How Not To Get Ripped Off By The First Attorney You Meet

I’ve had it happen more than once: A consumer came in to see me after being ripped off. Not just by buying a defective car but also by paying an attorney for an initial consultation. In my field (Lemon Law) and several others, the only attorneys who charge money for initial consultations are the ones who don’t know what they are doing.

One client came in to my office the first time with a pile of paperwork six inches thick. When she had asked what to bring to her initial consultation, I told her “Bring everything.” I go through so many documents on a daily basis that I can sort through them faster than the clients can. Repair orders, leases, receipts, purchase agreements and so on. I see them when I close my eyes.

As I sifted through her papers I noticed a lawyer’s letterhead. It was a retainer agreement. Had she already retained an attorney to handle this case?

No, she had hired the attorney for an initial consultation. She paid the attorney $1,000 to review her paperwork. I was stunned. The attorney had reviewed her papers and then told her she had no case. But he kept the $1,000. I did not recognize the attorney’s name so I looked him up. Based on his license number with the state bar I could tell he had been out of law school for only a couple of years. According to his website, he handled all manner of legal cases but made no mention of lemon law. Why had she gone to him? He was a friend of a friend.

From my review of her paperwork it was painfully obvious she had a great case. I asked her what the other attorney had told her about why her case wasn’t worth pursuing. She told me that he had just said he spent a few hours looking through the papers and there was “nothing there.” He had advised her to sell her car and move on.

This is not the only time I have heard of this but it was the most egregious. The lemon law in Michigan – and most other states – allows for a successful litigant to recover their attorney fees and court costs from the Defendant. So every attorney I know in this field – and I know many – will consult with a potential client for free. And, this is true in many other fields of law as well, including the ones which are routinely done on a contingency basis. Auto negligence, personal injury and so on.

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