Many blog articles address how to market for the purpose of attracting new legal clients. When these strategies work, and clients start calling, lawyers feel confident that their businesses are growing. While it is true that the first phone call may be the start of a new client relationship, there is no certainty until the engagement letter is signed—and the initial consultation is often the determining factor as to whether the lawyer is hired or not.
The initial consultation is extremely critical to business development. It also sets the tone for the entirety of the case. Here are five tips for making sure it goes well and the client is secured.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Charge
Prospective clients are often looking for a free consultation, despite the old adage that “you get what you pay for.” As a result, lawyers feel pressure to give away their time with the hope of securing new business. However, the prospective client will take the meeting much more seriously when they are paying for it. Additionally, having clients pay from the outset sets the tone for the case. Clients realize that the lawyer’s time has value, and they understand from the outset that they are paying for the expertise.
2. Provide Detailed Information
When a client visits for the initial consultation, they rightfully expect to receive detailed information so they can understand their rights and responsibilities in the impending legal matter. More importantly, by providing detailed information, the lawyer is showcasing vast knowledge about their practice area. Clients will feel confident in their hiring decision once they appreciate how much the lawyer knows. Younger lawyers who may not have much experience can still succeed by emphasizing their knowledge of cutting edge developments in the law, while those lawyers who have been practicing longer can highlight years of experience in their field.
3. Talk About Specifics, Not Generalities
While discussing knowledge of the law is critical to impress the potential client, most do not schedule an appointment for a legal treatise but rather to know the predicted outcome of their particular matter. That is why it is necessary for the lawyer to spend the time understanding the facts of the case. To save time, many lawyers have the prospective client bring a completed questionnaire to the initial meeting or have their paralegal or legal assistant spend the time with the client completing this document.
It is much better, albeit more time consuming, for the lawyer to complete this intake form with the client. In this way, the lawyer understands directly which issues are most important to the client. The lawyer fully understands the relevant facts and has the immediate opportunity to ask questions about them. Finally, the client will appreciate the lawyer’s interest in their particular matter and the feedback that they will receive.
4. Find Time To Answer Questions
After understanding the facts of the case and informing the client of the probable outcome, it is important that the prospective client is given sufficient time to ask questions. At the outset of the initial meeting, it is worthwhile to let the client know how the meeting will proceed. For example, the lawyer might inform the client that first they will review information and then discuss the relevant law. The lawyer can notify the client that they will likely answer most questions during the course of the meeting, but that they certainly reserve time at the end of the meeting for questions.
This message puts the client at ease so that they can truly listen to what they are being told. They know that at the end of the meeting, they will have the time to ask their most important questions and voice their concerns. Typically, they don’t have too many questions as most will have been answered with the detailed exchange that occurred during the meeting.
5. Discuss How The Process Works
The prospective client will appreciate knowing exactly how the process works—not only in terms of the case procedure, but the attorney’s billing and staffing policies as well. Most prospective clients have never had a legal matter before, so understanding how the legal process works will help them know what to expect. Equally important is understanding how their case will be staffed. It gives them peace of mind to know that the lawyer with whom they have chosen to meet will remain involved in the case.
Also, no initial meeting can be concluded without a discussion of cost. While a lawyer is hard-pressed to estimate the total cost of the legal matter, letting the client understand billable rates, minimum amounts of time billed and the frequency of billing are also key issues for a prospective client to understand.
Undoubtedly, your initial consultation is a key component in securing new business. Taking the time and effort to assure that it runs smoothly, and that the prospective client leaves well-informed, can guarantee a positive outcome.