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June 2010

Hunting for a RI Divorce Lawyer - Free RI Consultations - You usually get what you pay for! Nothing!

Lawyer or not, I do remember what it's like to be a layperson instead of a Rhode Island Divorce lawyer.  This may be where you are right now.  Searching for a Rhode Island divorce lawyer without any direction or assistance.

Let me take you back in time to one of my own divorce or family law altercations.  There I was. Perhaps just as you are now, thinking  "What the hell are you thinking.  C'mon, you know that every divorce lawyer you call is going to cost a fortune.  So why even bother to pick up the phone?  Why even waste your breath?"  Those were my thoughts and beliefs.

Yet like most people, I had to try.  Heck, if you don't know your family law rights how are you going to protect them, right?  You might as well not even have rights if you don't know them. 

I certainly didn't know how Rhode Island's Family Courts systems worked at that time.  Maybe you do, maybe you don't.  Personally, I was a mess.  There were just too many things going on in my life.  Most of us are faced with that challenge.   You probably have one or more jobs, hobbies, bills, children, school, marketing, preparation for your job, meetings to attend, and much more.  I'm sure you may have some or perhaps all of these things.

Well, here is what I did as a layperson at that time.  I was clueless.  So I picked up the telephone and called several lawyers in the divorce and family law section of the Yellow Pages.  I didn't know anyone who could even refer me to a lawyer.  The internet was barely accessible to the general public back then.

So I called several attorney's advertising divorces and set up free consultations.  I wanted to know some kind of price range from the divorce lawyer over the phone so I wouldn't be wasting my time or the divorce lawyer's time.  I thought I was being practical.  If I couldn't afford the lawyer then why should I waste the lawyer's time and my time in a free consultation, right?  It made sense to me.  Wouldn't it to you?

Yet there were too many things I just didn't understand about divorce lawyers, the family courts, and how things worked in practice.  Ultimately, I didn't care.  I just wanted the divorce to be done.  I secretly hoped that the divorce would just go away.  I wanted to wake up from this bad nightmare and suddenly family court would be a thing of the past.

My call to the first RI divorce lawyer wasn't too bad.  I called an attorney advertising that he handled divorce cases.  The secretary just asked me when I was available.  I told her and we set up my free consultation.  

I arrived early and was shown into the attorney's office about ten minutes late.   An older male attorney introduced himself, pointed to chair and told me to have a seat and then began walking around his office talking into the the air and waving his hands telling me about how long he had been practicing divorce law and how lucky I was to have found a lawyer as skilled as he was.  Yippee for me!  (Sorry, I just had to add that because it really is funny as I look back at this "lawyer hunt" today.)

The lawyer didn't ask a thing about my situation.  It was pretty clear he didn't care.

As a potential client, I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  If my name weren't written down in the lawyers' appointment book he wouldn't have known my name because I didn't even get a chance to say  "Hello, I'm Chris Pearsall." 

What I DO remember is the divorce attorney's demeanor.  He was very self-confident.  He assumed the cat was in the bag and I was going to hire him.  At the end of the meeting he told me that he'd walk me through the process and I wouldn't have to worry about a thing.  He'd take care of the whole thing and I wouldn't have to worry about anything.  It sure sounded good.  Yet I was no sucker.  Right after that he told me to make out a check for $3,500 payable to [Attorney's Name left out as a professional courtesy]  and his  secretary would give me a form to fill out and sign.

I thanked the lawyer and his secretary as I quickly walked straight for the door.  What a waste of my time!  I hadn't been able to say a word and the divorce lawyer simply  blustered about his achievements trying to impress me.  By the time I left the lawyer's office I wasn't any better off for it.  In fact, I had wasted 35 minutes and $1.50 in quarters for a parking spot, neither of which I would ever get back in my life.  I had no information about divorce, court procedure or my legal rights.  What good was this FREE CONSULTATION if I didn't get anything out of it?  The idea is clear.  You get what you pay for.

With the second Rhode Island lawyer I contacted I didn't fare much better.  I called the second Rhode Island Divorce attorney and then asked if there was anything I would need for his free consultation. The attorney told me I wouldn't need anything other than my checkbook or a check in the amount of $1,500 if he found that I was in dire need of an attorney and that proceedings needed to be instituted right away.  I made the appointment for my free consultation for three days later but called and canceled it the very next day.  Any divorce lawyer who considered that I should make the decision to hire him right then and there without thoughtful consideration and suggested before the appointment was even confirmed that I bring my checkbook was a bit too presumptuous for my taste.

