Is a free consultation really free?

What you need to know before you sign a fee agreement

Some lawyers promise a free consultation and then pressure you to sign up. Worse, some send hearing reps to your house who pressure you to sign up.

My consultations are not only free, they are free from pressure tactics.

Why do I spend time giving free legal help? First, I like to help people. I started as a hospital volunteer at age 14, and found that many people appreciated a bit of attention or kind word. I felt good helping people. I never felt I needed to be paid for everything I did to help others — being of service is its own reward.

Second, it’s good for business. Even if someone does not select me as their lawyer, they may refer a client later. Years ago a client came to me who got my name from someone she sat next to on a BART train. That person said she had hired someone else and always regretted it. So there is no rush or push to sign someone up. There have always been enough clients.

When you are having your free consultation, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and interview the lawyer. If the lawyer is too busy to see you and delegates this to someone else, just leave — you are not getting a legal consultation. You are getting a taste of what will come later if you sign up with this busy lawyer. He or she will not be available to answer your questions, explain their strategy, or get your consent.

Ask who will be handling your case. A lawyer who delegates everything to an assistant will be sending out boilerplate form letters, taking knee-jerk actions rather than exploring the most effective strategy, and you will not know or understand the “why” and the “what” of the actions taken in your case.

You have the right to know what is being done in your name. Make sure you assert that right (politely, of course — no one likes being shouted at or listening to abusive language).  A lawyer who does not want to talk with his or her clients, who does not want to explain anything, may or may not be doing a good job with your case. But how will you know? And will you feel good about your choice of representation?