For the most part, people use solicitors out of necessity rather than choice.
That’s the reality, notwithstanding that for most business, commercial property and employment law clients, things work much better and end up cheaper and less risky if the client takes regular advice, much like using an accountant.
Choosing a solicitor isn’t easy – few things are more important than getting the right one, so it may be of some assistance to someone for me to say how, as a solicitor myself, I would go about choosing. Ultimately, most of what I say is simply my opinion, you may take it or leave it.
- how important or specialist is the legal problem ? – a common mistake is to believe that any lawyer, being a lawyer, can help. The more important the matter, the more experienced and specialist I would go. Law is a vast field and no lawyer can know it all. A generalist will tend to have generalist experience, and with legal matters, experience matters a lot.
- will other lawyers be involved ? – what I mean by this is that in litigation, property, commercial, divorce, family or employment matters (as opposed to wills and probate) there will commonly be “the other side” – if you ask most lawyers, and I am no exception, as soon as I know which other solicitor is involved, I check them out straight away. If they are very junior or inexperienced, it may assist my client’s negotiating position. With legal disputes, it’s even more important. Having an experienced expert in your corner can have a psychological impact on not only the opponent but his or her lawyer, if they have gone to a generalist.
- check the solicitor out online – you can get a good feel for the firm and the lawyer now by looking at the website, profile, articles written, video and social media. Personally, I can tell a lot from these sources – experience and a practical, plain english will often come through when the writer writes about law, profiles can indicate a certain aloofness or arrogance and so on. Use all the information you can get your hands on.
- references and recommendations – with social media, everyone now has an opinion and will readily share it ! Good in many respects, but take recommendations with a pinch of salt and I would not instruct solely on that criteria. A lawyer may have done a great job for a friend with conveyancing, but that particular lawyer may not be right for a business contract.
- meet or speak to the solicitor – this would probably be my number 1 recommendation – personal rapport matters and it’s an opportunity to ask questions. This is also key. It’s probably the only way you will gain confidence that the solicitor really knows what they are talking about. It’s also a great way of ascertaining whether the lawyer is an advisor. What I mean by that is there are still some lawyers who will be ultra cautious. They will tell you what the law is (in many cases you can now find it yourself online, which is a big change in the last 10-15 years) but they won’t steer you at all. The lawyer cannot make the decisions for you but a good lawyer will guide based on experience. If you feel uncomfortable, either in a meeting or on the phone, asking the lawyer questions, that’s a good indicator he or she may not be right for you. For me, good lawyers now should not be defensive, they should be happy to be put on the spot to a degree. It’s how you will find out whether the lawyer really has got the vital experience you need. If necessary, even ask the lawyer “when was the last time you dealt with a situation similar to mine” ?
- large corporate or property transactions check the firm and insurance – with higher value matters, you may well need a team of lawyers. If you are, for example, selling a business for £5 million, you may well need property law advice, corporate advice and employment law advice. In my view, you would need specialists in each, so a firm would need to have enough lawyers to meet your needs. You might choose a very big law firm, but such a firm generally has high charge rates and would deal with bigger matters. You can get a feel for the right size firm if you look around and you also need to be confident the firm has more professional indemnity cover than the basic level, A very small firm may not.
Hope this helps !
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