“Free Consultation” – It May Not Be What You Think It Is

“Free Consultation” – It May Not Be What You Think It Is

Most criminal defense lawyers offer a “free consultation”. That term doesn’t have a strict definition, and its meaning may vary dramatically from lawyer to lawyer. It may not be what you think it is.  This is my take on the topic.

What may be free to one lawyer is 5 minutes, but another lawyer may be willing to give hours.  One critical thing to understand is each lawyer’s time is limited, just as is yours.  

If we give away all our time and knowledge, we will make no living.  The goal of a consultation isn’t necessarily to solve your legal issue, although that may happen.  If I can immediately evaluate a matter as having a simple solution, I may simply point the person in the right direction.  It’s not always so simple, though.

Giving someone instructions on how to do something themselves is fraught with risk for attorneys.  It is a virtual certainty the person will blame the lawyer when something goes wrong. Do-it-yourself lawyering, including using a “free consultation” instead of hiring a lawyer, goes wrong frequently.

If your case can generate millions of dollars in legal fees, you can expect almost any lawyer to be interested in spending an ample amount of time trying to secure you as a client.

Conversely, if you have a matter which can only generate a few hundred dollars in legal fees, you may have trouble finding any lawyer to give you the time of day.

Sometimes, we decide certain matters or people  are interesting enough or otherwise worthy of spending our time on them, even with no prospect of making money.   It’s probably a bad idea to rely upon this kind of interest.

Some charge to take any of their time.  Some lawyers charge a fee for a consultation, too. The more extensive the consultation, the less likely it is to be free.

What it is.  

A free consultation is for people seeking to hire an attorney, to help them choose from among the lawyers who may accept representation. Getting comfortable with someone before hiring is important.

It’s an opportunity for the lawyer to determine what kind of case you have, do a quick evaluation of whether he/she can help, and determine whether both you and the lawyer can come to an agreement about representation.

What it is not.

A free consultation is not an opportunity to receive a crash course from a lawyer to learn how to do-it-yourself.  

A free consultation is not a full hashing out of all possible outcomes and telling the lawyer everything you know about your legal matter.

Free Consultations Are Not a Substitute for Free “Legal Aid”

Every day, we receive calls from people who don’t have enough money to hire us. Few qualify for “legal aid”, which is extremely limited. Faced with the cost, people try to handle their cases themselves, but they almost always know they are in over their heads. It’s understandable they want guidance and help. Their matters are important to them and carry consequences like any other person. It’s a difficult situation without a ready solution.

Only a few lawyers will spend significant portions of their work days on “free consultations”.  As soon as a lawyer has enough clients paying to pay for their limited time, talking to people who only may eventually pay for their time becomes untenable. These kinds of considerations may not be “common knowledge”, but try to keep them in mind when considering your options.