It’s Friday afternoon and you were just terminated from a well-paying position “for cause” after many years of loyal service in a reputable company in Toronto. Your world is sort of crushing down upon you, you do not know how you are going to make next month’s mortgage payment and your first reaction is to search online for lawyers who offer a “free legal consultation.” However, should you continue in such a manner? It depends, but ultimately you should be aware of what you will (or will not) be getting from such an offer and the risks that may be involved.
In our opinion, the problem is that these “free” consultations are likely to be a summary process. For instance, free consultations often involve the use of online forms or surveys as information-gathering tools. These types of information-gathering tools may have serious shortcomings, as they are usually very basic. Further, you should beware of lawyers using non-lawyer staff in order to gather information from potential clients. Some basic fact-gathering questions by non-lawyer staff may be fine, but it should never come at the expense or in place of a proper consultation with qualified counsel. Time constraints are also an issue. For instance, you will often see advertisements for “free” consultations limited to a particular length of time such 15 or 30 minutes.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with first discussing your matter over the telephone with a lawyer in general terms. In fact, this is how many people end up choosing a lawyer. However, it is strongly advisable for you to go to the lawyer’s office in order to discuss your matter in person with the lawyer, bring all of the relevant documentation with you and have the matter assessed by the lawyer. For instance, a clause in an employment contract you signed 10 years ago may be the deciding factor whether it is worth signing a retainer agreement with the lawyer. This type of assessment simply cannot be made via an online survey or by non-lawyer staff. Further, on a purely interpersonal level, you may not even be comfortable with working with the lawyer once you have met them in person.
Believe it or not, it can even end up costing you a lot of time (and money) if the lawyer misses certain key facts because of a summary “free” consultation. Isn’t this what you are trying to avoid in the first place by going the free consultation route? For instance, it could be the case that you sign the retainer agreement and pay the lawyer a retainer fee based on a quick screening of your case through a “free” consultation and then later you realize that the matter would require greater financial investment than you were ever willing to commit yourself to. As strange as it sounds, sometimes it is worth paying for a legal consultation to decide to not pursue a case. It is better to know the weaknesses in your case at the consultation stage before you decide to get involved in a lengthy litigation process. Again, this assessment is simply much harder to do over the telephone in the span of 30 minutes or less.
If a Toronto employment lawyer, a North York employment lawyer or a Vaughan employment lawyer comes highly recommended but you live outside of the GTA, go see what they have to say about your case in person even if it’s “cheaper” to see another local lawyer who is willing to “take a look” at your case over the telephone for free but is not actually an employment lawyer. Charging an initial consultation fee should mean that they are there to dedicate their time to listen to the specifics of your case personally.
To repeat, it is perfectly acceptable to do some sort of quick screening process over the telephone to get some basic information (name, age, type of work, etc.) before the potential client comes into to the office for a full consultation. However, most of the time a quick over-the-telephone conversation is not a substitute for a proper in-person consultation. Call around and decide for yourself.