I have a hard time saying no to people who ask for my professional assistance, even when those questions come up in awkward places and without any intention of the person to ever hire or pay me. I know that I’m not alone in that challenge – other professional women chimed in with their concurrence this past week at the excellent CEO/Executive Panel Forum in Carlsbad, CA. I’m sure most of you reading this blog (and I hope there are a lot of you doing that, by the way) have your own experiences of someone wanting pro-bono services, and even discounts on what you have to offer. The discussion this week got me thinking about someone’s idea of a “pick your brain fee.” How possible is that?   

For me as an attorney, it is industry typical to give a prospective client a free one-hour consultation. Depending on the type of a legal service wanted, that free hour can be an education in the client’s business, some tips and guidance for the situation they find themselves in, or just listening and providing them with a referral to another lawyer or professional with expertise in the situation. I grant these freely, even when I know that it’s probably not an area that I can or want (for ethical, personality, time reasons) to provide assistance. In those situations, I am providing the ear that someone needs and I can help them frame their situation better for talking to another lawyer. The biggest challenge comes at events or at client offices where someone just wants to ask you a question. Saying no can be difficult – but not saying “no” can be extremely troublesome for a lawyer or any professional because you simply can’t get all the facts that you need to provide good advice. In those situations I have to fight my innate need to be of service (and being labeled a greedy lawyer if I simply say no) with keeping myself out of trouble. I think that I’ve finally got that balance by explaining it’s’ not my area of expertise and I can find them a referral or telling them we should talk in more detail later when we’re in a better place. Still, I do have to stay conscious when it comes up, especially with friends and family. I never before thought of charging a fee, but it is definitely a potential line – something like, I can offer you a discounted rate to talk for thirty minutes and see if I can help you. I have to give that more thought in light of the free consultation practice.

The bigger challenge that I think all of us face are those people who may not necessarily want our products or services for free, but those who want to leverage our contacts for their own gain. For the most part I am open to sharing as that’s the whole premise of being a good networker. The pauses for this type of interaction is when the requester isn’t up front about what they want, when it’s so clearly a one-sided transaction, or the request is made with an obvious edge of entitlement. Or later when you never hear from that person again, for an update or a thank you. I’d have to be really irked by someone to ask them for a “pick your brain fee” in this type of service. My philosophy is that you’re always going to have those situations where you’re asked to give more than you get and that it’ll come back to you in favors from someone else. Seems a bit of magical thinking, I know, but I think it’s true and it’s a better point of view than being upset over it. However, if the signs are there in advance and it’s someone you don’t want to help (your time is valuable!), the threat of such a fee might be enough to make them go away as long as you’re secure enough in your wider community reputation.

Those are my (rambling?) thoughts about the “pick your brain fee” idea – what do you think?

Post by Laura @ Writing in Ink

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