Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Family Law Consultations

Used to offer free in person consults up to an hour and then metsfan09/02/17
The point of a consultation is (1) to determine whether the anothernjlawyer09/02/17
^ Good, common-sense advice. jeffm09/02/17
That has not worked for me in family law. I charge $200 for guyingorillasuit09/02/17
100% agree with Gorilla. Free consults are a horrible idea i cocolawyer09/22/17
I agree. You need to charge for your time and expertise. I c cranky09/02/17
"The cheapos will wring you dry with a litany of questions a onehell09/05/17
The point of an initial phone call is to determine if someon anothernjlawyer09/02/17
Well, that's not my modus operandi either. I prefer not to w cranky09/05/17
That has to be the worst advice regarding retaining high ass cocolawyer09/22/17
Getting back to OP's question: yes what you propose sounds r cranky09/05/17
First time responding in a while, but I always see this ques cocolawyer09/22/17
I agree with your assessment. Congratulations on your new j cranky09/23/17
"Your time is your product." This is so true. I was told tomjoadsload09/26/17
Coming from Coco, "worst advice ever" stings a bit, so I'll anothernjlawyer09/23/17
Well I think that's the rub. My advice is only regarding Fam cocolawyer09/25/17
metsfan (Sep 2, 2017 - 3:25 pm)

Used to offer free in person consults up to an hour and then up to 15 minutes. Then changed to $50 for 30 minutes and if retained I'll credit on first bill. Considering changing to $75 nonrefundable M-F or $95 after - hours. What do you think?

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anothernjlawyer (Sep 2, 2017 - 8:57 pm)

The point of a consultation is (1) to determine whether the person you're talking to has the means and inclination to pay you; and (2) if so, to convince them that they should.

You should be able to get the answer to part one in about 5 minutes on the phone. Somebody calls and says "I'm getting divorced, etc..." You ask them: do you own a home, do you both work, do you have kids, what are your respective incomes, what are your assets / liabilities. If they both make six figures and own a nice home, your job is now to convince that person to hire you. Bring them in for a free consult and sell yourself. Don't lose the potential paying client by dickering over 95 bucks.

On the other hand, if they both work at Target, rent, and have credit card debt, tell the person that if they want an in person consultation with you, it'll cost your regular hourly rate. This person will take up as much of your time as possible without paying you, and at the end of the day won't be able to pay you. Get what you can, up front.

Prescreening via phone is a must.

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jeffm (Sep 2, 2017 - 9:35 pm)

^ Good, common-sense advice.

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guyingorillasuit (Sep 2, 2017 - 10:01 pm)

That has not worked for me in family law. I charge $200 for consults, and most others in town charge in the $200-350 range. The only people who have free half-hour consults have their associates do the consults.

The trouble is that if you offer free consults, people will hit up multiple lawyers, looking for one who tells them what they want to hear. This goes for any client - rich or poor. I generally prefer to be honest with people as a lawyer, and I will not tell a client what they want to hear just to land the case. The $200 I charge for a consult is lower than my hourly rate, but if I didn't charge that, I would have a never-ending stream of free consults.

If someone doesn't have $200 for a consult, they will not have the money to hire me.

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cocolawyer (Sep 22, 2017 - 7:28 pm)

100% agree with Gorilla. Free consults are a horrible idea in Family Law. You will end up wasting hundreds of hours a year on individuals that have no intention to hire you, or they are shopping attorneys for the most desperate suit around. If you simply pre-screen for money and refuse to meet with them, well congratulations you now are getting destroyed with horrific online reviews. It literally could destroy your entire practice.

The $200.00 consult is your prescreen. If the person is willing and able to pay for it, they are likely serious on hiring an attorney. They are also less likely to speak with multiple attorneys, and are more likely to have the means to retain your services. It also gives you, the attorney that doesn't like to work for free, some security that if they don't retain you didn't just waste your time.

Lastly, clients you really want, the multi-million dollar individuals willing to shell out 50-100k for their divorce are not going to go to the guy offering free consults. Trust me three of those kind of clients are worth more to you then 20 of the bottom feeder ones.

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cranky (Sep 2, 2017 - 10:57 pm)

I agree. You need to charge for your time and expertise. I charge $245 and other attorneys in my area charge even more for an initial consultation. You must in order to save your sanity and weed out the cheap people who will potentially conflict you out should their ex contact you later. Also, it is difficult to get people off the phone or out of your office quickly, especially if you're doing it for free. The cheapos will wring you dry with a litany of questions and want advice so they can try to do it themselves. No, do not give free consults. The only people I've heard of giving free consults in family law are inexperienced new lawyers desperate for clients.

