A free consultation with a divorce lawyer can be a great idea. Most divorce attorneys offer a free or low-cost consultation. However, lawyers sometimes do a bad job of explaining them. On top of that, consultations vary depending on the law office. This ambiguity can create confusion and frustration during the consultation.
Free Consultation with a Lawyer: What it is
A free consultation with a divorce lawyer is like a job interview. At the consultation you ask questions of multiple applicants. In this case, the applicants are different different divorce lawyers.
The consultation has several purposes. First, the lawyer needs to know that your situation is one he or she is qualified to handle. In Majeski Law’s case, most people find the firm through the internet. So, callers know the firm works in divorce and family law. However, even so some people call with legal questions outside the scope of this practice.
Second, it allows the lawyer to determine the case is within his or her jurisdiction. For example, Majeski Law is a Minnesota firm only. Working near the Wisconsin border, we sometimes receive calls from Wisconsin families which we have to turn away.
Third, it gives potential clients the chance to evaluate the lawyer and his or her firm. Questions generally focus on the lawyer’s practice, procedural questions, and cost. This consultation typically doesn’t need to be more than 15-30 minutes.
Either the divorce attorney or a good legal assistant can conduct the consultation with you and answer questions you may have. Therefore, although you won’t receive any free legal advice or counsel, a consultation still has significant value.
Free Consultation with a Lawyer: What it is Not
Needing legal guidance and counsel are reasons to hire an attorney. At the free consultation with a lawyer, the divorce attorney typically will not provide significant legal advice or guidance regarding how to proceed or what steps you’ll want to take next.
“Legal advice” is not always well-defined. So, here are some typical examples:
- I have “X” family situation, what do I do?
- How does the law apply to my family situation?
- What are the chances of winning based on my situation?
- I have “X” family situation, what legal process should I use?
- How do I do “X” legal procedure?
Why Lawyers Might Not Give Free Legal Advice
Lawyers won’t give free legal advice primarily for three reasons.
First, lawyers are pay for service professionals. Providing legal advice is a service. Everyone is familiar with getting paid for your work. It’s no different than going to a doctor’s office. Patients pay doctors, even for diagnoses alone.
Patients see a doctor because they lack the knowledge and experience required to diagnosis themselves. Therefore, they pay the doctor for these services. Similarly, when one obtains a lawyer, he or she is paying for the lawyer’s legal knowledge, experience and expertise.
Second, a phone consultation typically does not provide enough information to the lawyer. A lawyer can’t give fully informed advice based on a phone call.
Third, free legal advice creates ethical problems. This relates to the second point. Lawyers should not provide advice without fully understanding the situation. Also, providing advice may create ambiguity about the lawyer’s role with the person receiving the advice. If it were wrong and the potential client relied on that information, the lawyer could be liable.
Therefore, if you’re looking to the free consultation for free legal advice, it can be irritating to you and a waste of your time.
Benefits of a Free Consultation, Part I
However, despite the above limitations, there are still benefits to the free consultation.
1. You ensure that the attorney practices in family law and has experience with family cases similar to your own.
Although typically the firm’s marketing takes care of this by making it clear what types of cases and areas of law the attorney practices, it’s always good to double check.
Especially with large law firms, you’ll want to make sure that the attorney who is representing you in your divorce case not only will be the same attorney throughout your divorce, but also that he or she practices in divorce and family law, and has significant experience with divorce and family law cases.
2. You ensure that the attorney can dedicate the time and effort your divorce case deserves and that he or she isn’t overloaded with other matters at the moment.
It’s reasonable to ask during the consultation about the attorney’s caseload in order to confirm that he or she able to serve you as a client.
3. You ensure that the attorney doesn’t have any conflict of interest or any other ethical reasons for why he or she would not be able to represent you.
To achieve this benefit, a divorce lawyer will request basic information about you and your divorce case. This includes your full name, location and your spouse’s full name. It’s the attorney’s responsibility to inform you immediately if he or she is not able to talk with or represent you due to a conflict of interest.
Benefits of a Free Consultation, Part II
4. You ensure that any questions you have about the attorney or the firm are answered ahead of time.
5. You ensure that you understand the attorney’s and the firm’s legal practices, such as the retainer amount and the attorney’s hourly rate.
6. You increase your chances of finding an attorney that fits best for you. As a result, you’re more likely to be satisfied with his or her services in the end.
7. A consultation allows you to shop around so that you can find the best attorney for you. You are not bound to one divorce attorney simply because you participated in a consultation. Instead, a attorney-client relationship only forms after the both of you have signed some sort of engagement letter, which comes later.
For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page. If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page. For Court rules, please click here.