In the First Telephone Call
Whatever hourly rate or other basis for your charges you choose, you must firmly and confidently communicate about fees to the client. If you charge by the hour, tell any potential new client your hourly rate during the initial phone call. Some clients will be looking for lower hourly rates. If so, they will go elsewhere without wasting your time. Some potential clients will not balk at your hourly rate, but it will be evident to you after a short discussion that the cost of your services will be out of proportion to what is at stake. It is worth spending a few minutes on the phone with a potential new client to do a preliminary screening before offering to make an appointment. This will eliminate a number of clients who are not right for you and conserve your time for good prospects.
Ordinarily, you should not attempt to set a fee advance during the first telephone call because you do not have sufficient information to make this determination. However, if you sense from the conversation that the client may not be able to afford you, you might tell the client the fee advance will not be less than a specified amount. If the client is not prepared to pay that amount, you can save the client the cost of the initial consultation only to find out he cannot afford you, and you can save yourself some valuable time that could be used to land a client who can afford you.
Linda J. Ravdin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a shareholder in Ravdin & Wofford, PC in Washington, DC.
Excerpted from Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for the Solo Lawyer, 3rd edition, edited by Jeffrey R. Simmons. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.