Why do you require prepayment on a consultation fee?

Posted on Feb 10, 2023 by Katie Carter

Everyone wants a free consultation – but, of course, that’s not really something that family law attorneys are known for. Though there may be the odd new attorney starting out who offers a free consultation (no, I can’t provide a list – sorry, I don’t actually know myself), that is definitely the exception and not the rule.

I’ve explained before, and I won’t go into it all again today, about how we’re different from personal injury attorneys and others who might offer a free consultation as a matter of course. It’s different in family law. We’re not looking for high dollar cases because we don’t work on contingent fees; we bill hourly so, in a sense, every case is worth the same to us. We’re looking to offer value in our consult, not trying to convince the client to sign with us. It’s a total different framework.

So, okay, let’s assume you’ve accepted this: a family law attorney will charge a consultation fee, and that consultation fee will range a bit, depending on the experience and reputation of the attorney and/or the firm, and the length of the consultation. Most commonly, I’ve seen 30 minute and 1 hour consultations, but it’s possible that even this could vary more widely across offices.

But then you call, and talk to one of us, and you hear that, not only is it a paid consultation, it’s a prepaid consultation.

Wait, what? We want to take $300 for up to an hour of attorney time, and we want you to pay before you even get there?

Well, yeah. We do require prepayment on our consultation fees. Why? It’s a fair question.

We found that, before, when we didn’t require prepayment on fees, there were a lot of no shows. Divorce is a kind of high stakes thing, and making the decision to actually come in for a consult is a big one. Its sort of like Pandora’s Box, right? Once you open it, you can’t just stuff that newfound knowledge back inside the box. It’s already out there.

By prepaying, you make a commitment to the meeting. It’s one that helps us respect attorney time, and respect your time, too. We find that it helps everyone involved be on the same page to start with.

What if I change my mind or need to reschedule my appointment?

If you change your mind or need to reschedule your appointment, that’s fine. We can refund your money to you – which, depending on your bank, will likely take 3-5 days to show up – or we can just reschedule you to a time that works better.

We understand this is a big decision, and that you may have second thoughts. We will absolutely work with you, and the prepayment is not a deposit – so it is completely refundable.

I’m worried my husband will see the payment.

It’s definitely smart of you to think of that beforehand. We definitely advise our clients to make their consult payments, if it’s a concern, to an account that is not linked to their husband’s – so, whether that means using a separate credit card, or opening one, or having a friend or family member pay on your behalf. You definitely don’t want to show him your hand too early on.

Will my consult payment be applied to my retainer?

If you retain – a retainer agreement may be presented to you during the consult, if appropriate, an a fee for retaining the attorney quoted – on the same day as your consult, your consult fee can be credited against your retainer amount.

So, if you’re quoted $3500 for a separation agreement, you could retain the attorney on the same day as your consultation for $3200, instead of paying the full amount.

Ultimately, though, it’s really mostly irrelevant; the money you use to retain the attorney goes into a trust account with your name on it, and we set a minimum account balance (that’s also in the retainer agreement) that you agree to maintain. So, when your account drops to a particular amount, we’ll ask that you replenish the trust account, anyway.

Your money translates into a certain number of hours of the attorney’s time; by receiving that credit, you’ll have to replenish your trust account one hour-ish sooner (depending on your attorney’s actual hourly rate). It’s not actually a discount, but it may make retaining a little easier at the time.

Will the attorney take my case?

Each attorney decides whether she’ll take each case and then, if so, exactly what the appropriate retainer fee might be. I can’t tell you ahead of time whether the attorney will take your case for sure, but I can tell you that we aren’t in the business of turning perfectly good clients away. If there’s a case, there’s often a retainer quoted – and, if not, that will be explained to you as well.

For more information, to attend a monthly divorce seminar, or to request a copy of our divorce book for Virginia women, visit our website at 09 or give us a call at 757-425-5200.