My third encounter was nothing short of comical.  I went to the free consultation listed by a  female divorce lawyer in her Rhode Island Yellow Page advertisement.  This time I went in jeans.  I was not working that day and I felt more comfortable that way.  I also wanted to give the clear impression that I was not a man of great financial means.  I wanted to hear what help she would give me during the free consultation that might help me in my divorce if I didn't hire her. 

We never even got that far.  Here's how it played out.

An attractive woman entered the office about twenty minutes after I arrived.  She seemed calm and well composed and glanced at me sitting in the little waiting area.  The woman whispered to the receptionist, "That isn't my 2:30 appointment, is it?"  The attorney's receptionist nodded.  The female divorce attorney rushed into her office, came out with a brown expandable folder under her arm and rushed for the door, stating "I'm off to court."  The receptionist came out to me a few minutes later and was very apologetic.  She told me that she was sorry but that the attorney received a call and she had to return to court.  The receptionist then gave me the telephone number and address of Rhode Island Legal Services and suggested I contact them.

Apparently the jeans and dress shirt had given the impression I was a bum with no money.  I thanked the receptionist  for her courtesy and asked her how the attorney had had received a call to come back to court when the phone hadn't rung.  The receptionist stumbled and then said nothing.   This time I wanted to make sure it was worth the trip.   I asked the attorney's receptionist to please let the attorney know that I thought she had nice legs just the same.  The receptionist gave me a blank stare as I left the office.  Again, another 25 minutes of my time was wasted plus $2.50 for a parking meter.

If it's any consolation, not all lawyers fit these molds.  There ARE good lawyers out there that do not presume that you are going to hire them, that do not waste your time bragging about their accomplishments, and that do not make it a point to waste your time by standing you up for appointments because you don't look like you have enough money for their tastes.

Finding these lawyers isn't easy.  In today's high-tech age I have more major suggestion.  Use the internet, particularly and do a variety of word searches for Rhode Island Divorce Attorneys who offer divorce services, have been practicing for 10 years or more, and who offer informative articles for free on the internet to inform the public.  These are the attorneys that are helpful.  These are the attorneys who are not full of themselves.  These are the Rhode Island Divorce attorneys who literally proved themselves by their writings before you even call them or walk in their door.

Be aware that most attorneys still offer free consultations and that it makes all the sense in the world that you get what you pay for.  It only makes sense.  Every word that comes out of an attorney's mouth that carries any form of legal help or advice at all has liability attached to it and the attorney can be sued for it.  

So answer me this.  Why should a Rhode Island Divorce Attorney take all this risk, give you free legal advice, and risk being sued by you if he or she isn't getting paid a dime.  The answer!  They shouldn't!  Frankly, that's why they don't.  

So for decades the Free Consultation has been a hook to get prospective new clients in the door but not to give those prospective new clients any real legal help.  After all, if that was the intention, then it wouldn't it be called the Free Legal Advice Session or the Free Legal Feedback Session.  Yet that isn't what it's called.  

In fact, the word "consultation" means a meeting or discussion with an expert or professional in order to seek advice.  Notice that it says "to seek advice" but says nothing about receiving advice.  That's because that is the other half of the equation that is presumed by most people but it is not technically correct.  Consultations do not require that you receive advice, but only that you give information to seek advice.  Most of the time, the advice you get is this . . . . "You need to hire me right away before this becomes a mess and gets out of control."

In the end, if you're going for a free consultation, remember that you're most likely going to get what you pay for, so if you run across an attorney who charges for an advice session, don't be put off or throw him or her to the wind so quickly.  What are you being promised for your meeting fee?  Is it real legal advice you can use and rely upon?  Then depending upon the cost of the session/meeting, you may be saving yourself a lot of time and headaches by paying a reasonable fee and having something real you can rely upon because by accepting payment the attorney has put his or her reputation on the line and has exposed himself or herself to liability.

This was my experience before I came a lawyer focusing my practice in the area of Rhode Island Divorce and new RI Divorce and Family Law Advice and Coaching.  Yet you have to decide for yourself.  Let your common sense guide you.  Does it make sense that a lawyer is going to sit with you for free and answer your legal questions if he or she isn't assured to get something out of it?

Authored By:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law

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