himself available to the media, not just for paid appearances, but also for free consultation and  advice.  After all, he says, those guys are journalists, not attorneys.  They want to know they are getting their story straight and using the right terminology.  Sometimes, he says, I’m disappointed when I don’t get credited or I get edited out of the piece, but that’s OK.  I still help.  I want them to call me again.  I want to keep those opportunities coming!

He also bragged about how much he charges an hour (over $500) and why he never, ever gives free client consultations.  He advised over twenty-five future attorneys to never, ever give free client consultations.  Here’s his reasoning: 

 If I charge for consultations, people will think I have enough business that I don’t have to give free consultations to get business.  Free consultations say, “I’m desperate.” 

 If I charge for consultations, I won’t be giving away my time to some people while billing my time to others.  Free consultations say, “I’m putting my paying clients aside to do free consultations.”   

If I charge for consultations, people will feel really good about what I tell them because they’ve paid for it.  Free consultations say, “my advice isn’t worth anything.”  

And then there is the kicker:

If someone pays for my time and also gets a free consultation from another attorney, they’re not going to pick the do-gooder who gave them their time, because they’ve already invested over $500 bucks in me!  Free consultations say, "pick me and you've wasted the money you paid the other guy."

Well, it’s hard to argue with him because he is very successful.  He has lots of famous clients to show for his efforts.  And rich, famous clients need a good attorney just like the rest of us.  But, wait a second…don’t the rest of us need a good attorney just like those rich, famous people?  

At The Manely Firm, PC, we've had our share of media attention and we do give free client consultations.

               We are not desperate.  We open over 200 cases a year and that number keeps climbing.

               We do not put our paying clients aside to do free consultations.   If we have more work than we can do while giving free consultations, we hire more attorneys.

               If people thought our free advice wasn’t worth anything, they wouldn’t hire us by the hundreds.  And finally,

               If a person prefers to pay for advice they may never use, from an attorney they have yet to meet with a firm they may never hire, I say let ‘em.  I prefer our clients be sane.  They’re easier to represent.

At The Manely Firm, PC, we make ourselves available to potential clients, not just the media.  And, not just for paid appearances, but also for free consultation and advice.  After all, our potential clients are just people, not attorneys.  They want to know they are getting their story straight and using the right terminology.  Sometimes, we are disappointed when we don’t get hired, but that’s OK.  We still help.  We want them to call us again.  We want to keep those opportunities coming!

So, the advice?  If you need a successful, experienced family law attorney, visit us for a free consultation.  If you need a celebrity, it'll cost ya'.



  1. I'm glad there are still people out there whose moral conscience is not dominated by the dollar sign...Great post Shelia!

  2. I'm in total agreement here. If I ever need a lawyer (and I hope I don't!), I would be very turned off by a lawyer who is in love with his own celebrity. To me, a free consultation is a sign that the law firm is there to help me, whether I hire them or not. Those are the kind of people I want to work with.

  3. You give priceless advice, Sheila!

  4. Hey Sheila,
    Your post made me think about how I charge for my Landscape Design consultations. I do charge one hour of my hourly rate (even though with the trip over and back it is normally around two hours). Ha, Ha - no where near $500!!! I do let the person deduct that hour if they end up hiring me to do the design.

    It may be different since your potential clients come to you but I have had too many times in the past where I drive all over Atlanta, give an hour of landscape advice and then never hear from the person again. For the years I have been in business by myself, I have had the consultation fee in place. I think it makes people think a little about their own commitment to the process. The people who just want free advice "weed" themselves out before I drive over and those who are really interested in a landscape design are not daunted by my reasonable hourly rate. There are places to get free landscape advice, like the extension service and the master gardeners program.

    I can't think of any consultation I have gone on with the fee where the person didn't end up hiring me for the design. But, if they ended up not liking my ideas or me for what ever reason, I still feel like I provided them a service for that hour, helping them refine what they are looking for in the future with my ideas and my photos.

    I think your argument sounds solid for not charging, but I just can't see doing that it my case. Am I being greedy?

    Got me thinking,