A client of mine asked me whether he should charge a prospective client a fee for their initial consultation, the meeting before being engaged.
There are three approaches to this issue, long debated amongst lawyers:
1. Free initial consultation
2. Paid initial consultation
3. Paid initial consultation with the payment applied to the total bill if they engage you.
There is no one right answer or magic bullet in response to this question. Obviously, everyone wants to get something for nothing. But, we then also run into the bromide that "you get what you paid for." In this case, nothing.
Whether you can charge for the initial consultation is normally a question of the client’s trust in you, their confidence in you … and how long it takes to generate those feelings in the client toward you …
I don’t think “free” connotes expertise … and that’s what prospective clients are looking for. In deference to the current economy, and the need attract clients, you might consider alternative #3 … charge them an initial consultation fee, and apply that amount toward the total fee in the event they should retain you.
This is never an easy choice. But, we must remember that people do believe they get what they pay for … and anything free is usually viewed with suspicion either as to motive or expertise. A discount in an on-going relationship, however, is viewed differently and not to be confused with the issue at hand.