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What to Expect from an Initial Consultation with an Attorney | What Happens at a Legal Consultation?

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Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 31, 2019

In this article, we explain what to expect from an initial consultation with an attorney?  We answer the questions: “what is the purpose of a legal consultation?” and “what happens during an initial consultation with an attorney.”  We also discuss how to choose between attorneys.. 

What is the Purpose of a Legal Consultation?

Many attorneys offer both free consultations and paid consultations, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.  The key to understanding the difference, is that generally attorneys will not give legal advice without being first hired by the client.  Attorneys don’t give legal advice without first being retained for a myriad of reasons, including requirements from their malpractice insurance carriers. 

Generally, if you have a specific legal question that you are hoping to have the attorney answer in the consultation and do not expect to require any further work, the attorney will charge a small fee for the consultation.  In these cases, you can expect to pay the fee up front and have your legal questions answered at the end of the consultation. 

Most other consultations at our firm are free of charge.  The purpose of a free consultation is not to obtain specific legal advice in the consultation, but rather to allow you to determine whether you would like to hire the attorney and to allow the attorney to determine whether he or she can help you achieve your legal goals. 

What Happens During an Initial Consultation with an Attorney?

At the initial consultation the attorney will generally ask you to give him or her a brief description of what you need help with.  At this point, the attorney is not looking for the whole story, but a brief summary.  He or she will then ask you a series of targeted questions in order to determine:

• The nature of your legal issue; 

• Your legal options; 

• Whether the attorney can assist you; 

• Your prospects of success; and

• The amount of work that will be required to achieve your goals, and the cost associated with such work. 

At this point, the attorney will try not to go into more detail than is necessary for him or her to make these judgments.  More detailed fact gathering will occur after the initial consultation if you decide to hire the attorney.  

Once the attorney has an understanding of your case, he or she will typically let you know what your legal options are, your prospects of success in achieving your goals, and how much he or she expects this to cost.  

The attorney will generally tell you the next steps in your case and quote you either a flat fee for the work involved or tell you how much he or she will require as a retainer if you would like to move forward.  A retainer is basically a down payment for the attorney’s work.  It is kept in a trust account and remains your money and refundable until the attorney earns it. 

This is a great time to ask the attorney any questions that you have, including questions about his or her experience with cases like yours.  Attorneys will usually not answer specific legal questions until you have retained them, but they may answer general legal questions for the purpose of assisting you with the decision about whether to move forward with your matter.   

How to Choose Between Attorneys

The attorney-client relationship is extremely important.  It is therefore important to find an attorney that you have a rapport with and in whom you trust.  I recommend weighing the following factors when selecting your attorney: 

• Make sure the attorney has experience in the particular type of matter with which you need help; 

• Find an attorney who is down to earth and doesn’t talk down to you or speak to you in “legalese”; and

• Make sure your attorney is willing to be honest with you about the prospects of success in achieving your legal goals and the costs associated with the same—don’t hire someone who is blowing sunshine at you. 

For more on this, check out our article: How to Pick a Lawyer.

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What to Expect from an Initial Consultation with an Attorney | What Happens at a Legal Consultation?

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What to Expect From a Consultation

The purpose of a free consultation is to determine whether our firm is a good fit for your legal needs. Although we often discuss expected results and costs, our attorneys do not give legal advice unless and until you choose to retain us. Although most consultations are complimentary, some may carry a charge depending on the type of matter and meeting location.

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