To the unwitting consumer, the word “free” suggests, as it’s supposed to, “something for nothing.” Yet it is a basic high-school concept, often overlooked by those thinking they’re about to get some kind of “deal,” or even “freebie,” that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
In the Legal world, this most often arises when Lawyers offer a “free consultation.” While the consultation is, of course, “free,” anyone getting it needs to remember that there is no such thing as a “free lunch.”
This article will draw back the curtain on the ever-present use of that marketing tool by so many Lawyers. And if the reader is thinking I’m going to describe myself as a shining exception to that….you’re right!
In the interest of fairness, I should point out that I have and will always offer a “free consultation” of sorts. By “of sorts,” I specifically mean that I will do a consultation by phone, but do not make Office appointments and drag someone in on the pretense that I want to use a precious time slot just to answer their questions. Think about it for a moment; how does it advance any Lawyer’s interest to line up people for “free” Office visits with no expectation of actually being hired? Where is the money going to come from to keep that Office open and pay the staff? It is, instead, the opportunity to turn that “free consultation” into a paid retainer that’s really going on, not some kind hearted, altruistic opportunity to provide a cozy environment just to answer someone’s questions with no hope or chance of eventually being hired, and paid.
The fact is, a “free consultation,” whether it’s my free phone consultation or anyone else’s free Office consultation, is an opportunity to meet a potential new Client (meaning paying customer). Certainly, no Lawyer intends a free consultation to be time spent with someone who has no intention of hiring them. I’ll be honest about that here; the last thing I have time to do is use up an appointment slot to answer questions and explain stuff to someone looking just for free Legal advice. Yet any number of people will admit and say, right up front, that they have another Lawyer and just want t know if he or she is on the right track, or they have no money and can’t afford a Lawyer, or give some other indication that they have no ability or intention to become a Client. How many of those do you think I can carry and still pay my bills? I wonder, would these same people call up a plastic surgeon, make an appointment for a “free consultation,” and go in, only to explain that they’re not interested in any of the services the surgeon provides, but rather want to know what he or she thinks is the best product they an buy over-the-counter to eliminate the lines around theie eyes, or reduce the appearance of wrinkles?
Thus, the “free consultation,” at least to the Lawyer, means an opportunity to interact with someone who needs and is interested in hiring an Attorney. So what, you ask, is my beef with this tactic?
I have always tried to be honest, and within my various blog articles, I have been candid to the point of being “brutally honest.” Therefore, it should come as no surprise that part of my motivation in writing this article is that it seems like my honesty, as is so many times the case, actually costs me money. Remember the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” I’m thinking that maybe I should….
Many years ago, when I was much younger and living at home with my parents, I remember advertisements of all kinds offering free estimates, free inspections, and free trials. I also remember, on various occasions, the details of which I have long forgotten, urging my dad to check something out, and telling him how there was a “free” something-or-other deal. The thing that sticks with me the most is how my dad reacted. He dismissed those offers out of hand, telling me that those were nothing more than ploys for what he called “high pressure sales tactics.”
My dad said that you could drive a brand new car off the dealership lot, drive straight to any place that offered a free inspection, and they’d find something that needs to be fixed.
Years later, and AS A JOKE, I called a number for the “Select Comfort Mattress” to get their “free, no obligation video,” which I passed on to a friend as a gag birthday present. In order to get the video, I had to leave my phone number and address.
They hounded me like bill collectors for months afterwards…. Apparently, “no obligation” had nothing to do with “relentless pursuit.”
I also recall one time when I was “talking shop” with another Lawyer at some function or other. The subject of “conversions” came up. For those unfamiliar with the term, a conversion is when a potential customer (or Client) becomes an actual customer 9or Client). It applies in any potential “sign up” or “purchase” situation, from walking into ABC Warehouse and walking out with a TV, to going into a Cosmetic Surgeons Office for a “free consultation” and then signing up for some procedure or other, to going to a gym for a “free trial,” and leaving as a paid member, right up to, and including, going to some Lawyer’s Office for a “free consultation, only to leave as retainer-paid Client. When this Lawyer began asking me about my procedure, and I told him I did my consultations over the phone, he was shocked, and promptly advised me to start bringing people in ASAP and get them into the “Client Chair.”
The “Client Chair,” at least in a Criminal case, is the place where a person coming in for a “free consultation” gets seated, hears about all the potential doom and gloom and penalties (including Jail and/or Prison) and fines and costs and other negative consequences that can befall them, and then learns how the Lawyer on the other side of the table can spare them much of that.
It all starts when the Client sits down, and the Lawyer asks, in a manner that seems rather innocent enough, “let me get a little information. What is your name? Your address? Are you married? Where do you work? How long have you been there (I love this one, if it’s asked…) What’s you rate of pay? (i.e., how much can you afford?) When did this happen? Where? What happened?
Then, the potential Client asks his or her questions, and the Lawyer answers them, hoping that they walk out having signed a Retainer Agreement.
