In this episode, I cover the topic of giving free legal advice. I’m sure we all have received the felicitation that we roll our eyes at but somehow feel compelled to address. This request can come in many different forms from various sources. It could be from an old friend who is hardly keeping in touch with you or even from family members.
We all know the frustration that arises when the question occurs since we are put into a position where we have to choose: either risk harming a relationship if we decline to answer, or we decide to accept and bear with the feeling of resentful ourselves. So today, I’d love to share four response strategies to the free legal advice request.
Tune in and find out how you can respond when people ask you to lawyer for free!
In this episode we discuss:
- Different approaches to telling someone you don’t give free legal advice.
- The legality of giving advise outside of your practice area.
- Overcoming the fear of declining to give free advice.
- How providing free advice once, can set an unwanted precedence for the future.
Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:24] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor, and welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about that oh so favorite topic of lawyers, that felicitation we all have received that we all roll our eyes at, but feel somehow compelled to address, which is the request that we give free legal advice. And this request can come in many different forms. Sometimes it comes from the high school classmates that we’re connected to on Facebook who we never talk to, who we don’t have any relationship with, but just who miraculously. Hey, girl, how are you doing in our DMs as soon as they have a legal issue? Or perhaps even more specific than that, sometimes it comes from family members, sometimes it comes from neighbors, just anyone. Right? As soon as they know that we are a lawyer, right. As soon as we know that, as soon as they know that we are able to help them in a certain practice area or sometimes they don’t even think that. Sometimes it’s just, hey, you have ESQ behind your name, so you must be able to help me no matter that I’m in a different state or have an issue in a different state, different practice area. Hey, you’re a lawyer, so you must know all things legal.
Allison Williams: [00:01:40] And why not get it for free? Because, you know, that’s better than having to pay for it. But we all know the frustration that comes up when that question arises. Hey, can I ask you a question? And then miraculously, we are put into a position where we have to decline to answer and oftentimes feel negatively about that or risk harming a relationship or where we choose to answer. And it leads us down a path of feeling resentful ourselves that we ultimately gave free legal advice. So I want to give you four things to think about today, about the topic of answering the question. Hey, can I ask you a legal question, knowing that the design is that the person ultimately solicited free legal advice? So the first strategy I want to give you is that you need to address that problem, the request for free legal advice before it even happens. OK. And that means by letting the people in your world, in your orbit that you regularly communicate with know that you don’t work for free. Now, this may seem like a challenge professionally for those of us that have tenuous or strained or even just highly parentified relationships with our parents where we still feel like we’re treated like a child and ultimately a statement to our parent that would be something along the lines of, hey, mom, you know, I really don’t like to give out legal advice to people who are not paying me for it.
Allison Williams: [00:03:16] If you feel that that is not going to be well received, there are ways for you to address it in a way that does not give as direct a confrontational feel to that statement as might be perceived otherwise. So you can, you can address it somewhat indirectly with your relatives and friends and family by saying things like, hey, I’m not really, as a licensed attorney, supposed to be chatting about the law outside of the context of a formal consultation. It doesn’t give the level of protection that’s required. It really is not something that is beneficial or desired in the eyes of my profession. Right. You can kind of talk around it in in alluding to the idea that you really shouldn’t be casually throwing out legal answers to questions, even though it may be what a person desires to hear from you when they ask you, hey, can I, can I ask you a question about X? OK. The other thing is that one of the things that you should actually be very careful about is that even when you know the practice area generally and it is in a different location, you’re technically still engaged in the unauthorized practice of law when you are giving legal advice about a legal matter outside of an area where you are licensed to give legal advice. So if you are born and raised in Tennessee and a friend of yours from California calls you up and says, hey, can I ask you a quick question? A friend of mine is about to be evicted from his apartment. Here’s the situation. Can you give me some guidance?
Allison Williams: [00:04:52] Even if you are a landlord tenant attorney in Tennessee, that does not mean that you are knowledgeable, skilled and authorized to give legal advice in the state of California. Right. So it’s really important that you not go down that path. This is protection of you. Now, for most of us, we’re not really concerned that our friends are going to dime us out and say, hey, you gave me free legal advice and now let me call up the Office of Attorney Ethics in your state to report you were giving out legal advice in a state that is not your own. So the concern is not truly there, in the greatest sense. But you can always legitimize the concern because technically it is a violation of the law. If you were to do that and if you tell people, hey, I’m not legally authorized to give out answers in this situation because X, Y, Z, it sometimes feels more authentic and feels less like you are putting a person off or just out chasing checks or whatever. And ultimately it feels more like you are protecting yourself, which I think most people, most people, not all, but most people can understand.
