Why Does Mr. Forman Charge for Initial Consultations?
I currently charge $300.00 for a one-hour consultation with potential new clients. For simpler matters, such as child support, I offer half-hour consultations for $200.00. For more complex matters, such as potential appeals or providing second opinions in ongoing cases, I suggest setting aside more than an hour time and charge accordingly. For that consultation fee a potential client can expect the opportunity to provide me brief detail of his or her problem followed by a discussion of the various options available to resolve the problem and suggestions as to which options might be worth exploring further. That prospective client can also expect me to quote a firm retainer to begin representation and protection from me later representing the opposing party on the same matter.
Often people who find me through this website call me asking if I offer free initial consultations. A small enough subset have taken offence at my refusal to do so that I feel it is necessary to explain the three reasons why I don’t.
First, as Abraham Lincoln noted, “a lawyer’s time and advice is his stock in trade.” All I have to sell as an attorney is my time, experience, and abilities. Time is the most finite of these qualities. I already do significant pro bono work: volunteering for DSS mediations, Pro Bono Legal Services and the South Carolina Fee Dispute Board; representing parents in court-appointed abuse and neglect and termination of parental rights cases; organizing, moderating and speaking at lawyer and guardian ad litem trainings. I could easily provide two or more free consultations a day, which would mean a quarter of my work day would be spent providing free consultations. My practice is too busy for me to provide free consultations to everyone who wants one and it isn’t fair for me to offer free consults to some prospective clients but not others.
Second, a few times every year one litigant attempts to conflict me out of a case when the other side seeks to retain me because I had previously spoken to that litigant on the phone. South Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 1.18 offers me safe harbor from being conflicted out of representation based on brief phone calls but providing free consults to one party most likely precludes me from representing the other party unless the first party waives the conflict. In all my years of practice, no litigant has ever waived the conflict because he or she recognized that I had done them a favor in providing a free initial consultation. I am simply unwilling to lose business by offering free consultation.
This web site’s content is the product of years of family law experience and thousands of hours of research and writing. I offer it both to market my services and as a public resource. People seeking free information on South Carolina family law are welcome to use it. Those expecting more detailed advice from me should be willing to pay for it.
Finally, while I believe my hourly rate is reasonable for someone with my experience, there are other attorneys with lower hourly rates who accept lower initial retainers. While my vast database of forms and legal research may enable me to handle tasks in less time than an attorney who charges a lower hourly rate, I do not attempt to compete for clients on price alone. In my experience, a potential client who cannot afford my initial consultation fee cannot afford my services and a potential client who is unwilling to pay for an initial consult is generally unwilling to pay for my services.
There are a few local attorneys I respect who still offer free initial consultations for family law. I would encourage those unwilling to pay for an initial consultation to contact them: