When you need legal help, finding the right lawyer can be a daunting and time consuming exercise. No matter why you need a lawyer, more often than not you’re already feeling anxious and overwhelmed. For example, you may have experienced:
- The breakdown of a relationship.
- A work injury or car accident.
- Involvement with the police.
- The death of a loved one.
Whatever the reason, you don’t want to increase your stress burden at such a time. That’s why it’s important that you find a lawyer who:
- Is a first-rate practitioner.
- Will ensure that your interests are being looked after.
- Works hard for the best possible outcome.
But with so many lawyers available it can be very difficult to choose. Here are some tips to help you find your way.
Where to start
It can be difficult to know where to start, but there are some things that you can do to help the process.
Asking people for referrals may be one of the best ways to narrow down the field. For example, asking family and friends to provide a recommendation.
You may have previously seen a lawyer who works in a different legal area. You could contact them and ask for a recommendation.
Other professionals, particularly accountants, financial advisers and real estate agents, often have good legal contacts. If you are a client of another professional, you may be able to ask them for a referral.
You can try Google searches such as “criminal lawyers Adelaide”. Once you have the names of a few firms you can head to their websites to find out more. A good website will have plenty of information about practice areas, solicitor profiles, and some information about fees.
The importance of choosing the right lawyer from the start
Once you choose a law firm, it can be very difficult to change if you later decide that they aren’t the best lawyers for you.
Not only can it cause delay in progressing or finalising your case, there can often be more costs involved because the new lawyer must get up to speed on all the developments. It takes time to read the file and take instructions from you.
In cases where the first lawyer still has to be paid, for example a no win no fee personal injury case, there has to be agreement about the terms that will allow the file to be released to the new lawyer. This can cost time and money while the agreement is negotiated.
There are also some basic things to keep in mind.
To practise law, a lawyer must have legal qualifications and a Practising Certificate that allows them to work as a lawyer. If you are unsure about whether a lawyer has these things, you can make an enquiry with the Law Society of South Australia.
Lawyers also have some fundamental duties. They must:
- Act in your best interests.
- Maintain confidentiality about your case.
- Handle your case with care and skill.
- Handle your case efficiently so that delays are kept to a minimum.
- Be prompt and courteous when communicating with you.
- Follow your instructions (except when it is impossible to do so).
You should satisfy yourself that the lawyer will perform all of these duties.
Does the lawyer specialise in the appropriate area of law?
There are so many legal areas that it’s simply not possible for a lawyer to be proficient in all of them.
A good lawyer will tell you right from the start which area of law applies to your issue and will give you an idea of their level of experience in that area.
You should ask as many questions as necessary to satisfy yourself that the lawyer is up to the job of handling your case. A good lawyer will happily answer all of your questions. Remember, no question is too trivial. If a lawyer makes you feel silly for asking a question, that may be an indication that they’re not right for you.
To find out more about Websters Lawyers’ practice areas, click here.
Overlapping legal areas
Sometimes, a legal issue might involve more than one area of the law. For example, you might have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and were driving the car as part of your work duties. Any claim may involve personal injury law as well as workers compensation.
Or, you are going through a divorce and have also re-partnered. Not only do you need a family lawyer, but you may also need someone who can draft a new will for you.
If you see a lawyer who specialises in just one area, you may find yourself having to instruct a new lawyer if issues arise in other legal areas. A law firm that offers a range of legal services with specialists in each area will be in a position to represent you far more efficiently as it can handle all of your needs.
Who’s running the show?
Ask who will be responsible for running your case. Ideally, the lawyer with whom you have the initial contact will be the main person involved throughout the case. But sometimes, a lawyer will delegate the file to a junior practitioner. You need to know if this may happen. If you’re uncomfortable with the arrangement, you need to tell your lawyer of your expectations right from the start.
It’s also important that you know who’s in charge so that if you ever strike difficulties with your solicitor, you can get help promptly.
Ask who oversees the lawyer’s work and how accessible they are. Perhaps the firm has publicised that person’s email address and invited client feedback. Perhaps the firm has a Practice Manager whose job it is to resolve client concerns, or they may even have a client liaison person.
If the contact person is a lawyer, try to find out whether that person is likely to be tied up in court for lengthy periods, as this may have an impact on how effectively and quickly they can deal with client concerns.
Law firms must give you a clear idea of how they work and how they calculate their fees. Ideally, this information should be on their website, but regardless, they have an obligation to provide you with detailed written information.
Some firms also offer a no-win-no-fee arrangement in which you pay legal fees only if you win your case. These arrangements are usually subject to a number of conditions and you should ask your lawyer about them at your first meeting. You may also be able to find information on the law firm’s website in advance of the meeting. It would be a terrible blow to the lawyer-client relationship if you were to receive an unexpected bill!
You are also entitled to an estimate of your legal costs. A good lawyer should be able to provide you with a fairly accurate estimate range at the start of a matter. In some limited cases, the lawyer may also be able to agree to a fixed fee arrangement with you, in which you are not charged after your fees reach a certain point.
Many law firms use the phrase, “Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.” This means that if things go wrong, some claims by a client against the law firm may be limited to a particular amount.
In many cases this is accompanied by a logo stating, “Cover of Excellence,” and might appear as something of benefit to the client.
It’s a good idea to find out whether the law firm has a limit on how much they might have to pay you if they make a mistake in your case. It will help you make an informed decision about whether that firm is right for you.
Like referrals, client feedback can provide an excellent indicator of the quality of a firm’s service to its clients.
You can check the firm’s website for any client feedback.
Choosing the best lawyer for your needs can sometimes be a difficult task, but if you’ve done a bit of research and know what questions to ask, the stress of the process can be greatly reduced. Just remember, whatever the issue, your lawyer is there to help you and that should be reflected in the quality of their service.