Allison Williams: [00:05:59] OK. All right. Number two, on the issue of not giving free legal advice. Two you want to be direct. OK. Now, you might be saying you just told me here’s the way to sneak around that. Why are you now telling me to be direct? So my answer is always to be direct. My answer is to be direct with your friends, your family, your parents, your siblings, etc.. But I recognize that with family relationships and close familial relationships, it is oftentimes very challenging to be as direct because of the nature of that relationship, because you want to preserve the relationship, because you’re not in the habit and practice of being direct with your parents. Obviously, that is something I think you should work on. But if you’re not there yet and you still have the issue of confronting free legal advice, this is a way to get there sooner without having to do all of the internal work that’s necessary to get to a healthier place with your parents, where you can address it directly with that. But as for everyone else, you want to be direct and this is going to be an easier way for you to not just maintain the relationship that you have with the person who’s asking, but it’s also a way of educating people in the future not to give you that same disrespect by asking you to give out legal advice for free.
Allison Williams: [00:07:16] So ultimately, this can be something as clear as, hey, what you’re asking for is legal advice that requires my skill, my knowledge. That’s what I profess… That’s what I practice in my profession and ultimately I charge for that service. So if you would like to schedule a consultation, I’m more than happy to go into the answer to that question for you. Here’s my card or here’s my information. You can you can contact me at the office. Right. It’s very direct. Tells them what you’re asking for is something that I charge for in my business. Right. Just like if you and it’s a little bit easier when you’re talking to a business owner, even though not universally so. But I want you to think about it in this way. If there is a time when ultimately you walk into a dress shop and saw a beautiful garment sitting in the window, you wouldn’t feel inclined or free to walk up to the dress shop owner and say, hey, we’re friends. That’s a beautiful dress in the window. Can you make one for me at no charge in your spare time or while we’re standing here, can you knit me up one of those really, really cute belts that I see hanging on the dress in the window? You would never think to do that, just as you would not think to go to a gas station, invite yourself to take some gas without paying for it.
Allison Williams: [00:08:40] Right. Because you are going to a business and you’re consuming. And when a person comes to you, technically, you are always your business wherever you go. Right. You can practice law from any location in the world. And the fact that you are not sitting in your office at the time someone asks you a question doesn’t mean that the brain that you would be going into to get the legal answer, to address the question being posed isn’t still available to you and with you in that moment, actually, when you’re being solicited for legal advice. So telling the person directly, you know, what you’re asking for is legal advice. And that’s what I dispense in my business. I’m more than happy to bring you into my business for the purpose of having that discussion. OK, number three, if you have had the forward thinking discussion with family and you have been direct with any other person, family or otherwise, regarding the question of giving legal advice, the third thing to consider that you really have to do for yourself is you have to release the fear of being judged in declining to give out free legal advice. Now, this is a big challenge for a lot of people. I know. I know it’s triggering. And I know you’re probably thinking, hey, you know, I don’t know how I feel about that because what are people going to say about me? I’m in a small town.
Allison Williams: [00:10:01] People here, they talk. I don’t want to have a reputation as being someone who’s only able to help you if you’re paying me. Right. And we have all of these stories about what people are going to say and think about us. But one of the things I love to be reminded of, and I’m a very good friend of mine who reminds me of this periodically whenever I start the whole what will people say? What will people think? She says to me, what people think about you is none of your business. And it’s true right now. You might say, how can we really live in the authenticity of that statement when we live in a world where, you know, our reputation is really our our bread and butter. It’s how we make money. And if we tarnish that reputation, we’re going to injure our ability to make money so we can’t not be concerned about it. And it’s true. We do have to be concerned about public perception of us as lawyers and in our law firms as business owners. But one of the things that we should not do and cannot do, we cannot afford to do is to make assumptions about what people will say and do and what the impact or import is of what they have to say and do toward us. And then use that to justify whatever our thoughts are about a situation so that we can either fail to take action or take action from a place of our fear.
