By Brian M. Roberts
This is the response my legal assistant got a couple of weeks ago from a man who called my office seeking legal advice on a criminal matter when she told him I charge a consultation fee. “I don’t pay for legal advice.” Um, what? You don’t pay for legal advice? You called me pal, I didn’t call you.
Advice is a lawyer’s stock in trade, it’s our inventory and product, and the quality and value of that product comes from years of training and experience, but this caller expected to get it for free. Do you think he works for free? I seriously doubt it. So, why was he so entitled (cheap) to believe I should give him something of value for nothing? He was seeking advice that could make the difference between being charged with a crime or not, yet he felt it was something that he should not have to pay for. I bet he would open his checkbook for a good criminal lawyer if he got charged with a felony and landed in the can.
As I was writing this, a lady called my office and told my legal assistant her son was charged with illegally carrying a gun but she does not have the money to hire a lawyer. “So, why are you calling lawyers if you can’t afford to hire one? The Court will appoint a lawyer to represent your son.” She said, “I need free legal advice.” When my assistant told her I charge a consultation fee, want to guess what she said? You got it, “I’m not going to pay him for legal advice when I can call another lawyer and get it for free. You know how many letters I’ve gotten from lawyers?” I’m sure you received quite a few. Good luck with that. I’m sure the advice she gets will be stellar. People like this make bad clients because there is an excellent chance if she does hire one of the letter-lawyers that she will stiff him or her on the fee. I’m not interested in that kind of client. Please, call someone else.
When I call a plumber or an AC repairman or an electrician, I know I’m going to get charged a fee just for them to come to my house, which may or may not get knocked off the bill if they do the work but you can bet they will charge me for parts and labor. I certainly don’t expect to call them and get free advice on how to fix my toilet or AC or how to install a ceiling fan. “Hey buddy, my AC is making a funny noise and blowing hot air, can you tell me how to fix it over the phone because I don’t want to have to pay you to do it.” Anyone expect to call a doctor and get a free diagnosis and treatment plan over the phone? “Hey doc, I got this lump, but I don’t want to have to pay you to find out if it will kill me in six months because I don’t pay for medical advice.” Said no one ever.
Maybe it’s the COVID lockdown hangover. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel people–not all, but more than pre-pandemic–are surlier, ruder, angrier, more impatient, less caring of their fellow man, and carrying a heaping amount of entitlement. I have represented people pro bono or at a substantially reduced fee when I felt compelled by the person and his or her circumstances. But, I am not a charity. Representing people charged with crimes in exchange for a fee is how I make a living, how the doors to my office stay open and how I feed my children who are accustomed to regular meals and a roof over their heads.
The one thing I have found to be true in law and in life is that most people do not value what they get for free. It cost them nothing, they have no skin in the game, therefore it does not have the same value as something they had to pay for. I don’t know any experienced lawyer who gives free advice to people who call in asking for it. Experienced lawyers know their time and advice have value and they do not give it for free to someone they know will never hire them. What’s the point? You want free information? Get on Google, look it up. It may not be accurate but who cares, it was free. New lawyers, inexperienced lawyers, bad lawyers will give free advice (how good do you think their advice is?) because they can’t recognize tire kickers and hope that giving free legal advice over the phone will bring in paying clients. It won’t. Something else I have found to be true in law and life is very often free legal advice will cost a person more in the end than if he or she had sought for and paid a good experienced lawyer who knows their subject and has a lot of experience. You get what you pay for.
Good advice and good representation are not free. Good legal advice costs because it has value. If you are charged with a crime and your freedom and maybe your life are at stake, it is not the time to look for a bargain-basement lawyer or free advice. You might as well grab your toothbrush and check into the county jail. But, it’s not my life.