Free legal consultation

I note the back of the letterhead for QualitySolicitors in 2011 stated:

“QualitySolicitors are different. We promise: … First Consultation Free”.

By 2013 this had change to:

“QualitySolicitors are different. We promise: … First free advice”.

I have no idea what “First free advice” means but rather suspect their website reflects the intention:

“Free First Advice to help explore your options and find out if and how we can help.”

I can therefore confidently state that I won’t be seeing any claims for costs for the initial attendance from such firms.

13 thoughts on “Free legal consultation

  1. Does it depend on what you class as the “initial attendance”?

    Often one sees a client either call a solicitors (or more likely a CMC) where there is a short call “yep, fell of a ladder, broke my leg” “ok, sounds good, we’ll get someone to call you to go through things”.

    An hour or two later the solicitor/fee earner calls back and goes through it all in detail.

    Which is the initial attendance? If I had a retainer which said initial attendance free, I would charge for the solicitor calling back…

  2. Wouldn’t it also be the case that a subsequent letter ofretainer could provide for the client to accept primary responsibility for all costs incurred from the outset of instruction thus meaning in the event of costs recovery such costs are potentially at least recoverable.

  3. Maybe. I also think the point is, it’s not always as black and white as the first attendance you see in the bill should have been free as it was the “free initial attendance”.

  4. the “first free advice” is the fact find call with QS, before it is passed to solicitors, to decide whether to take the case on, and at that stage they contact the client

    its the same all over

    conversely, I had a few cases years ago where a solicitor advertised they gave free initial assessment direct i.e. it wasnt through a CMC or collective. RCJ agreed that this offer meant the first part of the client interview was ring-fenced and couldnt be charged for, despite a retrospective cfa then being signed the same day.

  5. I have seen some Solicitors record time at a zero rate for their initial telephone call to discuss the accident circumstances briefly, in these cases I never try to claim any time here so the first attendance on the Claimant recorded in the bill would be the first meeting with the Claimant to get the full details. What would happen then to the first attendance in the bill? Would these costs be excluded from any offers?

    I guess if someone wanted to be completely transparent they could always include the initial attendance in the bill to show the time was spent but zero off the profit costs so it doesn’t factor into the costs claimed, but it seems a bit long winded for the sake of a 30-40 minute meeting.

  6. It will be the guy sat on a stall in the shopping centre playing on his phone and handing over the business card

  7. Virtually every Claimant firm in England and Wales offers free initial consultations to new potential clients. Just visit the Solicitor’s website I’m sure you’ll find the offer under ‘FAQ’ or ‘How to make a claim’. It does makes sense. Why would a lay person rock up to a Solicitor’s office, explain the accident circumstances or alleged negligence for an hour or two only for the Solicitor to say ‘sorry, I’m afraid you don’t have a claim…. but here’s my bill for £500.00+ to tell you you don’t have a claim’. The buisness model simply wouldn’t work unless they offered the free initial consultation (along with the document time claimed for considering the merits of the claim).

    Where the scandle arises is where the costs of these free initial consultations appear in the bill to the opponent(95% of the time in my experience).

    Aside from the breach of the indemnity principle, I’m sure there would be a huge breach of the trades description act for flase advertising (which now governs advertisements and claims made on the internet).

  8. Anon on August 9th, 2013 10:25 am

    Clearly you don’t have a lot of scroungers and crazies who are quite willing to waste their own time by wasting yours.

    The main disadvantage I see with offering free advice is that people are quite prepared to allocate a day going to as many free interviews as they can fit in to see if there is a prospect of a claim.

    Charging a fixed fee will at least filter out those who have some confidence in their own case and allow you to cover the administration even if it doesn’t cover the time spent.

  9. Could there be a condition that you only pay a fee is successful, which is given the initial meeting?

    I seem to remember a cost lawyer seminar on this very subject.

  10. Charles I agree that a fixed fee would certainly have the desired effect you suggest but many people do not have a spare couple of hundered pounds to check whether they have a potential civil claim or not.

    I would repeat that the vast majority of the firms out there already do offer free initial consultations to new potential clients and have done so for a considerably long time. The rewards for seeing a viable potenial claim to a sucessful conclusion are obvious and far outweigh the wasted costs of those claims which are a waste your time and have no pospects of success.

    If you asked a lay person would you rather pay £150 to see if you have a civil claim or pay nothing…

    I would also point towards the Court of Appeal case of Motto / Trafigura [para 108 -110]. Even the Court of Appeal indentifies these initial costs of considering the merits of a potential claim and asserts that such costs are absorbed by the Solicitor (which they are).

    The scandle originally identified by Simon was that these initial (free) costs of discussing and considering the merits of a potential claim are being charged to a paying party in breach of the indemnity principle.

  11. The important question is put forward by Chris (post 2). Can you offer a free service and then restrospectively impose a (conditional) liability for the cost of that service as part of the consideration for taking on the case?

    There are plenty of cases that deal with the position where there is silence as to costs (e.g. Adams and London Motor Coach Builders and Hazlett v Sefton Council spring to mind).

    Arguably a verbal (i.e. defective) CFA which is later replaced by a restrospective CFA would be ok.

    Motto is an unhelpful case, because the rationale for the judge’s decision regarding funding is absent – though very clear that such costs are not recoverable – and his points regarding pre-retainer work show a deep ignorance of the law on restrospective agreements.

    Another issue is the prospective client’s path to the solicitor. If the website offers a free consultation, but they came through the phone, referral or other means, then it’s likely the solicitor will need to adduce evidence of method of approaching the firm, but a ‘free consultation’ advertised on the webpage is not going to be binding where the prospective client was not aware of it.

  12. Bob, good and valid points

    I have the inkling of a memory of a first tier appeal on the point of a retrospective CFA covering the “free” attendance, but its not coming to me at this time of the am!

    think the clients route to the solicitor is a bit of a red herring tho, if the solicitor contractually offers the free first consultation, don’t the Solicitors PGC oblige the solicitor to tell the prospective client this is how they operate?

  13. I see a certain well known Claimant PI firm are advertising on Litigation Futures offering a “free initial assessment”.

    Be interesting to see their bills in future…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>