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Free Consults! (Not really.)

With everyone seemingly in a panic over the state of their finances, it’s not a surprise that we’ve received a few calls asking for a “free consult.”  I find it particularly amusing when a person calls and insists that they should receive an hour of my time “for free” because “other lawyers do it.”  I think my mother would say, “and if Johnny jumps off the bridge, will you jump too?”

Several years ago, I worked for a small civil litigation firm who offered case consults at no charge; however, the screening was rigorous and very few client cases were accepted.  In those cases, the retainer was usually $50,000 or more, so the idea of spending an hour or two to evaluate the case at no charge to the client was good customer service and made financial sense.   A few years later, I went to work for a family law litigation firm and the owner was clear that we did not (and would never) offer free consultations because it would end up being all we ever did.  She was right, of course, because there is a seemingly endless river of family law problems out there in the world and we have a finite number of work hours in which to address them.

So, when the question was posed to me recently by a potential client about whether I would offer her a free consult, I wanted to give a complete answer.  If she reads this, then she’ll know the philosophy behind my policy of always charging for consultations.

First, there is the basic tenet of exchanging value.  I will give you something of value in exchange for something else of value.  In this case, I will give you my time and expertise in exchange for money.  This basic exchange is the interpersonal value of money and carries with it a level of respect for self and other.  As the saying goes, free advice is worth every penny!  In recognition that some of our time will be spent discussing background information, my consult fee is discounted.  My hourly rate is $345, but I charge $250 for the first hour of an initial consult.

Second, there is the practical matter of what I do with my time.  I allot a few hours of each day to work: some paid, some not.  For my choice of unpaid work, I have opted to spend my time working for the greater good in the legal community, with organizations like Arizona Women Lawyers Association, Association for Conflict Resolution, International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Maricopa County Superior Courts, and other professional groups.  These professional organizations need willing volunteers (like me) to further their worthy causes and all of my pro bono work is devoted to these organizations.

Third, there is the idea of comparing apples to oranges.  For some attorneys, the only way that they can lure you in the door is with a promise of a “free consultation.”  I have it on good authority that some of these “free consultations” are nothing more than a sales pitch, a meeting with a paralegal to gather information from you, a “venting” session where you get to tell your story without receiving any information in return, a time for reviewing the attorney’s fee and retainer agreement (and not much else), and often a combination of all of the above.  That’s not to say that some attorneys don’t give you great value in that free consultation time — I’m sure that some do!  But be aware of what is included in the “free consult” before you waste your own time at the meeting.  If you are consulting with me, there is no sales pitch, only an overview of your options.  You will meet with me and you can spend the time venting if you wish, but I will remind you of the time!

Finally, I go back to value.  Your time is valuable.  All the legal information you would ever need to know is contained within the local law library and/or online.  By coming to see an attorney for advice, it seems that you’ve already decided that it would take way too much of your time to sift through all of the information to get the answers you are seeking.  When you pay for a legal consult, you are saving yourself a lot of time and you are entitled to ask questions that pertain to your specific situation and get detailed legal information.  It’s YOUR time and YOUR money, after all.

Because your resources have to spread a lot further than they used to, I encourage you to make smart choices about your legal representation, including who you meet with for a consultation.  The addage, “you get what you pay for” is very relevant to legal services, so don’t be fooled by promises of “free” advice.  Remember, lawyers don’t make a living by giving their time away

You can read more about How To Choose A Divorce Attorney here.

Choose Peace ~ it’s more productive!

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