In the employee-rights legal field, it is common for attorneys to charge initial consultation fees in the hundreds of dollars. Some attorneys offer free consultations, although that depends on the attorney, their availability, the type of matter, etc. Such an attorney may set conditions on a free consult, e.g. it can only be by phone, or be under a certain time limit, etc.
My own practice at present is to not charge a fee for initial email or phone communications. During those initial communications, I try to give a worker a sense of whether there are potential legal claims or issues I could assist with, and if so, whether it is the type of matter for which I could represent the worker on a contingency-fee basis, on another basis involving out-of-pocket fees. But after the free initial communications, there are some matters for which I provide hours of advice, and charge hundreds of dollars for that advice.
Say an employee rights attorney wants to charge you by the hour for an initial office meeting, which may total several hours and, per market rates, may cost $150 to $500 or more.
Is such a fee worth it? My answer is yes. But I come from the biased perspective of an attorney who is paid fees. (Incidentally, most of my fees do not come from my worker-clients; the majority of earned fees come from via long-term litigation and contingency payments from opponents). What matters about a consult fee is YOUR sense of value, and what YOU think of an attorneys’ reasons for that fee. My reasons as to why a consult fee is worth it are listed below.
Reasons an Employee-Rights Attorney Consultation is Worth Hundreds of Dollars
Here are the reasons I think $200 (or even $500) would be worth the cost of a one- to two- hour consultation with an experienced employee-rights attorney:
— If you were fired and seeking unemployment benefits (in WI, worth up to @$365/week or @$9500 for 6 months), the attorney could give advice to avoid common worker mistakes with the unemployment process, and improve your odds of being approved those benefits.
— An evaluation of a case has value in and of itself. If you have a good potential “case,” there is value in knowing that alone. If a bad “case,” that evaluation has value too. Consider this analogy. My family once paid about $500 for a house inspector to evaluate a home my family wanted to buy. The inspector found tens of thousands of dollars worth of defects that he was able to identify from his expertise and experience. I personally had no idea, looking at the same house with my untrained eye. Had my family bought the house without the inspection, we probably would have been on the hook for all the defects’ costs. You may or may not have a legal case that is worth a great deal. If you are relying on your own evaluation (or a non-attorney’s evaluation) of your “case’s” value, and you are making decisions based on such assumptions, you are proceeding at your own peril. If you doubt this and proceed with a legal complaint on your own, read this paragraph again a few years from now, and see if you feel the same.
— An evaluation that you have “no case” helps you save time and work (which have value). Say the attorney tells you, for reasons that make sense, that you have “no case” and should not pursue a legal complaint under discrimination law, or wage law, etc. If you had not received that advice and had pursued a losing case, that would likely involve months (or more likely 1-3 years or more) of your time wasted. If a worker with a losing discrimination case was paid a living-wage rate for all the time that is typically spent from the time between complaint filing and legal dismissal, the value of that time and work would likely total thousands of dollars’ worth of work, and likely more than a standard consultation fee.
— If the attorney finds you DO have “a case” worth pursuing, the attorney may agree to represent you for the longer term, and may offer to do so on an affordable basis that reduces your financial risk and provides potentially large long-term benefit. For example, when an employee rights attorney finds a worker has a good potential case, it is common for such an attorney to offer to represent the worker on a contingency basis, where the worker does not have to pay hourly legal fees out of pocket and the attorney is paid (by percentage of winnings/settlement) only if the case settles or wins. However, attorneys cannot offer contingency arrangements to every worker who wants this, only to a worker who the attorney evaluates to have a good potential case that the attorney believes in. Also, if a worker takes his or her own potential case seriously enough to pay a consultation fee for the case evaluation, that is a sign to the attorney that the worker may take a longer-term case seriously as well, and may do the cooperative work- and time- sharing as will be necessary for the case to go well.
— Even if the attorney does not offer long-term representation, at the consultation the attorney can give “coaching” advice that can help in future events, and help to avoid future harms. This can be especially valuable for a worker who has wrong assumptions or is about to do something unwise (employment- wise or legal- wise) but does not know that. The attorney’s consultation advice can help a worker avoid making a big mistake (e.g. lose a job in bad legal circumstances) that could be far more costly than a consult fee. The common saying about an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure is very true in the employment-law world. Many people contact me long after the first sign of employment- or litigation- trouble, and after points when I could have helped them more.
For the reasons above, I believe a consultation fee with an experienced employee rights attorney is generally worthwhile. But what matters most is what YOU value. Do the reasons above make sense? That’s up to you. If an attorney proposes a fee to you and you have doubts whether the fee is worth it, you can (and should) ask the attorney why the fee is worth its value before you pay it.