initial consult tips

The initial consult with a client is a make-or-break meeting. Follow these critical tips to help guarantee that this first meeting results in a new client.

By Jennifer Brandt, Family Lawyer

New clients are the lifeblood of the family law practice. Let’s face it, we don’t get too much repeat business, so we are on the constant lookout for new cases. And once we get the call from a potential client, we have an opportunity to grow or sustain our book of business.

It all comes down to one important event. Love it or loathe it, the initial consult with a client is a make-or-break meeting. Since it is determinative of whether the client will hire us or search elsewhere, let’s consider five critical tips to help guarantee that this meeting results in a positive outcome.

Charge a Fee for the Initial Meeting

When a potential client asks for a free consultation, tell them that they get what they pay for!

Charging a fee for a consult sends the message to the potential client that they are getting something of value from the meeting. In turn, make sure that they are given substantive information for their fee. The client walks away from the meeting with a greater understanding of the legal process and what they may face if they decide to pursue the action. It is a great source of comfort to have this knowledge as divorce brings with it so much uncertainty. The amount of the fee can vary depending upon your marketplace. Some lawyers charge a flat fee for an initial meeting, others charge an hourly rate. What is most important is to explain the fee to the client when scheduling the meeting so that they are prepared to pay at the conclusion of the meeting.

Interview the Client As They Interview You

We are often so interested in securing a new client that we overlook some warning signs that this client may not be right for us. For example, has the client worked with multiple lawyers prior to you and is critical of their performance? Although we all like to think we can save the day, truthfully, this may be a client who can never be satisfied.Similarly, does the client have expectations that are completely unrealistic? Clients sometimes come in with ideas of revenge and other notions that are out of line with the law, however, once they are educated, they should adjust their expectations accordingly. If they do not, they may not be the right client for you.

Take the Time to Truly Listen

While we routinely handle family law matters, keep in mind that this is probably the client’s first and only matter, and may be their first meeting with an attorney. Instead of bragging about our burgeoning caseloads at our initial meeting, it is more important to truly listen to the client’s concerns and take the time to answer their questions. A client will value our insight and advice more than our popularity. Additionally, make sure to schedule a little extra time for the meeting so you will not feel rushed or pressured. The client will appreciate your focus and attention.

Set the Expectations

initial consult team

No one likes surprises from their attorney. That is why it is critical at the first meeting to let the client know what to expect if he or she hires you. If you have staff that will work on the case, let the client know their names and roles in the representation. If you don’t plan on being involved in the day-to-day handling of the matter, let them know that as well. Similarly, give the client information about your fee structure, retainer requirements, billing, etc. Let the client know how to best communicate with you – e.g., phone or email – and how quickly you will respond to their inquiries. Find out what is the best way for you to get in touch with them. With this exchange of information, the client knows what to expect and will be prepared to proceed accordingly.

Emphasize the Team Mentality

Let the client know that their professional relationship with you is a two-way street. You will educate them on the law and help guide them through the process, but you want them to participate in the decision-making as well. After all, they will live with the outcome of the matter. You also want to encourage them to be honest and upfront with you so that you can help them make informed and wise choices. Clients will appreciate knowing that they will have some control over their matter and ultimately, their destiny.

While crucial to growth, the initial consult should not be viewed as a win-or-lose prospect. Rather, it should be an opportunity to communicate to a potential client what you can offer as their lawyer – and what they should expect as your client. Assuming that there is a meeting of minds, the likely outcome will be a long-term and successful representation.

Jennifer A. Brandt is a shareholder in the family law department of Cozen O’Connor, a national law firm with over 600 attorneys. She practices in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and she is a frequent commentator on national and local news networks. Jennifer is the author of the Family Law Focus blog.

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