Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: May 25, 2023 9:07am CDT
Life is full of situations that can be unpleasant or outright challenging, depending on your circumstances. Sometimes, the worst daily challenge is a minor issue that inconveniences us the most.
Other times, the problem is more severe and can cause significant complications in our lives, making it impossible for us to return to life as we knew it before. These issues could be substantial financial or job losses, which can cause stress and concern.
Unfortunately, there is another problem that can truly devastate our way of life since it changes our standing in society and causes more emotional and psychological turmoil than everyday issues do.
We are referring to being involved in a legal process requiring professional legal help.
When we face a significant legal problem, it usually becomes impossible to overcome without professional assistance.
The most valuable resource in a legal case is a law firm that is well-versed in the laws surrounding the immediate issue. This becomes even more important since the laws vary depending on certain factors that radically change what a lawyer can do for you.
The problem with retaining the right lawyer is that it can be costly, and you might want more information about the attorney before you hire them.
Fortunately, most lawyers offer free consultations to prospective clients to ensure they are satisfied with their prospective attorneys before paying them.
The big question is: what does it mean to schedule a free consultation with an attorney, and what’s included in one?
What is a Free Consultation?
As the name implies, a free consultation is when you make an appointment to discuss your case with an attorney without paying.
Attorneys offer these initial consultations, either over a phone call, email, or contact form, to bring in new clients and allow them to get an insight into their cases without paying an exorbitant upfront sum.
This is not to say the attorney will not charge you if you retain them, but that you can get their input on your case without being expected to pay their usual fees.
How Does a Free Consultation With a Lawyer Help?
When you schedule a consultation with an attorney and have your first meeting, it can help you in many ways, including:
- A free consultation allows you to describe the nature of your case and its background information.
- The information provided by you enables the attorney to provide legal advice and basic insight into the case to advise you whether to proceed and how they can help.
Find the Right Attorney Who Specializes in Your Type of Case
The free consultation will not involve completing any official paperwork, as the attorney will not do anything to advance your case at this early stage.
It is not rare for an attorney to tell you at your initial consultation that, in their expert opinion, you do not have a case worth proceeding with or recommend you speak to another attorney specialized in your case’s practice area.
Ultimately, the free consultation is designed to let your legal questions and help you decide whether you want to retain them specifically as your legal representation.
Are Lawyer Consultations Free?
A free consultation is a highly beneficial service offered by most attorneys and other professionals, but there is an important caveat. While many attorneys provide free consultations to potential clients, nothing requires them to do so.
There are plenty of attorneys who do not offer free consultations due to their existing success or high caseload.
Fortunately, in all likelihood, this will not be the case for you, as most attorneys offer free consultations because it increases their business and widens their client pool.
Unfortunately, depending on the case type, you may be more unlikely to be able to consult with certain “higher quality” attorneys because they lack free consultation services. This is rarely the case for personal injury attorneys.
What is Included in a Free Consultation?
When you find an attorney offering free consultations, you can use the service to get the initial guidance and legal advice you need. That said, you might be curious about the benefits of the free consultation and what gets discussed.
The good news is that many important details are discussed during the consultation, including logistical details about how hiring the lawyer works, and help you know if your case is worth pursuing.
Does an Initial Consultation Count as Hiring a Lawyer?
No, although a free consultation can include preliminary legal advice and a case evaluation, it is not considered hiring an attorney for legal representation. However, attorney-client privilege rules can come into play (more on that further down in this article).
How Does a Case Evaluation Work?
The main benefit of a free legal consultation is getting a lawyer’s case evaluation and appraisal of your case to determine whether you have any grounds to file. The legal world is highly complicated, and it can be difficult for the average person to navigate its intricacies.
Most legal proceedings are so complex that only an attorney can understand the situation well enough to find a solution. They can also determine whether a solution exists by assessing your claim’s validity.
Many people attempt to file lawsuits for trivial reasons only to be rebuffed because their claim does not have legal grounds.
Other times, valid cases are viewed as “lost causes” because there is insufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim.
The same principles apply to defendants seeking an attorney to shield them from civil lawsuits or criminal allegations.