Allison Williams: [00:11:25] Right. So when we’re making a fear based decision, it is rarely going to serve us well. Right. It serves the immediate need for safety, for familiarity, for feeling like we have control over our situation, but it doesn’t actually advance our lives. So when you think about the idea of telling someone, no, I’m not working for free, what you are actually doing is you’re stepping up into a higher version of yourself. You are giving yourself a higher level of priority relative to another person. Right, because that person is asking for something of you and you are saying no. And a lot of times people don’t like to say no, because people don’t like to reject others, because they personally don’t like to be rejected. They personally don’t like the feeling of being told no, because they don’t like to feel that they are being rejected. And so every time an opportunity presents itself where they have to say no, it triggers a feeling of being rejected, which people run away from. Which, by the way, is the reason why people will simply ghost you, not return your phone calls, not show up for their they’re rescheduled appointments when they don’t want to say no to your sales opportunity. So if you’re seeking to sell someone a legal service in your office and you’ve got them on the phone, they were supposed to schedule a consult.
Allison Williams: [00:12:51] They said, hey, I don’t have my credit card with me. Can I give you a call back after lunch? You say, sure, no problem. They don’t call back and they don’t answer when you call. That person ghosted you because that person has a problem with rejection. And by the way, people that have a problem with rejection and there’s a lot of us out there, OK, this is something I personally had to work through myself. When you have a personal problem with rejection, it is often because you are taking it personally that someone is rejecting you. In other words, it’s not simply a benign act that a person says no to you, but rather it is some type of judgment about your quality, your value, your worth. And a lot of people are triggered by that. So rather than say I would rather not confront the possibility that another person could be hurt by being rejected, I will simply opt out, not respond to their emails, not respond to their phone calls, not engage with them again, instead, because I personally wouldn’t like to hear now. And most people, by the way, don’t do this at the conscious level. Most people do this at the subconscious level. So they’re not even aware of why they’re doing it. They’re aware that it’s uncomfortable to tell a person no, but they’re not aware of why.
Allison Williams: [00:14:06] So I want you to be thinking about that when you come to a decision that you’re going to make, that you’re not going to accept further requests for free legal advice because you’re ultimately going to prioritize yourself over another person. And when we make that priority, by the way, the priority is particularly pronounced when it is a financial consideration. Right. So if we had to be asked to trade our free time for money, i.e., can I can I have a legal case represented? Can I have you represent me in my legal case, for for nothing. A lot of lawyers have no problem saying no to that because they know that that time and the lack of money that would come from that time is ultimately going to have a consequence, not just for the lawyer, but also for the staff, also for other clients. It affects the entire economics that are associated with the business. So a lot of lawyers can rationalize that no, as one that is globally protective of everyone versus in the moment, the five minutes or less that it might take you to sputter off a legal answer. The free legal advice request isn’t really impacting anybody but you. The only difference is and the only truth that is not seen here is that it really is impacting other people. It’s impacting everyone to whom you show up for.
Allison Williams: [00:15:29] That doesn’t get the best reflection of you because they’ve gotten a version of you that settles for doing things that you don’t enjoy, that settles for avoiding challenging conversations, i.e. not saying no, because we don’t like the way it feels. Right. All of that energy, that effort, that time, that consideration that we put into not saying no to another person is actually time, energy and effort that is depleted from who we are because we are putting our self last. So when you release the fear of being judged and you allow yourself to say, I’m worth more. My law degree, my time, my energy, my effort, my analysis, my skill, the experience I’ve gained over practicing law over however many years, that is worth something. And if I give it away to you, I am devaluing it in this moment, not because I can’t possibly ever work for free like we all have friends and family I’m sure, that periodically will ask of us, hey, can you help me with and just as you would help them in any other way, you would choose to help them in this way because that’s what you elect to do. I’m talking about situations where you feel compelled to help someone to avoid the discomfort of saying to them, no, I won’t help you in that way without being compensated.
Allison Williams: [00:16:50] All right, number four, strategy number four, we talked about now on the issue of saying no to giving out free legal advice, one that you’re going to address it before it happens by virtue of talking to your your family, your mom, your dad, your siblings, relatives that are close to you and telling them at the ready, I don’t do this for free. Right. Second, you’re going to be direct with any person who asks by saying something along the lines of, you know, what you’re asking for is legal advice. And that’s what I actually charge for in my business. So I’m happy to schedule you for an appointment to have you come in and get some legal guidance in this regard. But I don’t typically give out legal advice for free. And then third, releasing the fear of being judged is going to have to accompany your saying no to the request for free legal advice. OK, last but not least, I want you to think about saying no to free legal advice request as an opportunity to up level. OK, this means that when you say yes to someone and you give out that free legal advice, I want you to keep in mind that ultimately the attitude of getting you for free is going to be detrimental even if you later sell the client. OK, oftentimes when a person has the hey, can I bum some free legal advice from you? Mind that they also want to bum some free legal advice, my activity from you in the future.