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onehell (Sep 5, 2017 - 3:38 pm)

"The cheapos will wring you dry with a litany of questions and want advice so they can try to do it themselves."

You can make money off those folks if you do limited scope representation (also known as unbundling), assuming such is allowed under your state's ethics rules. Lots of folks around my town will charge you $250 to ghost-draft a complaint which they will file pro per, another $500 to do initial disclosures, another $500-1000 to attend a temp orders hearing, another $1000 to go to a mediation, and so forth. It's more common in "uncontested" divorces but is actually starting to appear in contested ones too. Basically the client handles most of the case pro per but the lawyer steps in on an a la carte basis for pieces of it the client can't do themselves. With 90% of divorces having at least one unrepresented party, this is becoming a kind of new normal.

There's a lot of experimentation going on that varies the old "all or nothing" model of representation, and in my area at least the courts have been quite accommodating because having a lawyer for part of the case is better than none at all, and in fact, the old school model often meant just having a lawyer for part of the case anyway because they would file to withdraw when the retainer ran out and wasn't replenished. Better to have them withdraw because the discrete piece of the case for which they were hired has been completed, rather than a withdrawal at some unknown midpoint in the case that comes whenever the client runs out of money.

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anothernjlawyer (Sep 2, 2017 - 11:23 pm)

The point of an initial phone call is to determine if someone is a potential, valuable client. It's a critical part of the process.

If the answer is no, forget it. Don't waste a second. Assume, however, the answer is yes. You can say: "If you want to talk to me in person I charge $245 an hour!" Fantastic. You now sound cheap, money hungry, and like you need the business. The guy who's facing a 7 figure divorce doesn't want to hire someone who is worried about 245 bucks.

Yes, people will try to squeeze you for advice. If someone passes your phone screening, comes in for a meeting, and turns out to be a tire kicker, tell them: "Before we get into details, we have to talk about the conditions of my representation." If they can't put up, turn them out.

You shouldn't be giving substantive advice before you're hired. But giving substantive advice isn't the purpose of a consult. The purpose is to show the potential client that you're knowledgeable, confidence-inspiring, and generally worth spending the money on.

If you have a big fish, the goal is to land it, not to worry about how much bait you use doing it.

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cranky (Sep 5, 2017 - 11:16 am)

Well, that's not my modus operandi either. I prefer not to waste any of my time screening the people and weeding out tire kickers. Those calls can drag on and on for no pay. Instead, my assistant is the one who listens to everyone's tale of woe and then tells them about the consultation fee. If someone's willing to pay the consultation fee, sure I'll meet with the person. It's easy to say don't give substantive advice, but a lot of time people want to tell you their whole life's story and ask what they they need to do, how to respond to a lawsuit or draft settlement agreement they've received, etc. That's what we attorneys get paid for, as my first boss said. "We get paid to talk."

The other concern I mentioned was getting conflicted out of representing the other party, even if the 1st potential client just talked to you and did not pay or hire you. In my jurisdiction, an attorney can't represent the other party unless the first person consents to it. So you could lose more business talking for free to people.

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cocolawyer (Sep 22, 2017 - 7:35 pm)

That has to be the worst advice regarding retaining high asset clients. I have represented NFL personnel, VP of fortune 500 companies, to an individual that literally spent $500k dollars with me litigating their family law matter. Not one of them called an attorney that would give a "free" consult. They are savvy businessmen/woman and generally understand that getting the best is going to cost them in their wallet. They expect to be charged just to have a seat at the table with the "best." None of those type of clients would of even entertained the idea of meeting with an attorney offering free consultations.

If your model is to take on cheap clients by bulk to do limited scope representation or document production, then okay I guess free consults would work. If your model is to retain clients that can pay, I would stick to the paid model.

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cranky (Sep 5, 2017 - 11:18 am)

Getting back to OP's question: yes what you propose sounds reasonable, and still a little underpriced to me, but I don't know your level of experience and what kind of place you're practicing in. Don't be afraid to charge for your time. I know of another firm that charges time and a half for any calls or meetings outside of normal business hours.

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cocolawyer (Sep 22, 2017 - 7:20 pm)

First time responding in a while, but I always see this question with Family Law attorneys. There is a mistaken belief in the community that paid consults, result in less consults, which result in less business. I have personally not seen that to be the case.