Having an attorney assess the case to determine whether you are genuinely at fault can help prevent (or lessen) the consequences you are facing from pending litigation.
Start by Scheduling a Free Initial Consultation
The free consultation you book with an attorney is essential because it gives you insight into whether your case has merit and if you can win. The attorney will listen to your accounting of events and compare it to the rest of the information available.
This data, combined with the lawyer’s knowledge of federal and state laws, allows them to effectively identify a valid case or defense.
They will usually use the consultation to let you know whether your legal odds are good or bad, though evidence and arguments introduced later might affect their initial appraisal and case evaluation.
Regardless, the initial assessment makes it easier to determine whether you should file a lawsuit (or not).
If you are looking for a defense attorney, for example, the situation becomes a matter of finding an attorney who can represent you with confidence and skill.
At the end of the day, having your case assessed by an attorney is critical to the legal process, and a free consultation ensures you have that knowledge as soon as possible.
What Happens After a Case Evaluation?
The reality is that not much is accomplished outside of getting a professional legal opinion on your case and learning whether the attorney you speak to is the attorney that you want to establish an attorney-client relationship with.
To move forward past a case evaluation, you will need to identify and hire the right attorney for you.
How Does Attorney-Client Privilege Work?
If your legal dilemma is a civil matter, you are likely to look for an attorney who can protect you from someone else’s. You may not need to search around if you already have an attorney you trust to offer the best defense or the most effective prosecution.
However, if, like most people, you are not an attorney and don’t have one you have worked with on legal matters before, you probably need an established attorney and will need to find one.
The free consultation allows you to identify the attorney that best suits your needs, but you might go through multiple firms looking for the right attorney.
While this offers the benefits outlined in the previous section, it has an added effect that protects your legal case interests. The American Bar Association binds attorneys to keep any information about your claim private.
That means they cannot share any case details with anyone you disapprove of, and they cannot take any action that would jeopardize your case once they know the details.
Does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply to Free Consultations?
Yes, the regulation, known as attorney-client privilege, takes effect when an attorney learns your case’s details due to your having an interest in hiring them. Case evaluations are considered privileged and need to be kept confidential in the eyes of the attorney-client relationship conduct rules.
Regardless of whether you retain their services, they are bound by law to respect your rights and not do anything that could jeopardize it. That also means they must avoid any conflict of interest that might arise with your case.
Regarding civil lawsuits, if you do not retain an attorney’s services after your initial consultation, there is little they could do to harm your claim in the course of their law firm’s business unless the other party involved attempts to retain them.
Once an attorney knows the particulars of your case from a case evaluation, they are prohibited from representing or consulting with the opposing party as their clients.
If they attempt to offer counsel to the opposing party after you consult with them, they risk disbarment for violating attorney-client privilege (a common form of legal malpractice), a crucial part of the judicial process.
That means every attorney you consult with during your search for a representative is one the opposing party cannot retain.
It is important to note that this is meaningless if the opposing party already has an attorney they rely on for legal matters. Furthermore, the same concept applies to you since any attorney the opposing party consults with cannot represent you.
Still, the ability to ensure an attorney you do not retain cannot represent the opposition out of spite or for profit is a comforting notion that can make the process less frightening.
The fact that this ability can be exercised through a free consultation is even more comforting since it means you will not lose any money over it.
How Are Attorneys Fees Charged?
Lawyers offer an essential service to people facing civil or criminal legal issues. Understandably they expect to be paid for the legal services they render.
The reality is that hiring an attorney can be extremely expensive as they handle your case and the judicial system. The amount of time a lawyer spends doing their duties, combined with their attorney fees, can translate to high costs for clients.
The exact cost an attorney will charge varies depending on the factors involved in the case and their track record in court.
Highly successful lawyers or those who deal with very specialized practice areas, like criminal defense or corporate affairs, can request higher prices due to their skill and experience.
Generally, these hyper-successful attorneys focus on clientele from higher income brackets, while those in the middle- and lower-income brackets rely on moderately successful attorneys or public representatives.
The problem is that civil matters do not offer public attorneys since civil claims are private matters that the government is not involved with.
