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Websites advertise free legal consultations, is it false advertising if they don't give you an opportunity to have one?

Pasadena, CA |

I keep contacting lawyers offices to obtain the "free" legal consultation that their websites are advertising and they keep giving me the run around. They come up with an assortment of reasons; their caseloads are full, we are a small firm and can't handle any more cases, some want me to document my case in detail and send it to them over the internet (no confidentiality there!). Others refuse to set up a consultation with the lawyer I chose; instead they set up a consultation and refuse to tell me who I will be meeting with. This process is keeping me from obtain legal counsel in a timely manner and making it difficult for me to interview a lawyer, as many of them also do not accept walk-in potential clients either. How should I handle this; or, how would you handle this if you were in my shoes?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Sounds like you are looking for pro bono attorney? Suggest you contact local bar association, explain situation and ask for referrals. Or see if nearby law school offers a clinic.

  2. Applicable laws about truth in advertising will not be much use to you here. The offer of a free consultation is not made false by any of the dissatisfactions you have described here. A consultation is still free even though it does not coincide with your personal schedule or convenience; even where it does not meet your preference as to the identity of the person participating in the consultation; even as it does not provide you the right to specify the mode or nature of material to be discussed; etc. The other specifics that you wish to dictate are similarly not made mandatory by the offer of a free consultation.

    If you want to choose the identity of the attorney advising you, and you want it all to happen in a time and place that works for you, and you want to transmit the info your way, then you will need to get out your checkbook. That's the nature of the marketplace.

    No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

  3. A "free" consultation does not necessarily mean an office consultation or a consultation for any specified period of time. I agree that attorney's advertising free consultations should specify any restrictions, but many do not and simply screen potential clients over the phone to weed out the chaff.

    In any event, so long as any consultation is actually free, I don’t think you have a right to complain, i.e., I do not think you have a right to a consultation – free or otherwise. In fact, there are circumstances such as where an attorney has a conflict of interest that any consultation would be improper. There is also the circumstance such as when a client has a trademark or patent dispute but the attorney has no expertise in the area. Under such a circumstance an attorney would rightfully decline to consult with the client. There are, of course, many other such circumstances including those mentioned in your question when a consultation would provide no benefit to the client or be precluded by ethical standards.

    I do not advertise or provide free consultations – I provide no obligation telephone consultations after necessary and appropriate client screening. I charge for office consultations. This information is available on my website for those who wish to read through the FAQ. I have a blog post entitled: “The Myth of the Free Consultation” which I am working on. Perhaps I will finish it soon now that your question has renewed my interest and provided some food for thought.

    I am licensed in California only and my answers on Avvo assume California law. Answers provided by me are for general information only. They are not legal advice or counsel. Answers must not be relied upon. Legal advice and counsel must be based on the interplay between specific exact facts and the law. This forum does not allow for the discussion of that interplay. My answer to any specific question would likely be different if that interplay were explored during an attorney-client relationship. I provide legal advice and counsel during the course of an attorney-client relationship only. The exchange of information through this forum does not establish such a relationship. That relationship is established only by personal and direct consultation with me followed by the execution of a written attorney-client agreement signed by each of us. The communications on this website are not privileged or confidential and I assume no duty to anyone by my participation on Avvo or because I have answered or commented on a question. All legal proceedings involve deadlines and time limiting statutes. So that legal rights are not lost for failure to timely take appropriate action and because I do not provide legal advice or counsel in answer to any question, if you are an interested party you should promptly and personally consult with an attorney for advice and counsel. Also, see Avvo's terms and conditions of use, specifically item 9, incorporated by this reference