It is important to remember that attorneys have no obligation to offer free consultations. Some may charge small fees for consultations, but law firms and lawyers offer free consultations primarily to attract new clients. This means the attorney is hoping to make a good impression so clients will hire him or her to handle their lawsuits. Potential clients should recognize the free consultation as the perfect time to ask several questions to determine if the attorney is right for the case. All potential clients must remember that a free consultation does not qualify as legal representation or legal advice. Legal representation starts when a client and an attorney sign a contract agreeing to representation, which may or may not happen after a consultation. During a free consultation, the potential client provides the attorney with facts about his or her situation, and the attorney interprets those facts and helps the client understand the legal implications.
Once the attorney fully understands the client’s situation, he or she will likely provide a general summary of what to expect from the legal process and the most likely outcome of the case. Potential clients should remember that a lawyer’s interpretation of provided facts during a consultation does not constitute official legal advice. Legal advice is oral or written recommendations based on an analysis of the law concerning a specific situation. It is not the same thing as providing general legal information. During a consultation, an attorney may offer basic legal information about aspects of the client’s issue, but the attorney will only offer actual legal advice once he or she has entered into a contract with the client for official representation.
Questions To Ask During Your Free Consultation
If you are thinking of taking advantage of a lawyer’s offer for a free consultation, then it is likely you have some legal matter in mind that requires professional representation. It is crucial to take the consultation process seriously, so prepare a few questions in advance.
• How long have you practiced law in this area? It is important to know your attorney’s level of familiarity with the local courts and state laws that may come into play in your case.
• How many cases have you handled similar to mine? You do not want to hire a medical malpractice attorney for a car accident case, so make sure the attorney you meet has experience with the specific practice area that pertains to your claim.
• What type of success have you had in the past with similar cases? Your attorney will probably not offer specific details about past cases but may be able to provide you with a general understanding of the outcomes of similar cases he or she has handled in the past.
• Will you settle or go to trial? The settlement value and trial value of a claim can be dramatically different. You should find a lawyer who can offer a realistic interpretation of your claim and pursue whichever avenue works more in your favor.
• Do you think I can win my case? Attorneys will rarely let a winning case walk out the door, so if an attorney offers to represent you it probably means your claim has merit. Ask the attorney about his or her thoughts concerning your odds of success.
Along with these general questions, you should come up with more of your own that pertain to your specific situation. Remember: a legal consultation is not the same thing as legal advice or legal representation, so make sure you are confident in your choice of attorney before signing any contracts for representation.
Types of Legal Fees
The type of fee arrangement that you make with your lawyer will have a significant impact on how much you will pay for the services. Legal fees depend on several factors, including the amount of time spent on your problem; the lawyer’s ability, experience, and reputation; the novelty and difficulty of the case; the results obtained; and costs involved. There will be other factors such as the lawyer’s overhead expenses (rent, utilities, office equipment, computers, etc.) that may effect the fee charged.
There are several common types of fee arrangements used by lawyers:
• Consultation Fee: The lawyer may charge a fixed or hourly fee for your first meeting where you both determine whether the lawyer can assist you. Be sure to check whether you will be charged for this initial meeting.
• Contingency Fees: The lawyer’s fee is based on a percentage of the amount awarded in the case. Unfortunately, these are prohibited in divorce cases. If you lose the case, the lawyer does not get a fee, but you will still have to pay expenses. Contingency fee percentages vary. A one-third fee is common. Some lawyers offer a sliding scale based on how far along the case has progressed before it is settled. Courts may set a limit on the amount of a contingency fee a lawyer can receive. This type of fee arrangement may be charged in personal injury cases, property damage cases, or other cases where a large amount of money is involved. Lawyers may also be prohibited from making contingency fee arrangements in certain kinds of cases such as criminal and child custody matters. Contingency fee arrangements are typically not available for divorce matters, if you are being sued, or if you are seeking general legal advice such as the purchase or sale of a business.
• Flat Fees: A lawyer charges a specific, total fee. A flat fee is usually offered only if your case is relatively simple or routine such as a will or an uncontested divorce.
• Hourly Rate: The lawyer will charge you for each hour (or portion of an hour) that the lawyer works on your case. Thus, for example, if the lawyer’s fee is $100 per hour and the lawyer works 5 hours, the fee will be $500. This is the most typical fee arrangement. Some lawyers charge different fees for different types of work (legal research versus a court appearance). In addition, lawyers working in large firms typically have different fee scales with more senior members charging higher fees than young associates or paralegals.
• Referral Fee: A lawyer who refers you to another lawyer may ask for a portion of the total fee you pay for the case. Referral fees may be prohibited under applicable state codes of professional responsibility unless certain criteria are met. Just like other fees, the total fee must be reasonable and you must agree to the arrangement. Your state or local bar association may have additional information about the appropriateness of a referral fee.