That said, there are different fee structures that attorneys offer depending on their business model, which include the following:
- Contingency fee attorneys
- Hourly rate billing law firms
- Flat fee attorneys
- Retainer fees
- Pro bono lawyers
Contingency Fee Lawyers
Contingency fees are payment plans that attorneys institute to protect clients from paying for services when they fail to achieve the desired legal outcome they are hired for.
Specifically, a contingency fee ensures the client does not have to pay their attorney if the case fails. Personal injury lawyers almost exclusively charge this way.
How Much Do Lawyers Usually Take From a Settlement?
Contingency fees also ensure an attorney gets paid if the lawsuit resolves quicker than expected, usually assuring they receive 25% to 40% of the settlement or trial award as their fee. Contingency lawyers must perform their due diligence to ensure that your case is viable.
For example, if a personal injury case involving a car accident turns out to say something very different in the police report than what the client has told them, they will not take the case.
Contingency attorneys make it much easier for clients to afford them, as they don’t have to pay the attorney any money to get started.
Hourly Rate Lawyers
Hourly rates are one of the most common practices of some law offices as they charge a set hourly fee, so their customers pay by the hour for the legal work being done.
Commercial litigation and family law attorneys (divorce, child custody, adoption, etc.) typically charge hourly rates. This allows the attorney to make a profit throughout the case rather than at the end.
Each lawyer and law firm employee will have a set hourly rate depending on their experience, job title, and seniority.
For instance, the hourly cost of a paralegal working on your case will cost less than the attorney they are assisting.
What is a Retainer Fee For a Lawyer?
Many law offices will typically ask their new clients to deposit a retainer ahead of time and deduct their hourly rate from the retainer until it is exhausted (or partially, depending on the law firm’s policy). At that time, you’ll need to submit another retainer payment.
Are Attorney Retainers Negotiable?
Yes, the retainer fee structure is one type of attorney fee that law firms are generally more open to negotiating with potential or longstanding clients.
In the long run, as long as the clients continue to pay the invoices from the law offices that bill hourly, it will not cost the firm money.
Flat Fee Lawyers
Flat fees are a less common payment plan for attorneys and have the clients pay once the case is finished or before it begins.
The flat fee is a set amount that is not subject to change and typically is expected to be paid ahead of the legal services being rendered, regardless of how the case progresses or new challenges that arise.
Expungement attorneys typically charge flat fees for expungement cases, a legal process utilized to have the state government erase a criminal conviction from a person’s record, most often juvenile records. (Not all types of crimes can be expunged, such as felony sex crimes.)
Determining the cost of your attorney is one of the most important details you will discuss during a free consultation. It is also usually the last thing discussed since there are other factors your attorney will focus on before setting a price.
Nevertheless, price negotiation (or lack thereof) for legal services is critical to find a lawyer that suits your needs and you can afford to pay. If the attorney you consult with is outside your price range, it might be worth consulting with another.
Pro Bono (Free) Lawyers
A pro bono lawyer is a free lawyer because they do not charge clients and instead volunteer their legal representation at no cost. They do not get paid, unlike legal aid lawyers who get paid by the organizations that employ them.
In contrast to how the government will provide a free lawyer to someone charged with a crime, the government does not provide free lawyers for civil law cases.
That is where pro bono lawyers come in. Nowadays, many for-profit commercial law firms have their attorneys volunteer to provide free legal help as part of a Pro Bono clinic as a community service.
These law firm-wide volunteer programs continue to play a crucial role for plaintiffs who can’t afford to hire an attorney to represent them in arbitration and civil lawsuit matters.
Rarely are attorneys always pro bono. Instead, they may offer certain legal services for free from time to time.
How to Hire a Pro Bono Attorney?
Although pro bono lawyers typically only make their services available to people dealing with financial hardship, anyone can attempt to hire a pro bono attorney as free legal representation.
To hire an attorney pro bono, an excellent place to start your search is by contacting your local or state Bar organization, as many have directories listing the attorneys willing to represent clients for free.
Additionally, you can search online for a “pro bono clinic.”
What Does Pro Bono Mean in Law?
Pro bono is of Latin origin, and the complete phrase is actually “pro bono publico,” which translates to English as “for the public good.” Lawyers who volunteer their services for free are doing so for the public good, thus is the meaning of the term: “pro bono publico.”
