The expense involved in hiring an attorney is one of the biggest stressors for clients. It is not uncommon for clients to call several law firms to ask about the attorney’s initial consultation fee before making an appointment. While there is no universal rule regarding consultation fees, below are some factors to consider the next time you need to make an appointment with an attorney.
- Free Consultations: Attorneys will often offer free consultations in areas of practice where it is common place to be hired on a contingency fee basis (i.e. the attorney is not compensated unless you win your case). For that reason, do not expect to pay for an initial consultation in personal injury, workers’ compensation or social security disability cases. Criminal defense and bankruptcy attorneys typically offer free consultations as well even though they are not usually hired on a contingency fee basis.
- Option for Credit Towards Retainer: Even if a consultation fee is charged, the attorney may credit the consultation fee to the retainer once the client retains the attorney’s services. Make sure to ask the attorney if he or she is willing to credit the fee but do not be surprised if the answer is no. This is not a common practice. If the option is offered, it is usually used to entice clients to hire the attorney within a set time frame.
- Price Range: There are no standard consultation fees as price-setting is forbidden by the rules of professional conduct. However, a range of prices based on the type of legal services sought, the experience of the attorney and the geographical area are common. In North Carolina, depending on the type of law, a flat fee consultation can be as little as $50 and as much as $350. Hourly rates can vary between $150 and $400. Keep in mind, outliers on both ends of the spectrum exist so you could pay more or less than these ranges with certain attorneys.
- Flat Fee vs. Hourly: Some attorneys charge a flat fee for a consultation which lasts a certain amount of time. For example, the attorney may charge $100 for a 30-minute consultation or $250 for a 2-hour consultation. The flat fee is usually based on the attorney’s hourly rate and may or may not include a discount. Other attorneys will charge their normal hourly rate for a consultation and bill the potential client at the end based on the length of the meeting. Some will charge a flat fee for a certain of time but, if the meeting runs over, will charge for the additional time at their normal hourly rate. Be sure to speak with the attorney before your appointment to find out how you will be billed.
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