If you're doing free consults and wondering if you should be, the first place to look is at the return you're currently generating.
- How much time are you investing per prospect? (from initial inquiry through to the hire or not decision)
- How many prospects turn out to be qualified - ready, willing and able to hire you now for services you provide?
- How many of those qualified prospects do you convert to clients?
- Of those new clients, what percentage pay full fees? (on time and without hassling you, by the way)
You should be tracking these metrics as well as the source of the inquiries that come in to you. If you block out the time you spend on new client inquiries, it makes it easy to track and analyze the process. Once you know what your process is delivering, you'll be better positioned to make changes to create the return you want to see.
In general, my philosophy is that I don't work for free and I don't think you should either. But my answer to "should I be doing free consultations" is a not-so-profound "maybe". There are a lot of different ways to pre-qualify prospects, to raise the enrollment rate on the consults you do, and to price and construct an initial consult so that it pays off for you AND your client.
As usual, the bottom line is the bottom line. One-time consults aren't going to be a profit center for most lawyers. The objective is to use them to create high quality clients. If free consultations aren't working for you, then something needs to change.
First, take a look at the facts. If you start tracking, I promise you, you'll be more effective immediately. Any time you shine a light on a process, it improves.