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Free Consultation for Illinois Divorce: Beware!

If you are looking for a free divorce consultation, beware. You probably won’t get what you’re looking for – and if you do, you’re probably not looking for the right stuff.

As an Illinois divorce lawyer who handles uncontested and contested divorces, I get many calls from people asking for divorce consultations – and man people want a free consultation. That’s understandable. But some things that are understandable are still a bad idea.

Let me explain the myth of the free divorce consultation.

But even more than that, many people are scared of being ripped off by lawyers. Especially divorce lawyers. That’s understandable – it happens a lot.

Free consultations contradict logic

Most people think that lawyers like money. And I’l admit – I wouldn’t be doing this job if it didn’t pay. Law school isn’t exactly cheap.

So does it really make sense to think that lawyers – who most people view as greedy – will give you something valuable for free? It doesn’t. To be frank, handling divorces isn’t fun, and if I want to not get paid to do something I think I’ll choose to have fun – not talk to someone about their problems.

So ask yourself this: “If lawyers like making money, then why do so many offer free consultations?”

Most divorce lawyers who have been practicing for any length of time have a pretty good pipeline of new clients coming in. So I really don’t think most lawyers are motivated to conduct detailed consultations for free. For lawyers, consultations are work.

Free consultations = lawyer marketing tool

I learned fairly quickly that free divorce consultations in Illinois are most often a lawyer marketing tool. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a lawyer – or anyone else – doing marketing. But like much marketing, the consumer doesn’t get much out of it.

Free consultations are normally near worthless because of several reasons.

  1. Free information is limited: Many lawyers purposefully limit information given during a free consultation. Why? Because lawyers are lawyers to make money, and one of the ways they make money is giving valuable advice. Therefore, many lawyers do not want to give that advice for free. I’m sure you can understand that – you probably don’t work free either.
  2. Wrong questions are asked: Many people who want free consultations ask the wrong questions. In other words, they ask questions they think will help them choose a lawyer, but in fact, they are often asking questions that will not help. For example. clients often ask me basic questions about the law. I’m not quite sure how that will help them with their case . Most lawyers know the basic laws, and therefore, asking basic legal questions doesn’t help distinguish between lawyers . I’ve not yet had one client ask me what case-handling philosophy is, or what my billing practices are.  However, I have had clients ask me what my retainer is and what my hourly rate is  – two things that don’t matter at all if I have a repulsive way of handling a case.
  3. Wrong information is given: By their very nature, free consultations are limited in scope. That means lawyers don’t have a lot of time to investigate the facts of a case. Often, clients will give part of the story – leaving out crucial details. Therefore, any opinion that lawyer has about a case is necessarily limited by the information on which that opinion is based.

Free divorce consultations – the risks

You might think that fee divorce consultations have no risk to you simply because they are free. But that is not the case.

Below are some of the risks for a free consultation:

  1. Meeting overload: If free consultations are valuable at all, it then makes sense to do more than one free consultation. That can eat up a lot of time. Consider that simply completing a half hour meeting can take 2 hours or more when travel time and loss of productivity is factored in. It’s almost like you’ll make a part-time job out of meeting with two or three lawyers a week for  a free consultation.
  2. Overconfidence: I’ve already explained why I think free consultations generally don’t have much value for people seeking a divorce in Illinois. The problem is that people sometimes feel they’ve garnered valuable information when in fact they have not. This creates overconfidence. That’s not a great way to start a divorce.
  3. Incomplete information: I often find that people who are quite sure they need a free consultation have in fact had free consultations with numerous other lawyers. So if free consultations are so valuable, why do they need so many? I think it’s because some people feel that they can piece together something valuable if they speak to enough lawyers during free divorce consultations. But as I explained above, people tend to ask questions during free consultations that aren’t ultimately beneficial.

Can any good come from a free consultation?

Yes, it is theoretically possible that good can come from a free divorce consultation. It also possible that scientists will discover mole-people living deep inside the earth.

But in my experience, there is very little good that comes of free consultations. That’s because people generally aren’t asking the right questions, and lawyers aren’t given detailed, informed answers even when the right questions are asked.

In my opinion, there are very few instances where free consultations are useful. From what I’ve see, free consultations are perhaps useful for very high-net worth clients. Lawyers for such divorces can charge $500/hr and up – and the divorces can ultimately easily cost more than $100,000. So lawyers that handle those types of cases can easily afford to give a few free consultations – because they’re reeling in the big fish.

Alternative to the free consultation

By this time you’ve probably figured out that I’m not a big believer in free divorce consultations. So what should you do if you want a divorce in Illinois and you need to choose a lawyer? Here are some options to a free consultation.

  1. 5-10 minute phone consultation: Many times a short phone conversation, if succinct and focused, can replace often unproductive consultations
  2. A 1-hr paid consultation: Sometimes people really do want a detailed analysis of their case before hiring a lawyer. Normally when people want that I tell them that the consultation will not actually help the case move forward and that a simple phone call can actually give them useful information. There are some occasions were paid consultations are actually a good idea, and those normally involve unique circumstances and cases were a person wants to prepare before starting divorce in Illinois.

About the author: Contact Illinois family law attorney David Wolkowitz at 312-554-5433 or online. He is a family law and divorce attorney serving Chicago and the Counties of Cook, Champaign, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will. Areas of practice include divorce, uncontested divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal maintenance, child support, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (the “UCCJEA”).