Some lawyers charge consultation fees and some do not. Free consultations are also more common in certain areas of law than in others. Why?
I can’t speak for all attorneys or all areas of law, but for me in this particular corner of civil law, it comes down to there being two different types of consultations: screening and planning.
Some consultations might seem a little more like a job interview where the prospective client is assessing whether to hire a particular attorney. The attorney and prospective client may discuss some aspects of the case but, the focus is really on the fit. The client may be asking, “can this attorney do what I need them to do and and I do feel comfortable letting them do it?” The attorney may be determining whether there are any conflicts of interest or other barriers to representing the particular client. This is a screening-type consultation and it often makes sense for it to be free.
Some consultations include a screening piece, but also involve the attorney assessing the case and working with the prospective client to plan how to handle the case. The attorney may review documents ahead of time and use a portion of the consultation to talk about not only whether the client has a case, but to identify the client’s goals, determine what possible claims the client could bring, and discuss what options and alternatives are possible. This is a planning-type consultation where the prospective client gains information, advice, and potentially a roadmap for the path ahead. It is not uncommon for attorneys to charge a fee for these kinds of consultations because of the time, research, advice, and planning that go into the consultations.
At The Law Offices of Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, we take a planning approach to consultations. When a prospective client reaches out to us, my staff or I do an initial screening with the prospective client that helps us all identify what the key issues are and whether we can help.
After the screening, we set up a consultation time. Typically, prospective clients then email me documents they’d like me to review. I may need to do research to find and look at unique policies or procedures that apply to their situation. For example, a business client who is wrongly accused of misconduct may need to send me an investigation report they received from HR and I may need to look at the code of conduct or employee manual that’s unique to their workplace before our meeting.
During the consultation, we discuss the situation and the client’s goals and objectives. Next, I identify the options that seem like they fit those goals and objectives. I am direct in telling clients about what options and services they might consider that don’t require lawsuits or legal representation if those could be helpful to them, because the planning consultation is not a sales pitch. It’s an opportunity to help someone develop a plan for handling a problem they're facing, regardless of whether the plan involves me or litigation in the future.