• Retainer Fees: The lawyer is paid a set fee, perhaps based on the lawyer’s hourly rate. You can think of a retainer as a “down payment” against which future costs are billed. The retainer is usually placed in a special account and the cost of services is deducted from that account as they accrue. Many retainer fees are non-refundable unless the fee is deemed unreasonable by a court. A retainer fee can also mean that the lawyer is “on call” to handle your legal problems over a period of time. Since this type of fee arrangement can mean several different things, be sure to have the lawyer explain the retainer fee arrangement in detail.
• Statutory Fee: The fees in some cases may be set by statute or a court may set and approve a fee that you pay. These types of fees may appear in probate, bankruptcy, or other proceedings.
With all types of fee arrangements you should ask what costs and other expenses are covered in the fee. Does the fee include the lawyer’s overhead and costs or are those charged separately? How will the costs for staff, such as secretaries, messengers, or paralegals be charged. In contingency fee arrangements, make sure to find out whether the lawyer calculates the fee before or after expenses.
In short, a legal consultation is an initial meeting with an attorney that takes place before you make the decision on whether to hire that attorney to represent you in your particular legal matter. Further, the attorney will also use the consultation in order to determine if they can legally and competently represent you based on the information that you provided them. It is important to note that an initial legal consultation does not mean that the attorney is officially representing you or has taken on your case. Generally, in order for an attorney to legally represent you, there must be a written representation agreement signed by both you and the attorney, or you must be able to prove that through their words or actions they consented to representing you. Before consulting with an attorney you should make sure that you properly prepare for the consultation by gathering any and all documents that are relevant to your case.
It is important to bring every document you have for the attorney to review, as they will be able to properly determine which documents are relevant, and which are not. Documents that you should bring with you may include any of the following:
• Contracts: If your claim arose from a contract dispute, then you should bring copies of the contract and any documents explaining the contract;
• Police or Accident Reports: If possible, you should bring any police or accident report that was created as a result of the incident you were involved in;
• Property Deeds: If your claim involves a property dispute, you should be sure to bring a copy of the deed or any documents relating to the property, such as an oil and gas lease, etc.;
• Employment Records: If you claim is an employment dispute, then you should bring all of your employment records, such as your employment contract, employment agreements, or timesheets; or
• Other Documents Evidencing Damages: Other important documents to bring include any evidence of damages, such as medical records or expenses, or any warranties or letters created by the party you are trying to sue.
What Will be Discussed at a Legal Consultation?
As mentioned above, there are numerous different reasons why a person would seek out the counsel of an experienced attorney. Therefore, what is discussed in a legal consultation will heavily depend on your particular legal issue. However, some discussions that normally occur at a consultation include the following:
• Costs: Importantly, an initial consultation will generally always include a discussion of the fees that an attorney may charge in order to represent you regarding your legal dispute. Attorney fee arrangements may be based on a contingency fee, a flat fee, or hourly fee basis. It is important to discuss an attorney’s fee arrangement during the consultation; and
• Legal Claims and Facts: It may seem obvious, but a consultation will always include a discussion of the legal facts and your legal claims. It is important to be honest in telling the attorney about your particular case, as lying about the facts or circumstances surrounding your case will lead to criminal sanctions or other civil penalties. For example, a typical family law divorce consultation will include a discussion regarding the reason for divorce, a discussion of marital and separate property, and a discussion of child custody, if relevant. Further, the consultation will discuss the attorneys’ hourly fee. Further, you should ask before the consultation, whether the consultation itself is free, which they often are.
Will My Legal Consultation Be Confidential?
Another reason to be completely honest during a legal consultation is that legal consultations will always be confidential. This means that what you discuss with an attorney will not be discussed outside the meeting room. Once again, although an initial consultation does not form an attorney-client relationship, as that is not formed until there is a signed representation agreement, everything that you communicate with an attorney during a consultation will remain privileged and confidential, as if an attorney-client privilege had formed. Thus, you should provide the attorney with all of the information you have, whether helpful or harmful, so that they may properly evaluate your case.
What Kind of Questions Should I Ask During a Legal Consultation?
As mentioned above, every legal consultation will depend on the particular circumstances regarding your specific legal issue. Questions that you should ask during a legal consultation may include questions regarding the attorneys’ background and qualifications, the attorneys fee arrangement, and specific questions about your case. For instance, in a divorce case, you may want to ask the attorney what their legal strategy is for obtaining child custody or alimony. Further, you may want to know if you are able to evict your spouse from the marital home, or create a separate bank account. An initial consultation is a great time to figure out whether the attorney you are discussing your case with would be helpful or the right fit for your particular case.
Utah Divorce Lawyers
When you need legal help with divorce in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506