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Legal Consultations–Fee or Free?

September 22, 2019


We are sometimes asked why we charge a consultation fee when some attorneys give free consults.  Our reasons are rooted in the quality of a potential client’s decision-making following the consultation.

At Lazar & Schwartz we don’t treat the consultation as a chance to sell our services. We believe that even before being retained, a lawyer who is attuned to people, especially people under stress, should be willing to spend the time it takes to answer the many questions that are always present when a person is contemplating divorce or experiencing the strain of other family problems.  Many “free” consultations are really just an opportunity for the lawyer to decide whether they are interested in taking the case, and do not involve providing significant help and advice to the client.

A thoughtful and thorough consultation takes time. Both attorney and client need to spend enough time together to sense if they are compatible to work together. This sense may be almost instantaneous, but mostly it is not. The lawyer is doing what she does every day, but a prospective client in a matrimonial case (our exclusive area of practice) almost surely is not.  Instead, s/he is contemplating or undergoing the arduous transition from married to single, with all the stress that momentous change entails. Even the most serene divorce makes a person not him/herself. Behavior is different; perceptions are different. Getting acquainted in these circumstances doesn’t happen in a normal way or at a normal speed.  It takes time.

Especially if a divorce case proceeds to litigation, the attorney and client must be able to work together in a very special way. Even though all divorces are court-ordered, not all clients actually go to court. When you stand before a judge you want to feel that the lawyer standing beside you is with you and for you.  That certainty is not achieved in any consultation, no matter how long, but you definitely do not want to proceed past consultation with a lawyer if your initial take on him/her includes a shred of doubt.  Better for both attorney and client to spend the time required for a well-considered decision.  You do not need to hire the first lawyer you consult with.

We are paid for our time; in return prospective clients get the information they need to make informed decisions. These decisions concern not only legal representation but equally or more important, how to proceed legally in a way that is most comfortable for them. (There are multiple legal processes for divorce – litigation, mediation, collaboration – that are treated elsewhere in our blogs and at our Divorce Options™ workshops, because different people prefer different approaches.)

We find that most potential clients feel more able to make informed decisions about legal representation if they don’t make the decision in a rushed environment.  Most free consultations are for a half hour. And of course it goes without saying that no one should feel pressure to make such an important decision on the spot.

At the end of the day, we want for a potential client of our firm to feel confident that a lawyer’s thoughts offered in consultation are expert and honest and without the taint of a sales pitch. Instead, our potential clients pay and our attorneys provide the knowledge needed to proceed.


This post was originally published on 2/28/17.

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