Closing Statements on Free Consultations With Attorneys
Hiring an attorney is a big decision that could radically affect your case’s success or failure. Hiring an attorney is an investment, and the right attorney saves you a lot of money in the long run.
A lawyer can help prevent your claim from failing or save you from an unfavorable outcome in a criminal case when they are defending you.
That is why free consultations are so important because they allow you to evaluate a potential attorney before hiring them while also allowing the attorney to perform a case evaluation to help you better understand how successful your case will likely be.
While your attorney’s initial assessment might be proven false as the case progresses, the attorney can tell you whether you have a strong case.
Unfortunately, when dealing with personal injury law matters, a free consultation is the least expensive part of the legal process since you will still have to deal with the other expenses in your life while you heal and the case progresses.
We at Express Legal Funding know firsthand how stressful legal proceedings can be, especially when you are coping with the financial side of life. Regardless of there being many types of cases, the cost of daily living and other financial responsibilities are not suspended during a pending lawsuit.
The harsh reality is you are expected to meet money obligations even after suffering a personal injury or car accident. When you are hurt and out of work and the insurance company is stalling, these costs can quickly become overwhelming.
Pre-settlement Funding Can Help During Personal Injury and Civil Lawsuits
That is where we at Express Legal Funding can come in and help from a financial perspective.
We can offer you non-recourse (risk-free) pre-settlement funding to help you financially get by during an injury case or another type of lawsuit where you are being where an attorney is representing you on a contingency fee basis.
The pre-settlement money we can advance our clients is not a loan and does not work like one. Instead, it is a non-recourse purchase agreement (buyer and seller).
With each approved funding, we buy a small portion of the client’s potential settlement or trial award, as we believe in the strength and merit of their case.
A big benefit for you is that the non-recourse funds are yours to keep if you recover nothing from your claim.
That’s because we, as a legal funding company, only get paid from the case proceeds. It’s a way for plaintiffs to hedge their chances in case things go badly and they lose in court.
We are here to help when you need lawsuit funding cash now and not only later when your case ends. That’s why we make it easy for you to call or apply online for legal funding help anytime.
(Missouri consumers: Please note that the type of legal financing we can provide to injured and damaged claimants in Missouri are recourse loans. Therefore, they are not risk-free advances contingent upon a potential settlement or jury-awarded proceeds.
Lawsuit loans and post-settlement loans in states like Missouri are recourse loans and must, technically, by law, be repaid. Express Legal Funding-Missouri, LLC is a loan company licensed to give these loans in MO.)
About the Author
Aaron Winston is the Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding. As "The Legal Funding Expert," Aaron has more than ten years of experience in the consumer finance industry. Most of which was as a consultant to a top financial advisory firm, managing 400+ million USD in client wealth. He is recognized as an expert author and researcher across multiple SEO industries.
Aaron Winston earned his title “The Legal Funding Expert” through authoritative articles and blog posts about legal funding. He specializes in expert content writing for pre-settlement funding and law firm blogs.
Each month, thousands of web visitors read his articles and posts. Aaron's thoroughly researched guides are among the most-read lawsuit funding articles over the past year.
As Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding, Aaron has devoted thousands of hours to advocating for the consumer. His "it factor" is that he is a tireless and inventive thought leader who has made great strides by conveying his legal knowledge and diverse expertise to the public. More clients and lawyers understand the facts about pre-settlement funding because of Aaron's legal and financial service SEO mastery.
Aaron Winston is the author of A Word For The Wise. A Warning For The Stupid. Canons of Conduct, which is a book in poetry format. It consists of 35 unique canons. The book was published in 2023.
He keeps an academic approach to business that improves the consumer's well-being. In early 2022, Aaron gained the Search Engine Optimization and the Google Ads LinkedIn skills assessment badges. He placed in the top 5% of those who took the SEO skills test assessment.
Aaron's company slogans and lawsuit funding company name are registered trademarks of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He has gained positive notoriety via interviews and case studies, which are a byproduct of his successes. Aaron R Winston was featured in a smith.ai interview (2021) and a company growth case study (2022).