Finding a good attorney to solve your legal troubles can be stressful. Depending on the issues at hand you may be spending months or years working with this professional, and their services aren’t cheap. You certainly don’t want to spend all that time and money with someone you can’t stand, even if they’re the best attorney in town. So, how do you find the right one for you?
It all begins with the initial consultation. Your first meeting with an attorney won’t involve much legal advice (that comes after you retain their services and initiate the client-attorney relationship), but they should provide you with some basic legal information on your options and potential outcomes. You’ll have an opportunity to evaluate whether they’re the best choice for you as they discuss their experience, how they can benefit your case, and of course, how much their services will cost.
How Much Do Consultations Cost?
Complimentary consultations are common in some practice areas (criminal law and personal injury are prime examples), but attorneys are under no obligation to meet with prospective clients for free. When attorneys charge for consultations, it’s often for a longer appointment with more legal information than what you’ll get in a typical consultation.
Free consultations are popular in personal injury law because the attorney can often assess a case in as little as 15 minutes. In contrast, employment law and family law cases with complex issues may require a longer consult with additional legal information, and therefore tend to carry a nominal charge for the attorney’s time and expertise.
When you find an experienced attorney who charges a fee for a consultation, don’t just hang up the phone. Ask the attorney what you get for the charge to determine if you’re getting your money’s worth. In many cases, consultation costs may be applied toward the attorney’s retainer fee if you hire them, so it may end up being a complimentary consultation in the long run.
If you’re skeptical or feel as if they are taking advantage, call a few other local attorneys to see what they charge for a consultation to compare rates.
Legal Information vs Legal Advice
One of the most common misconceptions surrounding legal consultations is that the attorney will offer legal advice on what you should do. While it’s true the attorney may lay out your options and various courses of action, they will not tell you what to do. In truth, they can’t tell you what to do — yet.
In order to offer legal advice, an attorney has an ethical responsibility to do their due diligence first. If your case involves reviewing documents, analyzing a contract, researching applicable laws, pulling records, or anything of the sort, you’ll need to establish the client-attorney relationship for them to do that on your behalf. This requires signing an agreement, and yes, paying some type of fee (retainer, hourly, etc.).
Attorneys also need to ensure there’s no conflict of interest between your case and an existing client before they can offer you legal advice. In some cases, they may even need to consider future conflicts of interest with other prospective clients.
It’s difficult to know what counts as legal information vs legal advice, the line between the two often blurs. The best thing you can do is ask the attorney all of the questions you’ve prepared, and wait for them to let you know when you’re crossing into legal advice territory. If you’re not ready to sign the agreement yet, that’s okay — keep asking your questions, and they’ll do their best to provide you with the legal information you need to make an educated decision.
Are Legal Consultations Confidential?
While an initial consultation doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship, rest assured that your consultation will be confidential. Nothing that you share with the attorney will leave the room, and if the attorney needs to bring in a partner who specializes in cases like yours, they’ll ask your permission.
In order to get the most from your consultation, you’ll probably need to share some sensitive information with the attorney. For example, a divorce case could mean discussing marital infidelity or abuse. In any case, you have nothing to fear — the attorney will not turn around and share that information with your spouse.
Where Will The Consultation Take Place?
Most legal consultations take place in person or over the phone. It’s common practice to schedule a brief phone interview with the attorney’s assistant ahead of time, or to meet with the assistant in person in person for walk-in consultations. In either case, the assistant may gather some background information on your case and screen for any potential conflicts of interest. Should the assistant determine that your case isn’t a good fit for the attorney, they will refer you to another attorney who specializes in the applicable practice area.
Some prospective clients aren’t thrilled with the idea of a phone consultation, preferring an in-person meeting where they can better assess the attorney and discuss the case. While that’s understandable, don’t feel put-off when an attorney recommends a phone consultation instead. Trust that if your case is a good fit and both parties sense a good working relationship over the phone, you’ll have the chance to meet and discuss the case in person before you have to commit hiring them as your attorney.
Questions To Ask Your Attorney During a Consultation
Your legal questions should take precedence during the consultation, but don’t forget that it’s a two-way evaluation. While the attorney is evaluating whether they want to take your case, you’ll need to evaluate if you want to hire them to represent you. As such, it’s best to come prepared with some questions to maximize this opportunity and make the best decision. Some important questions to ask the attorney include:
- What type of cases do you specialize in?
- What experience do you have with cases like mine?
- How long have you been practicing law?
- How many cases do you typically manage at one time?
- How long do you anticipate my case will take to resolve?
- Do you charge by the hour, or do you take a portion of the final payout?
- Do you require a retainer? (i.e. advance payment for services)
- Can you anticipate how much a case like this might cost?
- Who will my point of contact be at the firm — the lead attorney, a junior partner, or an assistant?
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.