LAWYERS and prospective clients may have different views on whether or not lawyers should charge consultation fees. In fact, surprisingly, most clients expect that lawyers will charge consultation fees and most lawyers think that clients expect the opposite.
Some lawyers charge consultation fees and some don’t. Most lawyers have given the matter careful consideration to determine whether or not they should or shouldn’t charge consultation fees. In this article, we will briefly consider these two perspectives.
Lawyers who do not charge consultation fees
Lawyers who have recently been called to the Bar (in practice for one or two years) tend not to charge consultation fees. They contend that they are looking to gain experience and do not have the confidence to charge for initial consultations. Their focus is to get clients through the door rather than earning to pay the bills. They are usually working for a law firm and therefore on a salary which means it does not matter how many clients they see on a monthly basis, their incomes are fixed.
The public tends to view free consultations as a positive sign from lawyers. Persons will usually be encouraged to visit a particular law office or lawyer to get free legal advice. The general public is always looking for bargains and free legal advice will be considered a good deal. Clients who wish to visit several lawyers before deciding which lawyer will be the right fit, do so at no expense to themselves when free initial consultations are offered.
The first consultation is really an opportunity for the lawyer to convince the prospective client that he or she should retain their legal services immediately. Lawyers who simply listen to the legal issues and make an assessment of whether or not they will take the matter versus imparting legal knowledge and guidance will vary.
Is it really fair to charge for a consultation which is more of a ‘chit-chat’ if no real legal advice or information is given? What if after the initial discussion the lawyer decides that he or she will not take the case or the lawyer advises the client that he or she does not have a cause of action? Is it fair that the client pays for the consultation?
Lawyers who charge consultation fees
Clients who are shopping around and are not the type of clients that lawyers want. They are not loyal and are simply looking for ‘a good deal’. They will go for the lawyer with the lowest legal fees rather than the lawyer that is the right one for them. This means they are more concerned with the bottom line and not the quality of the service, the lawyer’s skills, education and training; the lawyer’s reputation and success rate in handling that type of legal matter. ‘Shoppers’ waste lawyers’ time, time they could be spending on clients who have already paid them to do their work.
It depends on the case: for example, in family matters a wealth of information and advice are likely to be dispensed in the first consultation. For example, for a divorce, the client may be uncertain whether or not he or she wants to proceed with the divorce, and upon learning more about the process may decide one way or another whether or not to proceed.
What is being achieved in the first consultation?
Lawyers who simply listen to the legal issues and make an assessment of whether or not they will take the matter versus imparting legal knowledge and guidance will vary.
The fact that a client is willing to pay for the initial consultation is a fair indicator of whether the client will pay his or her retainer/ legal fees in a timely manner. It also sets the right tone from the onset with the client that there is a value to the lawyer’s time and expertise.
Consultation fees would vary from lawyer to lawyer, depending on the usual criteria: the lawyer’s education, training, skills, expertise and success rate. The consultation fee is usually reasonable and reflective of the lawyer’s skills.
In my view, a consultation fee makes good business sense. Time is a precious commodity and using it in the hope of landing a client after numerous free consultations means that the lawyer’s time could have been spent elsewhere on his or her paying clients. This does not negate the fact that lawyers do pro bono work all the time and offer free consultations from time to time. Indeed, returning clients with new matters are not usually charged the initial consultation fee.
Whether the lawyer charges a consultation fee or not for the meeting, the matters discussed in the meeting are confidential.
(Ms. Trudy O. Glasgow is a practising attorney at the law firm Trudy O. Glasgow & Associates, a court-appointed mediator and author in Saint Lucia (and has also taught law at University level in the UK)*. Ms. Glasgow is the current Vice President of the Bar Association of Saint Lucia.
This column is for general use only, for advice specifically for your case, please see your lawyer.
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