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February 13, 2024 Sailing Solo

Five Tips for Turning Consults into Clients

Sara Gold
These tips will help you turn initial consults into opportunities for a successful attorney-client relationship.

These tips will help you turn initial consults into opportunities for a successful attorney-client relationship.

skynesher via Getty Images

I am a journalist turned lawyer who runs a solo practice focused on trademark and copyright law. Essential to any solo practice is getting new clients and, more specifically, generating paying clients from initial consults. Although representing every potential client who walks in your door is not necessarily practical or desirable (as explained in tip five, below), you should want to turn every initial consult into an opportunity for a successful attorney-client relationship. Here are my five tips for nailing the client consult:

1. Explain the Basics of the Relevant Law/Procedure

Unless the prospective client tells you otherwise, do not assume that the person understands the basics of the legal issue he or she is facing. Also, keep in mind that potential clients may feel shy or embarrassed to let you know when they don’t understand, for fear of sounding “stupid” in front of a lawyer.

For basic terms, concepts, or procedures that can be defined quickly, provide a brief explanation at the start to bring the person up to speed. This also includes an explanation of the relevant procedure, for example, the prerequisites to filing a claim, where a claim would be filed (court, government agency, arbitration, etc.), and roughly how long that process might take.

In these instances, it may not be necessary to first ask potential clients whether they already understand; they may be embarrassed to say “no,” or they may say “yes” based on an incomplete or imperfect understanding.

To ensure that you and the potential client are on the same page, it is generally better to explain rather than refrain. That said, for something that requires a longer explanation, it could help to first ask potential clients about their extent of familiarity with the topic so you can tailor your explanation and not waste either of your time.

Providing this foundational knowledge up front is critical to ensure the person is equipped to understand the rest of what you are about to explain. For example, I practice intellectual property law; a 20-minute explanation of the person’s trademark issue could fall on deaf ears if the person didn’t already know what a trademark is. Your primary goal with the client consult is not to show how smart you are but rather to show how you can help the potential client, which includes making the law familiar.

2. Communicate an Action Plan for When You Are Retained

Near the end of the meeting, tell the prospective client what the next immediate steps would be, for both attorney and client, once the attorney-client agreement is signed. For example, tell the prospective client that once the agreement is signed, “I will investigate/contact/draft XYZ; meanwhile, I will need you to provide ABC.” Creating an action plan reduces anxieties related to selecting a lawyer and redirects that focus onto the larger game plan of what needs to be done to accomplish the person’s goals. The action plan also signals to the prospective client that you know what you are doing and are qualified to take the reins.

3. Make the Initial Consult Logistically Easy and a Pleasant Experience

A prospective client wants to know that you will be easy to work with and will not add to the stress of what may already be a stressful situation. Make the initial attorney-client experience a pleasant one by being flexible in scheduling and ensuring that the meeting is easy to access, either in person or remotely.

Difficulty in scheduling the initial consult could be the single factor that prevents you from landing the client, even if the scheduling difficulty is not your fault. Understandably, both parties may have busy schedules and other responsibilities. However, if it is far too difficult to schedule the very first meeting, prospective clients may think, correctly or not, that you do not have the time or desire to help them. Along the same lines, if the prospective client must reschedule the first meeting, kindly accommodate the request to the best of your ability. Don’t bend over backward or neglect other duties, but your good-faith willingness to accommodate goes a long way in showing the prospective client that you care.

A big value-add of working with a solo practitioner is the personalized service, so once the first meeting is scheduled, make sure the experience highlights your value as a solo attorney. If possible, do not schedule the prospective client meeting too close to other commitments, either before or after, to reduce the risk of a conflict. When the time of the meeting arrives, arrive on time. Where possible, spend at least a few extra minutes past the agreed-on end time; you do not want them to feel like you are pushing them out the door or that they are just an item in a “law firm factory.”

Making sure the meeting is easy to access is just as important. If you are meeting in person, make sure that driving and parking instructions are relatively easy. You don’t want prospective clients to scurry into your office already frustrated after spending 20 minutes hunting for parking while also concerned about their case and worried about being late to meet you. Direct them to free parking or reimburse parking fees where possible; it may be well worth it for you to pay $20 for their parking to improve their overall experience and thereby increase the chances of their retaining you.

If you are meeting virtually, make sure that the technology works properly. Malfunctioning technology that delays the meeting will, at best, inconvenience the prospective client and, at worst, convey incompetence or disorganization. Whether in person or online, an initial meeting that runs smoothly sets the right tone for a potential attorney-client relationship.

4. Be Prepared to Discuss Their Case

If the potential client has sent you information in advance, review it and be prepared to discuss it. If you know in advance of a unique subtlety that you are not quite as familiar with, do a little bit of research.

Coming prepared to an initial meeting shows not only your value as an attorney but also your proactivity and genuine desire to help the potential client. By coming unprepared, you may not make the best possible first impression. Even worse, if potential clients sense that you did not take the time to prepare, they may feel that they wasted their time sending you the information and meeting with you in the first place.

5. Ask Good Questions

The initial client consult might be your only chance to talk in-depth with the prospective client, potentially face-to-face, before an attorney-client agreement is signed. In addition to making a good impression on the prospective client, you also want to assess whether this is a case that you can handle competently and ethically. This is another reason why advance preparation is so important, as your follow-up questions could shape or change your view of the case. Keen follow-up questions could reveal intersection with an unanticipated area of law, for example. Also, keep an eye out for obvious red flags, such as a prospective client’s past legal history or possible conflicts of interest. Where possible, it is better to discover these complications prior to an engagement agreement being signed. In sum, take advantage of the initial consult not just to sell yourself to the prospective client but also to become sold on the client and his or her case.

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Sara Gold

Gold IP Law

Sara Gold, founder of Gold IP Law, helps clients nationwide with trademark and copyright matters, including registration and litigation. A former journalist, Gold also enjoys contributing to legal academia. Her scholarship has been cited in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology and the Cambridge Handbook of International and Comparative Trademark Law, among other publications.