Last night, as I was scrolling through Twitter/X looking for the post that would change my life, a colleague shared a post from someone seeking a tax attorney with intermediate experience.
This was the description:
My budget for this job is only $50. All I will ask is for the next month answer any questions that I have you will not have to do any work other than just answering questions. End of the year if I decide to go with you for answering my questions and we build a good relationship not only will you probably do my taxes for this year for my company. But you will also get to do my personal taxes and probably account keeping and future taxes in the company as well.
I’m sure most people have seen posts like this on occasion. The anonymous potential client seeks free or low-cost legal advice in exchange for promises of future work. Most attorneys wouldn’t mind answering an occasional question here and there. But this person wants all questions answered until the end of the year which is in six weeks.
The fact that this potential client is trying to downplay his needs to simply asking questions seems to suggest that he knows that tax lawyers charge more than $50. Yet he or she doesn’t get into specifics. How many questions are being asked? What are they about? A 1031 exchange? A business purchase? Cryptocurrencies?
To be fair, from his or her perspective, finding an attorney the traditional way would be very expensive. He or she probably contacted a number of tax attorneys and CPAs and each probably wanted a consultation fee. So talking to multiple lawyers trying to find the “right fit” could cost hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars. By publishing this post, he or she is trying to have the attorneys do the contacting. The worst that will happen is that no one will respond.
Most people responded to the potential client’s post with ridicule. But I wonder how many of them did the same thing. How many of them called their professional friends to ask a simple question which turned into a 20-minute conversation?
We don’t know who this client is. He might be a crook. Or he might be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But most likely it is someone who operates a small business living a middle-class lifestyle.
The tax attorney who takes this job based on the post alone is either being very generous with their time or is gambling, hoping that the client will pay the big bucks after establishing a relationship. Since the potential client is asking for someone with intermediate experience, he or she will likely ask intermediate-level questions where the answers will probably save the client at least a few thousand dollars. And after six weeks of questioning, if they build a good relationship, the tax attorney will probably do their tax returns. While there is an opportunity to get a lifelong client, there is also a chance that all he will get from this client is $50.
If the client is wondering why the post is getting few (or negative) responses, it is because the client is giving off a lot of red flags.
First, you valued a tax lawyer’s worth at a flat $50. Tax lawyers have to deal with numbers which most lawyers are not fond of doing. Some of them endured an extra year of law school to get a master’s degree specializing in tax.
Second, without telling more about yourself, you are giving no incentive for lawyers to break from their traditional business model.
Third, promising future business will not help most lawyers pay their bills. Trust us, we tried to negotiate a similar arrangement with our student loan servicers, and most of them responded with threats to seize our bank accounts.
I get it. Lawyers are expensive. I don’t think I can afford one myself if I were to ever need one. But lawyers have to pay bills as well. And they hate moochers. Rather than putting a low offer online that will get ridiculed, try something different. For example, treat the tax lawyer to an 18-hole round of golf, and he will probably be happy to answer all the questions you have at the golf course.
Steven Chung is a tax attorney in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and resolve tax disputes. He is also sympathetic to people with large student loans. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him on LinkedIn.
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