Whether attorney charges for consultations varies widely by the individual as well as by the type of case. For example, nearly all personal injury cases are free consultation and the attorney is paid as a percentage of the funds recovered. Criminal cases are generally flat fee, so the consultation is rolled into the fee/retainer. Divorce and custody cases are different, there is generally a retainer and an hourly rate.
As such, I DO charge consultation fee for all domestic, custody and divorce cases. I generally charge my normal hourly rate, currently $350.
Attorneys with significant experience generally charge consultation fees equal to their hourly rate. They give out a lot of advice when they meet with prospective clients which will assist in their case, regardless of who they may retain. Additionally, experienced attorneys are generally busy. They don’t have time for free consultations. From experience, I could have 5-10 appointments each day if they were free… leaving me zero time to commit to any paying clients.
I have discovered in my practice that many “free consultation” clients are doing nothing more than getting free advice and/or window shopping. Even a “free” phone consultation can take hours each week which should be devoted to those clients paying for services. As a result, I often come across as uncaring or unwilling to help those that call to talk to the attorney before they choose to hire that person.
My staff will generally not engage in attorney client conversations prior to paid consultation. The large majority of clients come from referrals, whether from highly satisfied clients or other attorneys. As such, I seldom have time to waste talking to someone who is not interested in hiring me.