What are free consultations, and what do I need to prepare to get free legal advice?
You see it on the internet, billboards and on TV. Attorneys everywhere offer free consultations.
But what does that really mean, and what can you expect from an attorney during this consultation? Lastly, what can you do to prepare?
In this article, we will explore what a free consultation means for you and your workers’ compensation case, as well as how to maximize this time for your benefit.
What is a free consultation?
To begin with, the term “free consultation” is somewhat of a misnomer.
In Georgia, most workers’ compensation attorneys who represent injured workers are hired on a contingency fee basis, meaning that the fee the attorney gets is contingent upon an event. In workers’ compensation, that event is typically the settlement of a claim.
Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 34-9-108(a)) lists 2 important aspects of how an attorney who represents an injured worker gets paid.
Attorney fees must be approved
First, state law says that any fee over $100 that an attorney charges for service to a claimant shall be subject to the approval of State Board of Workers’ Compensation. This means that if an attorney is entitled to or requests payment for services of more than $100 while representing an injured worker, the Board has to review the charges and approve them. This provides the injured worker with a layer of protection in all workers’ compensation cases.
Fees cannot be more than 25 percent of the settlement
Second, Georgia law states that the Board shall never approve any attorney fee for services to a claimant that adds up to more than 25 percent of the claimant’s award of benefits or settlement. This limits the maximum amount an attorney can charge in a workers’ compensation case to 25% of the settlement. This differs from other personal injury cases such as a motor vehicle accident or another type of liability claims. In those circumstances, fees typically range from 33% to even 50% in some situations.
The result of these statutes is that an attorney cannot take money from a client if that amount is more than $100 without first getting approval by the State Board. In addition, almost all claimant’s attorneys in Georgia work on a contingency fee of 25%. All consultations should not cost the client any money out-of-pocket and therefore be free.
What happens during the initial attorney consultation?
During an initial consultation, you have the opportunity to discuss the facts of your case with an attorney — not a paralegal or other law firm staff member. You will also be able to ask them questions about your case such as how they would handle certain issues in your case and what their experience is in the relevant field of law.
The consultation is your chance to take center stage and ask them how they would handle your situation. At this point, you are interviewing the attorney and, in the same regard, they are interviewing you. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask.
Some important questions to ask your prospective attorney during the initial consultation are:
- How long will my case take?
- What areas of law do you practice?
- Do you focus on workers’ compensation?
- Do you only represent injured workers, or insurance companies too?
- Have you ever dealt with a case like mine? If so, what was the result?
At the same time, the attorney should ask you pointed questions about the facts of your case. These questions should involve specifics about how you were hurt, such as:
- What body parts were injured?
- Who did you tell about the injury?
- Who is your employer?
- Have you ever injured that body part before? If so, when and how?
After the attorney asks you a number of questions, they should be able to provide you with some information about the direction of your case.
At Gerber & Holder, we will develop a roadmap of how we envision your case progressing. We do this at the beginning so that you have an expectation of what should happen and when certain events will take place.
A workers’ compensation case is a joint process between the attorney and the client. You should be completely comfortable with your attorney. The consultation is the best time to get a feel for your attorney and make a connection. Ultimately, you have to trust your attorney to do what’s right, and they have to trust you to follow their instructions.
How can you prepare for your legal consultation?
Your initial consultation is extremely important, and it’s essential that you are prepared to use this time wisely. Be thoroughly prepared for the consultation by following this advice:
Bring all relevant documentation
Prior to the meeting, gather all documents you have relating to the case. This includes medical records, forms from your employers and from the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. All of these documents provide the attorney with valuable information such as the name of the adjuster, the insurance company, and grounds for possible denial by the insurance company. There is most likely important information on these papers that you aren’t even aware of.
Be honest and forthright
Additionally, it’s essential that you be as honest as possible. This includes being forthright about your injuries, levels of pain, and any information that may be sensitive. As we always tell clients, an attorney can prepare and deal with information that they know about, but they cannot prepare for what they don’t know. There are usually tactics and strategies to overcome obstacles if we know about them ahead of time. Remember, all attorney consultations are 100% confidential and cannot be divulged to other parties.
It’s also worth noting that you have not technically hired an attorney until you have signed a contract. Don’t expect them to do work on your case until a contract has been completed.