By Ryan Mayer of Kelly Thompson Family Law
Abraham Lincoln once said, “A lawyer’s time and advice is his stock in trade.”
First, I am not an attorney, yet. However, I have worked with several attorneys who practice in different areas of law, and I have found myself gravitating towards family law. I am excited to say that I am even starting law school this year., . Currently, my primary responsibilities for Kelly Thompson family law include marketing and client development.
I have had the opportunity to be involved with the entire client process, from the initial phone call or Google search inquiry, through the completion of cases. I have witnessed horrific litigation cases where couples have spent tens of thousands of dollars arguing from an emotional place instead of a rational one. I have also watched non-contentious cases, which fortunately get settled quickly. These cases include some type of, “agreement” and consider the “best interests of the children.”, which is something a lot of separated or divorced people lose sight of. These types of cases usually cost much less and leave more money for the children!
Since I am usually the point person for the potential new client, I am the person who has the uncomfortable conversation and must iterate the dreaded words, “the fee for the consultation is….” This is sometimes met with the awkward silence, then, “oh, let me get back to you” or the consultation is scheduled and the client has no intention of showing up. Sometimes we get the courtesy call to cancel, other times nobody shows up.
So why do I want to talk about a consultation fee?
When investigating the fees for consultations, you may find some are offered for free or at a reduced rate. At first these may seem like attractive offers, but you have all heard the saying, “you get what you pay for,” right? Well this philosophy is just as true with consultations. What should and shouldn’t you expect when you pay a consultation fee? You should expect:
An attorney who listens to you and reviews your facts and history, existing orders, agreements and other relevant factors to your case.
An explanation of your legal rights based on your situation and facts you provided.
Your legal option(s) and the potential outcomes of each option as well as the possible costs for each option, although there are many factors that go into a case which can increase the costs and are beyond the control of the most prudent attorney.
When you leave a good consultation, you may not be happy about your options, but you should feel very educated, empowered and aware of the possible next step(s).
You shouldn’t expect:
A pressured sales session- Your consultation should be informative and if you feel comfortable with the attorney and the conversation, you choose whether or not to retain that attorney. However, after a good consultation, you should feel your questions have been answered and you understand the options available to you.
Why do some lawyers charge for an initial consultation?
“There are a few reasons why an attorney might charge for your first meeting. First, lawyers are bound by strict rules of professional conduct. Even if you do not retain the attorney, once he hears your side of the story, he is probably unable to represent your opponent due to a conflict of interest. For example, if you go to an attorney to discuss a contested divorce and explain the details of your situation, that attorney may not ethically represent your spouse in divorce litigation. In this sense, a consultation fee may be a way that your lawyer compensates for the loss of future potential legal work.” (Nicole M. Whitaker -Whitaker Legal, LLC. Legal Analysis, Research and Writing. University of Baltimore School of Law.)
Some lawyers use consultation fees to determine how serious you are about your case and whether you have the means to pay for their services.
A consultation fee also helps to weed out those just searching for free legal advice. Attorneys spend a lot of time, effort and money to gain their expertise and knowledge and a good consultation provides the client with valuable information. During consultations we regularly tell prospective clients our services are not needed if we find that to be the case. We also regularly offer alternatives that are not profitable to us, but are beneficial to the prospective client. It is fair an attorney should be compensated for providing the client with valuable information as well as helping them to formulate a plan for moving forward.
Why do some lawyers offer free initial consultations?
In my opinion, a free initial consultation gives clients an opportunity to decide whether they will be comfortable with a lawyer’s personality and style. It also gives the attorney an opportunity to see if you have the type of case the attorney wants to take and decide if they want to work with you.
Please note that most lawyers will not provide legal advice during a free initial consultation. In most cases, they will listen to your case and let you know if they can help you. In addition, a family law attorney who is offering free consultations may be one who has few clients, is not very busy or is willing to take any case that walks through the door, even if other alternatives may exist for that client. At our firm, consultations may last anywhere from an hour to two hours. If a firm or attorney is willing and/or able to commit the serious time involved in a consultation for free or at a significantly reduced rate, it may indicate a lack of experience by the attorney, problems with the firm or other red flags that should be investigated. That may not always be the case, but most reputable and experienced firms charge a fee in exchange for the valuable and tailored information they provide during consultations.