Allison Williams: [00:18:23] Right. That’s how they engage with you. That’s how they think about you. You have made yourself less worthy. You have made yourself less valuable, and you have educated them that the problems that you solve are of lower value because you can at any given moment just give it away for free. Now, you might say, how does one equate to the other? Because when somebody wants a consultation, right, when somebody is looking for maybe a deeper dive into their legal problem or they’re looking for ways to solve their legal problem, when they get into the the actual representation, it requires more. And they understand that at an intellectual level. Most people probably do understand it. But on a subconscious level, when they have approached you and said, hi, can you give me your stock and trade? Can you give me what you sell to people? Can you give it to me for free? Then that means that in the moment that you are in the future charging for your service, it is just as available to you to give it to them for free. Right. Because you did it before. It wouldn’t make sense that on Monday at five o’clock when I say, hey, I got a quick question, can you help me? You said, sure, no problem. Here’s the answer, yada, yada, yada. But on Tuesday at three o’clock, once that person has become your client, that person says, hey, I just need five minutes to know, do I do X or do I do Y? You say, oh, that’ll be X.
Allison Williams: [00:19:51] And here’s the reason for that, that that person should somehow now feel that that is five hundred dollars worth of value for three hundred dollars worth of value or a thousand dollars worth of value. Whatever you’re charging for your time, it doesn’t analytically make sense. And you’re not normally going to get protests in this regard until either a person runs out of money. So they’re now in a place of haggling. Oh, my lawyer gave it to me for free when we first started. They can afford to, so they should be able to give it to me now because I have paid them what I consider to be so much, even though I haven’t paid them for everything that they’re asking. I’ve paid a lot, quote unquote, for me. Right. So you have to think about it from that perspective. You are creating a standard every time that you engage with your client in any way. Right. And any time you engage with a potential client. Now, I’m going to take it one step beyond that and I will give you something.
Allison Williams: [00:20:51] Before we wrap up for the day, I want to give you something really outlandish to think about. And I’m going to say it’s outlandish because if you haven’t been in the orbit of thinking like this in the past, if it hasn’t been something that you’ve been acculturated to think about in this way, it’s going to sound really, really woo woo, really wacky. OK. But here’s the thing.
Allison Williams: [00:21:18] When you bastardize your service and you reduce your value to nothing more than something that can easily be given away at any given time without any level of investment from another person, you’re not just saying to the person to whom you give the free legal advice that it’s not worth much, that you’re not worth much, but you’re telling the universe you’re not worth much.
Allison Williams: [00:21:42] You’re putting out into the ether that you’re not worth much, that helping others is something that you don’t just enjoy doing because of your humanitarian side. Helping others is something that you are obligated to do without compensation. And when you live in the energy of doing that over and over and over again, what comes back to you is the other side of that pattern. Meaning the person who seeks from you over and over and over again without contribution.
Allison Williams: [00:22:16] So our goal is to get you into a place where you can with firmness, with confidence, with a level of certainty that defies any level of question mark in your mind, say to any person who asks, you know, I give legal advice for a living. That is how I make my earnings. If you would like to come back to my office for a consultation, I’m more than happy to engage in that type of business transaction with you in my office.
Allison Williams: [00:22:45] Right, you’re telling a person that your value is associated with what you do and your value is not for sale. All right, everyone, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And I want to welcome you to our Law Firm Mentor Movement community. And I know that for a lot of you that listen to the podcast, you’re already in our Facebook group community, the Law Firm Mentor Movement. But for those of you that are not, we are now doing a live every Thursday where we go deep into marketing, sales, people and systems for law firms and with a goal of helping you learn how to crush chaos in business and make more money. So I want to thank you for tuning into this episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I’ll see you on the next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:23:46] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
Contact Law Firm Mentor:
O0:21:18 (24 Seconds PLUS 29 Seconds)
When you bastardize your service and you reduce your value to nothing more than something that can easily be given away at any given time without any level of investment from another person, you’re not just saying to the person to whom you give the free legal advice that it’s not worth much, that you’re not worth much, but you’re telling the universe you’re not worth much. …….
00:22:16 So our goal is to get you into a place where you can with firmness, with confidence, with a level of certainty that defies any level of question mark in your mind, say to any person who asks, you know, I give legal advice for a living. That is how I make my earnings. If you would like to come back to my office for a consultation, I’m more than happy to engage in that type of business transaction with you in my office.