As you can see the “relationship” is being developed, and the potential Client is being made rather comfortable in that “Client chair.”
From the Lawyer’s perspective, this is best accomplished by being the first in line. In other words, if this is your tactic, then you want to get the person in as soon as possible, before they see any other Lawyer, who will also try for a “conversion” from “consultation” to Retainer. Chances are, if the first Lawyer is any good, then the second Lawyer will either have a no-show potential Client, or perhaps will perhaps, at least, get the courtesy of a call cancelling the appointment.
This really is just a variation of the battle for shelf space in the supermarket. In the Potato Chip aisle, for example, the manufacturers actually pay the retailers for better placement. Eye level is considered the best. Down at the bottom is the least desirable. That’s because most shoppers automatically look at eye level, and usually, once they have put a product in their buggy, they move on to the next thing they need. Thus, if Better Made Potato Chips was given a choice, in supermarket X, of having their products at eye level, or on the bottom row, which do you think they’d pick?
The same holds true for all sorts of things. If you leave a sporting event where there are souvenirs sold outside of the venue, the prime spots are those closest to the facility. The farther away from the facility the kiosk, or stand is located, the less likely someone is to buy. First, or closest, is best.
Yet I refuse to do this.
Honestly, I feel that it’s beneath me to have to pander myself in such a manner. There is little doubt I’d make more money if I were to simply bring everyone in for a free in-Office consultation, use a few high-pressure or scare tactics, and make myself out to be the person who can rescue the Client from all they face. And it would be better still if I could get them in first, before they sat down with any other Lawyer.
But I’m better than that, and truth be told, I want a Client who is smarter than that. If the real reason I am hired is only because I’m so aggressive by bringing them right in, then that means I’m not being selected for my ability, experience, knowledge, personality or skill, as much as the fact that I simply know how to “close the deal” and convert a call into a paid Retainer before the potential Client talks to anyone else.
That’s not me.
Instead, I want a Client who has the fortitude and intelligence to do their homework. I want to be selected. Personally, I’d NEVER go into anyone’s Office, for anything, until I was satisfied that the person might be a good fit for what I need. I need to have some questions answered first.
In my case, I’ll answer any and all questions a person has right over the phone. You don’t need to make an appointment and miss work to ask your questions, and have me explain things. And why should you?
Unless, of course, the real goal is to get you into the “Client chair.”
I think a mistake many people make is thinking that they’re too smart to just sign up with the first person they see. I know, for a fact, that as bright as I think I am, I am exactly the kind of person who might do just that. After all, I’ll wind up telling myself, I’ve taken my valuable time, and then taken another person’s valuable time, and they seem nice enough, and competent enough, so why waste any more time….
Thus, when it involves me needing to hire someone for something, I want to find out, first by phone, a little about the person. You can tell a lot in a very short period of time if you ask the right questions…
Like, “exactly how many of these cases have you done before? What has happened in them? Have you been in front of this Judge? Do you know the Prosecutor?” Realistically, what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios? Exactly how much is this going to cost?”
I will gladly spend as much time with a person as it takes to explain things and answer their questions, but I like doing that by phone, which is much more convenient, anyway. Besides,doing a consultation by phone, at least from the point of view of the caller, means there is a decided absence of high-pressure tactics, like the proverbial “Client Chair.” And whether done by phone, or in the Office, the same confidentiality rules apply to anything that’s discussed: It’s private, and covered by Attorney-Client Privilege. That “Privilege” legally applies to conversations even just for the purpose of consulting with a Lawyer for the purpose of deciding who to hire.
And what about Fees? I list mine right on this blog, and on my site. I guess I’m just different, but I would NEVER, in a MILLION YEARS, go see someone who wouldn’t tell me in advance EXACTLY how much something is going to cost. I can tell, in 5 minutes or less, exactly how much a case is going to cost, and when I quote a Fee, that Fee is put in writing. At that point, it’s set in stone; there are never any “extras.”
Yet time and time again, I hear of Lawyers being evasive about this until the person comes in and provides some information. Talk about red flags…..
Not to be mean about it, but the more of this I see, the more I realize P.T. Barnum was right when he said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Barnum is also generally credited for the line “Never give a sucker an even break,” which became the title of the 1941 W.C Fields movie.
I guess living by the motto “Treat others as you wish to be treated” is at odds with those rather profitable philosophies, but it is the credo by which I live, and by which I do business, and by which I hope that I am, in fact, treated by others.
The moral of this story, I suppose, is just that I do my consultations by phone, and that I am skeptical of those who don’t.
So, while I may not have quite “joined ’em,” do remember, for any Criminal case (including DUI) arising in Macomb, Oakland or Wayne County, I offer a 100% COMPLETELY FREE PHONE CONSULTATION.
I hope you pick up the phone and call. And if you do, I promise to be honest, even if that means telling you what you need to hear, rather than just what you want to hear.