Do’s and Don’ts of Initial Consultations

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Initial consultations are critical to the success of any law firm. The reality is that law firms that want to thrive and succeed need to put their best foot forward in an initial consultation. Obtaining new clientele is necessary for a law firm to succeed.

New clients ensure that the lights can stay on in the law firm. New clients ensure that the salaries and obligations of the law firm can be met.  Further, new clients allow a law firm to have a sense of optimism about the future.

Law firms that succeed take every initial consultation very seriously. Law firms that do not succeed take initial consultations cavalierly. Below we are going to discuss some do’s and don’ts for initial consultations.

The Do’s For Initial Consultations 

As to the do’s, below are some of the important tips:

1.) Treat every initial consultation like a job interview. The reality is at every initial consultation meeting, the potential client is meeting a lawyer to determine if that lawyer or law firm is a good fit for their case. It is up to the lawyer to treat the occasion seriously and do their best to show their care, compassion, empathy, professionalism and skills.

2.) Take the time to listen to the potential client’s questions and concerns. Some lawyers may be in a rush, thinking about other cases or matters on their agenda, and may not really take the time to answer the potential client’s questions or concerns with IRAC answers.  A good initial consultation meeting usually takes some time. Anything less than an hour is probably not long enough for a potential client to decide to hire the lawyer.

3.) Let the potential client do most of the talking. Many lawyers have a desire to hear themselves speak and pontificate. Lawyers who succeed in initial consultations get that it is not about them, but the potential client. Thus, it is vital to let the potential client get off their chest what brought them into your office before speaking or asking questions. Most lawyers should begin an initial consultation by asking a simple question like, “It is a pleasure to meet you.  Tell me what brings you into my office today?” From there, it is important to mirror back to the potential client what they are saying with empathy and compassion to ensure you heard it right.

4.) Assume all potential clients have the funds to secure your representation. The reality is lawyers in the same geographic area generally charge rates that are roughly comparable to other lawyers on a low to a high end. Most potential clients generally know these rates by talking to others before even seeing a lawyer. Thus, be optimistic about the potential client’s ability to pay your rate. If a good chunk of the potential clients are telling you that they do not have the funds to hire you, it is important to understand that many of these potential clients have the ability to pay your advanced fee, but they did not feel comfortable hiring you for some other reason. They just let you down easy by telling you they did not have the money.

5.) Be sure to give the client a brief game-plan toward the end of the initial consultation based on what the potential client has told you. Obviously, any game-plan might change once more is learned along the way or new facts arise. However, if you do not give a general game-plan, most clients will not feel confident hiring a lawyer or law firm. Simultaneously, if you go into nauseating details, you may lose the client in the complexities. In sum, a lawyer must have the ability to state the game-plan succinctly in layman’s terms.

The Don’ts For Initial Consultations 

As to the don’ts, below are some important tips:

1.) Avoid being a naysayer or stonewaller in an initial consultation. Naysayers only look at worst-case scenarios for the client. They never explain the middle case or best-case scenarios. Stonewallers never answer questions. All their answers are evasive  with generic statements like “it depends,” “it will be based on some factors,” or “it will be up to the judge.” The truth is that potential clients want to hire a lawyer who can give assessments that involve best-case, worst-case and middle-case scenarios versus entirely negative. Potential clients also do not want a lawyer who is not like a politician who refuses to answer questions.

2.) While most potential clients are generally informed about lawyers’ rates in their locality, a lawyer must be clear and pithy on their fees. Some lawyers ramble to the extent that the potential client is more confused. In short, keep it as clear and pithy as possible by saying something like, “My rate is X amount per hour. My associate is X per hour. And my paralegal is X per hour. We all charge in tenth of hour increments. To begin on your case, we’d need an advanced fee deposit of X amount. Further, the total cost will vary based on the length and complexity of the case. The advanced fee deposit is just what we need to begin.” Further, after the client says they want to hire you, give the client all the time they need to read your fee agreement before they sign it. Of course, answer any questions they have. The above example is also for hourly billing. So, no matter how you bill, be sure to hone your explanation so that it is easy for a potential client to understand.

3.) While you may need new cases, don’t be pushy in initial consultations. Being pushy leads to less potential clients hiring you. So, take your time to listen to the potential client. Be sure to answer all their questions and concerns. Additionally, be sure to give them the time to read your fee agreement and ask any questions about it. If the potential client feels like you are a pushy salesperson, it is counter-productive.

4.) Show genuine compassion and empathy for potential clients. Many lawyers meet so many clients and potential clients that they become desensitized to what the potential client is going through.  The reality is that it can be hard for most potential clients to come into a lawyer’s office. Lawyers who are successful with potential clients give them a tissue when they cry, affirm the potential client’s feelings and show human compassion. Sometimes, a lawyer can literally say and do all the right things, but compassion and empathy are missing. Many potential clients also hire a lawyer based on their overall bedside manner, not based on what they say.

5.) A lawyer must be confident in the services they can provide. Many lawyers go into an initial consultation thinking they need to be a legal encyclopedia who answers every question off the top of their head with 100-percent accuracy. If the potential client asks them something they are not completely positive about, many lawyers will freeze up or resort to a stonewall answer. The truth is that lawyers sometimes have to tell the potential client what they think off the top of their head. However, they may have to clarify that they may need to do some legal research, consult another lawyer or contemplate that question a little bit longer to give the best possible answer. Lawyers who take that approach do very well. But lawyers who lack the confidence to say that (or they think they have to know everything off the top of their head) can often freeze up, look insecure and struggle in initial consultations.

There are other tips other lawyers could provide in terms of being successful in an initial consultation. However, the tips above can help many lawyers and law firms.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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