This is a copy of a post which I wrote for The Law Wizard blog,
dated 30 April 2014.

Good lawyers provide valuable services and should, of course, charge accordingly. However, that’s not to say that ‘free’ is anathema to legal services, probate included. It can be a powerful marketing tool, and, in this age where free legal advice is very easy to find, it is harder for private client teams to ignore.

‘Pro bono’ is an ancient, worthy tradition in the legal sector. It was passing the National Pro Bono Centre today on Chancery Lane that sparked the idea for this article. This blog post is not about pro bono, as such, but rather the day-to-day opportunities that ‘free’ can offer for lawyers.

Here are six reasons why free can be good for probate lawyers.

1. It helps you reach new clients

Widespread and par-for-the-course these days is the free initial consultation, a reminder that ‘free’ can be a powerful ally for private client teams. For the client, it is a no risk / no obligation means to get to grips with what is probably an unfamiliar process, and to scope out a prospective law firm.

For the lawyer, it is a fabulous opportunity to engage with your prospective client face-to-face. Common sense, experience and statistics tell us that a consumer is far more likely to choose the services of someone they’ve met and like, particularly in legal services where trust and respect is so important.

Do not be tempted to hide the fact that you offer free consultations. Being open and forthcoming will help draw in more work, particularly important while the number of consumers shopping around for legal services is rising (albeit slowly).

2. Clients can easily find free stuff elsewhere

“Open government, Prime Minister. Freedom of information. We should always tell the press freely and frankly anything… that they could easily find out some other way.”

To paraphrase Sir Humphrey from Yes, Prime Minister, you should consider offering for free anything that your clients could easily find for free elsewhere.

The best rule of thumb I’ve heard is that generic/general information should be offered for free, whereas advice specific to the circumstances of an individual should be charged for.

Rather than let someone find free generic guidance from elsewhere, far better it comes from you, for a number of reasons. Not least of all, it can help to start relationships: clients that find free advice from you are more likely to return to you for paid advice.

Free advice may sound daunting, but it shouldn’t. Aside from the initial consultation, it may simply be in the form of website articles, leaflets in reception and regular email newsletters. Perhaps it’s a quick phone call.

3. ‘Free’ creates a warm, fuzzy feeling

Positivity is immensely powerful. You want people to feel positive about your law firm, your brand and you.

Providing free guidance is one way to achieve this warm fuzzy feeling. While getting started as a small business, we were the grateful recipients of free time from people far more talented than us; it never went unrecognised, and we hope everyone has been repaid in full over time, either through paid work or word-of-mouth recommendations.

Professionals who are not outgoing in offering free advice are less likely to strike up relationships, and are therefore less likely to be talked about or to receive paid work – that’s our experience.

(Incidentally, we practice what we preach and have offered plenty of free advice, for example to young entrepreneurs and University students in York.)

4. People hate ‘always on the clock’

I have written extensively about fixed fees. I’m a big fan. I’m not the only one: it’s by far the most preferred method of charging for probate (by consumers, if not lawyers).

As you are no doubt aware, the ‘always on the clock’ tradition is one of the things consumers hate the most about legal services. The feeling that every little phone call, letter and thought gets logged and charged makes clients feel lost and out of control.

Whether or not you ultimately charge for probate by hourly rate or fixed fee, offering some level guidance pro bono can help to assuage the old feelings about lawyers’ fees.

5. It’s better for your website

Websites thrive on frequent, unique, quality content. Google’s famous (notorious?) algorithm is built around this idea. That’s why your marketing team, if you have one, is probably constantly badgering you for blog posts. It keeps the website fresh and helps it compete for ranking space.

It’s more and more important, with the Internet now the most common way for 18-34 year-olds to find legal services, and not far off the number one way for older age groups too.

This freely available content on your website helps for ‘SEO’ (Search Engine Optimisation) purposes, thereby increasing the likelihood that someone searching for guidance finds your website and contacts you, ultimately (in many cases) leading to paid work.

6. Stay in touch with clients and remind them how you can help

Much like our email newsletters and blog posts, regularly sending free, useful (hopefully) information to clients and contacts is an excellent way to stay in touch. This is known as content marketing. Done well, it is an effective way to encourage contacts to call you when they need help.

As you’ve read, this post is not about giving away valuable services without charge, but offering general help and support for free, in the form of consultations, e-books, blog posts, leaflets and so on. It can be a powerful tool that helps you build relationships and, ultimately, attract more paid work.