A potential client called my office the other day. This person was expecting their spouse to serve divorce papers in the next few days and wanted to know what to expect. I talked to this person for a little over 20 minutes about the petition, being served, answering the petition and generally what to expect in a divorce. Towards the end of the conversation they made a comment that was very gratifying to me and made me aware of something that I just do routinely.
This person had worked at a big law firm in some capacity and thanked me for talking for so long without having the clock running. At Biglaw, the conversation would have been billed out for 0.4 hours. Actually, the conversation would not have happened because this person would have only talked to a secretary who would have insisted that she come in for an appointment. Of course, once a person walks down the marbled hallways to the mahogany desk of the Biglaw attorney, and once they had told their tale, they would be unlikely to continue searching for an attorney. Rather, they would reach for the check book.
Another person came and talked to me for an hour a few days prior and, even though I declined to take the case, they started to pull out a check book and asked me what they owed me. I also declined the check, but it highlighted to me what the common expectation is regarding attorneys and money.
Now, Biglaw attorney would say that I am committing business suicide by handing out knowledge and experience so freely. This person, and many others I have provided free consults to, are likely to proceed pro se (represent themselves) or soak up the information I give and end up with another attorney down the line. I can live with that.
Instead, I think it is fundamental marketing and time well invested. Why do supermarkets continue to have people standing at the ends of aisles with free food? First, people get hungry walking about the grocery store looking at food. Second, if their product is good, a few people may buy it whereas they never would have thought twice about it otherwise. I am the guy standing at the end of the aisle and the people I talk to are hungry for legal information. I am confident enough in my product to give samples out for free and without hiding a hook to pull them back. Many people will be grateful for the morsel and continue their shopping, but some will swing back around for more.
I do not actually do it for marketing though. And please, keep this a secret between you and I. I do it because I like to help people, because not everything needs the assistance of counsel, and because I believe the more general information about the law is available to the lay person, the more they will appreciate and turn to attorney’s when they really need the help. Marketing is just my excuse for doing something I believe in doing anyway.
I am not an advocate for socialized law, though it is an intriguing idea. I would prefer to make a healthy living for my family. However, I do not think being stingy with the intellect and education God allowed me to attain is the right approach. Rather, I believe generosity of my time and knowledge will create generous returns. If I never hear from this person again, I believe they will carry a bit of trust for me on to another person in need of some counsel with care.