When I was in the bay area I would do consults for a one hour blocks and at a rate of $200-$250 per hour. I lowered that rate when I transferred offices to Sacramento to $200 to $150 depending on the prospective. What you generally see with paid consults is that your retention rate skyrockets. Normally individuals willing to pay you for the consult are serious, and have the money to retain. You can also show the prospective that you are articulate, knowledgeable, and likable with an hour to work with. If they do not retain for whatever reason then oh well, you got paid the equivalency of half a billable hour for the hour consult, so its not a total loss. Overall I generally retained more clients with paid consults then with freebie shoppers.

I work for the department now, so the rat race is over with me. I would suggest every attorney though only do paid consults. Your time is your product. Do not just give it away for nothing.

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cranky (Sep 23, 2017 - 11:33 am)

I agree with your assessment. Congratulations on your new job and leaving the conflict ridden world of family law litigation.

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tomjoadsload (Sep 26, 2017 - 10:28 am)

"Your time is your product."

This is so true. I was told this when I was very green and working for a solo. He wasn't the brightest guy, and didn't make a ton of money, but he did ok and he understood the importance of the fact that, as a lawyer, time is literally money. Don't give it away for free.

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anothernjlawyer (Sep 23, 2017 - 8:17 pm)

Coming from Coco, "worst advice ever" stings a bit, so I'll lay out my thought process.

Preface: I'm not a family lawyer, and I don't travel in Coco's high-level circles, but I have represented a few wealthy people over the years.

1) Sitting in my office, I get a call from a prospective client. Within 90 seconds, I know if the person is a nutjob. If so, I'll just end the call. It's so easy: "Oops, I'm late for court, bye!" Click. Parenthetically, I would never let a paralegal screen prospective client calls: I'd rather spend 90 seconds hanging up on a nutjob than have a paralegal let a potential client slip through the cracks.

2) Within 5-8 minutes, I've gotten the information I need to know (or to be 90% certain) if the person is 1) sane; 2) has a case that I can handle; and 3) has the ability to pay me a case-appropriate retainer. Now, I'm sold. I want this person to hire me, because they can pay me to do work that I can do.

3) Within that same 5-8 minutes, however, I haven's sold the prospective client on me. Unless I'm a referral, in which case the business should be mine to lose, I'm still just 1 name out of hundreds (or thousands) of lawyers in the phone book. Accordingly, I need to give myself the opportunity to sell myself to the prospective client.

4) Obviously, a sophisticated client of means realizes that a lawyer's time is valuable, and won't mind paying for quality representation. At this point, though, they don't necessarily know that that's what I can offer. The purpose of an initial meeting is to show them that that's the case.

5) I realize that those clients aren't looking for a "free consult" or "discount consult", and would be turned off by the idea; that's not my selling point. I would never use those words in an initial phone call. I just think it's a lot easier to kick off a prospective business relationship / build rapport by saying, "let's sit down and talk about it...." instead of saying, "if you'd like a consultation, it'll be $250 bucks" or, "my normal rate is $350 but for our first meeting it's just $275.00".

6) On the other hand, if I'm not sold on the client, i.e., I think there's the possibility during the initial phone call that they might be a flake / time waster, I'll quote a consult fee to weed out the riff-raff.

7) Likewise, the purpose of an initial meeting isn't to give loads of substantive advice. It's to demonstrate your competence and willing personality, to inspire confidence, and to get the client to hand you the retainer check. This should take 30 minutes or less. If I'm in a meeting and the person starts pushing to get into details, shift the conversation from sales to money. "Before we get into the specific issues, let's talk about the terms of my representation." If the person waffles at that point, politely wrap up the meeting.

8) Finally, I would never do a "cold" in-person consultation, i.e., someone I hadn't screened on the phone, whether I'd quoted a fee or not.

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cocolawyer (Sep 25, 2017 - 6:22 pm)

Well I think that's the rub. My advice is only regarding Family Law Consultations. I have no idea on what would work the best for Personal Injury, Criminal, Wills & Trusts etc.

Also paid consults do not mean non-screened consults. You still have a paralegal screen the call to ensure that it is something in your arena, if opposing party is represented (who is it) there is no conflicts, and what the court dates are (if any). That initial screening takes 3-5 minutes for your paralegal. So by the time my paid consult happens I know I can potentially help him on his issue, I know there is no conflicts, including conflicts with my calendar, and I can tell them based on my experience with OC how conflicted this could get. That being said I always (well for the past 3-4 years) did paid consults. Results were markedly better.

Again got out of the rat race (was always stressed, was fat, and angry). I live a much better life now. But if you ever want to make 100k to 500k in family law...do the paid consults. Unless, as previously said, your niche is to do a million limited scopes to cheapo clients. You can be successful doing that too.

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