Consultation vs. Legal Advice - What's the Difference?
Many attorneys state in advertising that they offer a free consultation. Some eager potential litigants set the appointment, armed with countless questions with the secret hope that the lawyer will give them enough "advice" so they can figure things out without the need for legal expense.
So You Want a ConsultationMany attorneys state in advertising that they offer a free consultation. Some eager potential litigants set the appointment, armed with countless questions with the secret hope that the lawyer will give them enough "advice" so they can figure things out without the need for legal expense. But what is the real purpose of a consultation? Is there a difference between a consult and receiving legal advice? This legal guide will answer this question and set your expectations so that you can understand what to expect from that initial meeting.
The Purpose of a ConsultationA consultation is actually for the lawyer, not so much for the potential client. A consultation is meant to help an attorney evaluate whether he wants to take a case, refer a case, or decline representation altogether. When the appointment is set, the attorney needs to evaluate the legal and factual circumstances of your particular case, compare them to the legal landscape, and make a decision about whether the relationship the attorney and client may establish involves any possible complications. After the meeting, if the attorney believes that it is a case she is interested in taking, then she will provide a fee quote for the representation. The fee quote should be a reasonable fee based on numerous factors. If the attorney declines to accept the case, the attorney can refer the matter to another attorney or simply decline the representation. As you can see, a free consultation is more of an evaluation tool for the attorney.
So What's In It For Me?As a potential client, hearing this information may seem pointless. Why should you care whether the attorney is comfortable or not? After all, you want to know whether they can do the job. Those points are fair to be sure. But the consultation is also an opportunity for you to determine if you think your personality and the attorney's personality are a good match. Further, you get to observe whether you believe the attorney has the confidence to get the job done. If you take advantage of an in-person consultation, you will learn much more about that attorney's manner, appearance, and confidence than you will over the telephone.
But I Don't Have Money and I Want Free Legal AdviceIf this is your thought process, you are probably looking in the wrong places. If you are in need of representation due to low income, you can check with legal aid clinics and local bar associations to learn about pro bono programs. But please do not waste an attorney's time if you know up front you are not going to hire them. If you are looking for free legal advice, be up front about it. Coming in with a list of questions in the hopes that you can get advice on trying the case for yourself will only lead to disappointment. After all, if an attorney gives legal advice during a consultation, an attorney-client relationship may be inadvertently created despite the fact no money ever changes hands. When an attorney gives general information, however, no such relationship exists. Don't try to take advantage of an attorney's time. Restaurants generally don't give free food, doctors generally don't give free medical service, and attorneys should not be expected to give free legal services either. A laborer is worthy of his hire.