Is There Value in Giving Work Away for Free?
When I launched my new book, Stop Putting Out Fires a couple of weeks ago, I ran a giveaway in which I gave out free copies of my first book, Building a Better Law Practice. Doing this cost me time, money, and arguably, may have cost me sales from people who had purchased Stop Putting Out Fires and may have later bought Building a Better Law Practice, but instead I gave it to them for free.
So what is the upside of giving work away for free? Maybe I’ve instilled more loyalty among my readers. Perhaps I have built up some trust equity between us. The readers who received a free copy of my book obtained a greater value. But what I received from giving work away is intangible and possibly unknowable.
Should you give your legal services away for free?
Since I’m in insurance defense, every day I’m working with claims adjusters all over the country who are handling large numbers of claims. Some of them work with claims in Alabama all the time, and others are either new to Alabama or only occasionally handle claims here. They may not be familiar with some of our more quirky laws or the real risk that some of our venues pose. This leaves them with a knowledge gap that hinders their ability to do their job well.
So I tell my clients (and potential clients) and the claims adjusters I work with that if they ever have a question about a claim they’re handling in Alabama, they should always feel free to pick up the phone and give me a call. Don’t worry about whether it’s going into litigation now, or will never get to litigation or get assigned to me. Just pick up the phone and call me with their questions.
And they do. I field calls on a regular basis with questions about Alabama law or evaluations of claims, in which I am giving work away for free. Undoubtedly, this has resulted in me giving away dozens hours of free advice to clients.
Why am I comfortable giving work away for free?
Doing free work for clients may, in the short term, seem not to be a sound business decision. But if you look beyond the immediate billable hour and have a greater vision for your business and client relationships, you can see the value in giving your services away. Not every lawyer is willing to do this. I’ve had lawyers with other firms tell me their partners have balked at them helping clients without billing them for it. But if your clients know they can call you for a quick answer without you opening a new matter and billing them for it, you are likely going to be the first person they think of when they get ready to assign a new case.
Recently, my car started having some transmission problems. I took it to my local mechanic to have a look at. He and his guys spent about 45 minutes checking out the vehicle. Then he came back and told me that I needed to take it to the dealership because there seemed to be a real problem. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said, “Nothing.” I replied that I needed to pay them for their time, he still refused. I said, “Alright, thanks. I’ll be back.” He responded, “That’s why I do it.”
He had exactly the right frame of mind. He was willing to give away some of his work for free to build up loyalty and trust with a client, a means that served his long-term business goals and strengthened the relationship. He set himself apart from his competitors who may not have had that mindset and would have capitalized on the smaller transaction (and rightfully so).
If you are similarly willing to occasionally perform a free service for your client, which may over time result in you giving away thousands of dollars worth of work, you will strengthen your relationship with those clients and develop trust equity in a way that is congruent with your goals of building a profitable law practice.
Photo by Shane Adams.