Most divorce attorneys or family law firms advertise for a free or low-cost consultation. However, we do a bad job of explaining them. In addition, consultations can vary depending on the law office.
The ambiguity surrounding a legal consultation is a disservice to you. It creates confusion and frustration during the consultation, which often translates into a missed opportunity for you to get to know a divorce lawyer better.
Legal Advice and a Consultation: What the Consultation is Not
Needing legal guidance and counsel in your divorce are reasons to hire an attorney. At the consultation, the divorce attorney will not provide any legal advice or guidance regarding how to proceed with your divorce, what steps you’ll want to take next.
“Legal advice” is not always well-defined. This also is the fault of us lawyers. I consider legal advice to be any of the following:
- I have “X” family situation, what do I do?
- I have “X” family situation, what happens in the legal system?
- How do I do “X” legal procedure?
Lawyers don’t give free legal advice for three reasons. First, lawyers are pay for service professionals. Providing legal advice is a service.
Second, a phone consultation typically does not provide enough information. A lawyer can’t give fully informed advice based on a phone call.
Third, legal advice creates ethical problems. This relates to the second point, providing advice without fully understanding the situation. Also, it may create ambiguity about my role with the person receiving the advice. If it were wrong, and the person 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.
To compare, think about the medical profession. When you go to the doctor, you report your symptoms. Based on his or her knowledge, expertise, training, etc… s/he determines what’s wrong and provides a remedy.
You see a doctor because you lack the knowledge and experience required to diagnosis yourself. Therefore, you pay the doctor for these services. Similarly, when you obtain a lawyer, you’re paying for his/her legal knowledge, experience and expertise.
If you can’t afford an attorney and are looking for legal help, our sister website, MN Family Law Attorney, has several resources. This includes: links to county family courts in the Twin Cities area; Minnesota Court Forms; Minnesota Family Court Rules; Minnesota State Law Library; and Free Legal Help and clinics in Minnesota. You may also find doing an internet search for pro bono divorce attorneys in your area helpful.
Understanding the Consultation: What the Consultation Is
A legal consultation is like a job interview. At the consultation you’re asking questions of multiple applicants (in this case, several different attorneys and/or law firms) to determine the best person for the position of being your divorce attorney.
It serves two major functions. First, the lawyer needs to know that your situation is one he or she is qualified to handle. In the case of my firm, most people find me through the internet. So, they know I work in divorce and family law. Therefore, it’s pretty quick for me to tell if I have the expertise for your case.
Second, it gives you the chance to evaluate the lawyer. You can determine if he or she is a good fit for you. Questions ideally focus on the lawyer’s practice, general procedural questions, and cost questions. This consultation typically doesn’t need to be more than 15-30 minutes for divorce and family situations.
Either the divorce attorney or a good legal assistant/paralegal can conduct the consultation with you and answer questions you may have before making your decision. Therefore, although you won’t receive any free legal advice or counsel, a consultation still has great value to you and you should seek consultation before retaining a divorce attorney.
Benefits of a Consultation
1. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring practices in family law and has experience with divorce cases similar to your own.
Although hopefully the firm’s marketing takes care of this issue by making it clear what types of cases and areas of law the attorney practices on the firm’s website, it’s always good to double check.
Especially with large law firms, you’ll want to make sure that the divorce 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 divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring can dedicate the time and effort your divorce case deserves and that s/he isn’t overloaded with a number of other matters at the moment.
It’s reasonable to ask during the consultation about the attorney’s caseload in order to confirm that s/he is equipped and capable serving you as a client.
Learn more about: Why your attorney’s caseload matters when it comes to your divorce.
3. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring doesn’t have any conflict of interests or any other ethical reasons for why s/he would not be a good fit for you and your divorce.
This is why a divorce attorney requests basic information about you and your divorce case. This includes your full name, address and spouse’s full name. It’s the divorce attorney’s responsibility to inform you immediately if s/he is not able to talk with and/or represent you due to a conflict of interest.
4. You ensure that any questions you have about the divorce attorney and/or the firm are answered ahead of time, free of charge (or for some firms, at a reduced rate) before committing to a divorce attorney.
5. You ensure that you understand the divorce attorney’s and/or the firm’s legal practices, such as, the engagement and fee agreements.
6. By consulting with a divorce attorney beforehand, you increase your chances of finding a divorce attorney that fits best for you. As a result, you’re more likely to be satisfied with his/her services in the end.
7. A consultation allows you to shop around so that you can find the best divorce attorney for you and your divorce. In no way are you 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.
Hopefully this cleared things up on the free consultation for a divorce lawyer, or any lawyer for that matter. Please feel free to review more questions or contact my office.