People get what they pay for. This is as true in law as it is in life. Here is one story that should make employees pause when they are offered a "free" consultation with a lawyer.
I recently met with a client seeking a second opinion following his complimentary session with another lawyer. He had found a “labour lawyer” on the Internet whose website boasted a free consultation. Believing that he would get an opinion on his case without spending a dime, this client was unfortunately drawn to the lawyer's promise.
They spoke briefly on the telephone and the lawyer swiftly provided an "opinion" that he had been wrongfully dismissed. The problem, however, is that he was wrong. Based on the lawyer’s advice, the client gave him $1,500 to review the file and write a letter. He then signed an agreement permitting the lawyer to charge him based solely on the time he would spend on the file, regardless of the result.
Later on, during the lawyer's comprehensive review of the file, he discovered the employment contract the client had signed had all but disposed of the case. The lawyer hadn't bothered to discuss the contract as a potential problem during their initial free discussion, something that most employment lawyers should spot as a matter of course. But, by the time the lawyer later realized the significance of the issue, he had performed hours of work - which, according to the retainer agreement the client had signed, was time that he would be paid for.
Therefore, the client had been billed twice the standard fee that most lawyers generally charge for an initial meeting for less than half of the work. In other words, this client's "free" consultation had become something much different. And his cautionary tale is, unfortunately, not an unusual one.
What should employees do? Avoid free legal advice or summary opinions provided over the Internet or telephone, however tempting that may be. Don't work with lawyers who simply dabble in employment law – and ensure you understand how you will be charged for your lawyer's time.
– Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with the law firm Whitten & Lublin LLP. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org