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Does the 'clock start ticking' as soon as I make the first phone-call?
In 99.99% of instances... NO.
It may well be a pre-conception and standard joke that lawyers charge for every milli second because they're perceived to be money-grabbing expensive necessities.
However, it is a gross misconception that from the moment you pick up the phone for the initial contact and start the conversation with your prospective legal representative (wherein you explain your issues and problems in the hope that they're going to say "Yes, of course, I can help you") that you will be charged for that initial outpouring.
The reality is that 99.99% of lawyers, solicitors, barristers and attorneys DO NOT charge at all for your initial conversation and/or face to face meeting. This is because in order to see whether they are able to help you they first need to know more about you and your issues.
Also, qualified solicitors / lawyers / barristers etc have to adhere to the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority), or equivalent, and a Code of Conduct wherein they must carry out checks before they begin to represent you, and if all is well, they must then present you with a Client Care Letter stipulating what they are going to help you with and at what price over what period.
So, rest assured, take comfort and confidence that whatever your legal concerns are, have no fear in relation to a potential hefty bill landing on your doormat from an inital chat on the phone or popping in to see your local solictor.