Anyone who has spent time looking for a personal injury attorney for any type of legal matter, you have likely seen advertisements for free consultations. Many attorneys offer free consultations, but it is important to understand why and what these consultations entail. Additionally, you may wonder why you would ever pay for a consultation with an attorney when you could have one with another attorney for free, but the reality is that a free consultation may not always work in your favor.
What Is a Free Consultation?
Attorneys need to constantly attract new clients to stay in business, and offering free consultations is a relatively simple way to drum up business. During a free consultation, the potential client asks the attorney various questions about his or her claim and the attorney to determine whether to hire the attorney for representation in the claim. This may sound like a good opportunity for a potential client to better understand his or her legal options, and in most cases this is true.
Many attorneys offer general information during free consultations; they do not impart actual specific legal advice until a client agrees to legal representation. This is as much for the client’s protection as it is for the attorney. An attorney could face professional repercussions for inappropriately delivered legal advice, and a client must have a firm contract with an attorney before he or she should trust the attorney with sensitive details about his or her situation.
Think of a free consultation as a screening process; it allows the potential client to get a better feel for a potential attorney while also affording attorneys with an easy way to gain new clients and pick the cases with the highest chances of success. Unfortunately, some attorneys may simply use the free consultation offer as a lure to convince clients to agree to legal representation terms that are not in their best interests.
Benefits of Professional Consultations
Paying for a consultation means there is a professional expectation for the attorney to provide sound legal advice in a preliminary setting; the attorney does not legally represent the client and therefore no attorney-client privilege exists until the client agrees to representation. A free consultation generally is not as valuable to the client as a paid consultation because there is no real incentive for the attorney to offer specific, actionable legal advice in a free consultation. Doing so could constitute an attorney-client relationship in which there is no agreement for the client to pay for legal services while still leaving the attorney liable for possible legal malpractice.
When you pay for a consultation you are essentially creating a temporary attorney-client relationship. The information gained during a paid consultation will likely be much more valuable than whatever you manage to glean from a free consultation simply because most attorneys offering free consultations will not risk offering any firm legal advice until a client signs a representation contract. Many attorneys who offer free consultations also work under contingency fees, so they do not collect any legal fees at all unless they win. Offering free consultations is a good way for these attorneys to stay in business and select the cases with the highest chances of success.
Remember, attorneys, are not under any obligation to offer consultations, free or otherwise. If you intend to take advantage of any consultation offer, remember that you will get what you pay for, and a free consultation is almost always a general conversation about the area of law that most pertains to your claim, and if the information you offer the attorney leads him or her to believe you have a viable case, the attorney will likely suggest representation and moving forward with the case.