I see this on many lawyers’ websites or print advertisements: Free Consultation! It sounds great. Something is free! It’s a free con-sul-TA-tion, from an actual lawyer (although this last part is often not true; instead you likely get an “intake specialist,” a person gently trained to take down your story and type it up, usually for a paralegal to read). The “free consultation” is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The Free Consultation Has Very Limited Value
Let’s start with the hourly-rate case. If the legal representation will ultimately be subject to an hourly fee payment arrangement, this “free consultation” will not likely save you much or any money. First, some lawyers allow thirty minutes “free” and then announce, “if we go further I’ll need to charge you my hourly rate.” But even if the attorney sits patiently and listens carefully to you explain your case for forty-five minutes or an hour, it is unlikely the attorney will be able to give you sound legal advice at that point. Quite simply, a legal dispute is complex (otherwise you could have handled it yourself). Even a basic breach of contract action will usually have two conflicting stories, and behind those stories will sit documents: agreements, letters, invoices, emails, texts, witness statements, all of which must be reviewed carefully and analyzed. So a one-hour consultation usually gives the attorney a surface understanding of your issues. Imagine if a doctor offered a “free consultation,” and after a twenty-minute visit announced, “I understand completely. We must perform surgery and remove one part of your lung.” It doesn’t work that way. Instead, the doctor listens to your story (and charges an office visit fee), then orders the appropriate tests (more fees), and finally makes a decision on proper treatment (again, more fees).