I was charged almost $500 for a consultation that was supposed to last 30 minutes. It lasted 3 seconds and each question I had was answered with "I don't know". I have never been more disappointed in my life. The lawyer didn't even read my paperwork and didn't prepare at all. He refused to refund me. What to do now? Obviously I can't sue a lawyer...but what are my other options to ask for a refund?
In some legal subject matters -- criminal defense and personal injury are two of the most conspicuous -- virtually all practicing attorneys offer free "consultations." Such "consultations" are really meetings that allow the client and the lawyer to "meet and greet" and make an initial judgment about whether they should jointly get into the business of the client's case together. Truth be told, that free "consultation" is rarely anything other than self-promotion and salesmanship ON BOTH SIDES of the discussion, and many attorneys use the "free consult" primarily to screen out undesirable clients and cases.
Attorneys who provide transactional advice or legal analysis, such as in real estate or business, generally do not offer free consultations because they cannot offer anything of value with any quality control in such circumstances. The "answers" to virtually all questions in such subject matters require careful review of the documents and history of the dispute and case-specific investigation, research and analysis. No one can afford to give that kind of time and professional effort away for free.
And many attorneys will not provide legal advice outside of the boundaries of an attorney-client relationship, which is never established by a free "look-see" meeting. That practice is intended for the protection of the client. Without an attorney-client relationship, you typically have no enforceable rights or remedies pertaining to the quality of service because you were by definition "just shopping."
Your post rings with frustration that the attorney you met with did not offer that meeting for free. That's a very different issue than a complaint that you paid the consult fee and did not get the service agreed upon. As Mr. Daymude has correctly stated, virtually no attorney would read paperwork or prepare for a free meeting with a potential client.
I will tell you straight out that your post is not credible on its face because you say that the consult lasted "3 seconds," but at the same time you state that you asked multiple questions and that the answers provided by the attorney were inconclusive or unsatisfactory. What YOU yourself describe necessarily took more than 3 seconds.
What is more, in comparing a free consult you received from someone else, where you claim that all your questions were answered and you got all the advice you wanted, you reveal yourself as a shopper (often referred to as a "tire-kicker") who depends on free services collected from multiple sources. I suspect that the sophisticated "5-star" attorney you tagged here recognized your tactic and decided not to play.
Contact the LA County Bar Association for assistance in filing for mandatory fee arbitration if you like.
The State Bar will not investigate or discipline an attorney for a fee dispute. The State Bar has created the mandatory (for the attorney) fee arbitration program for such matters and that program is INSTEAD (not in addition) to State Bar disciplinary procedures on fee disputes. It is a puzzle that so many California attorneys fail in their responsibility for understanding how the attorney regulatory agency in this State works and continually mistakenly advise clients that they can make "a complaint to the State Bar."
The attorney in question has two things of value to sell: his time and his expertise. If he is as well-regarded as you say, then both are valued very highly in the marketplace. The time that was scheduled for you could not then be provided to another paying client. If you asked questions that could not be answered "on horseback," that is not the fault of the attorney who reserved the time for you.
1. You can sue a lawyer;
2. You can complain to the bar (www.calbar.ca.gov)
3. If what you are saying is really true, you should get your money back. Consider: I offer free consultations in my cases for people who are serious about hiring a lawyer and who need some time to consider whether I'm the right person. If I suspect that they're looking for a second opinion or merely trying to waste my time. I will charge a consultation fee. If they spend the money on my time, they are entitled to really that period of time of my work product, whether it's reviewing their documents or speaking with them. And they're entitled to my actual opinion, if I can formulate one with the information given.
I know every lawyer is different, in many ways, including how they bill or consult. Hope this helps.
A 30 minute office consultation is just that: 30 minutes. It does not include any prior preparation time. Many legal questions cannot be answered during a brief, initial consultation because legal advice is dependent on facts that must be gathered, first. Attorneys do not guarantee results. In fact, we are forbidden by law from doing so. If you expected answers to your legal questions during an initial 30 consultation, unless they were pro forma, I believe you expected too much.
In any event, it seems unreasonable to expect a full refund simple because your unstated expectations were not met. If the attorney spent 30 minutes with you during the consult and you knew it was going to cost nearly $500 – IMO the attorney is entitled to his full fee. Of course, if you believe the charge is unreasonable, you have a right to institute non-binding fee arbitration.
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