It's hard to predict when you'll need a lawyer.
You may need help writing a will, or someone to handle the legal aspects of purchasing a house. Perhaps you might need help with a dispute - whether it's over a service that hasn’t been satisfactorily delivered, a problem with your landlord or employer or an issue arising in your neighbourhood. It can even be due to a decision by a national or local government body that you think ought to be reviewed.
When something like this happens, many people find it hard to know where to start when looking for a lawyer. This guide provides some useful tips on finding a solicitor or barrister, getting legal advice and instructing a lawyer.
Which type of lawyer do I need?
Broadly, there are three types of lawyer that can help you with your legal issue:
Solicitors are the kind of lawyer you’re most likely to speak with first. They can provide you with expert legal advice and support. They deal with the paperwork and communication of your case or legal issue, for example writing letters, documents and contracts. They can also negotiate with the other side if you are having a dispute.
If your case ends up in court, your solicitor will find a barrister to work on your case.
Barristers are generally hired by your solicitor on your behalf to work on your case. They tend to become involved in a case when it goes to court or to advise on a very specific area of law. They represent you before the judge by presenting arguments to support your case.
A legal executive is similar to a solicitor. However, they are only qualified to practice certain areas of law, such as employment or conveyancing law. While legal executives are often very experienced, they're more likely to handle relatively straightforward legal issues and may direct you to a solicitor if your case is more complex.
Where to look for a solicitor
There are many different methods of finding a solicitor:
- Ask your family, friends and colleagues for recommendations, particularly if they live in your local area or have had similar legal issues to you. It can be reassuring to know that someone else has had a good experience with a lawyer before you approach them.
- Ask your local Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau. Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux have good connections with the local legal community and may be able to make recommendations of someone local with the right expertise. Some also have a legal team of their own. Often their expertise will be in areas such as housing, family, debt, immigration and welfare benefits.
- Use the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor database. This allows you to filter your search according to location, area of practice, whether they accept legal aid and whether they can speak languages other than English. The Law Society will provide you with contact details for solicitors that meet your search criteria. However, the Law Society does not provide ratings or reviews for firms, and so it can be difficult to know which solicitor to choose.
- Use the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners to see how top firms rank in particular areas of law. These sites use various tools, such as feedback from clients, to rank firms. However, the firms included are likely to be more expensive than others and it can be hard to know which firm is best for your specific needs.
How much does legal advice cost?
The prospect of taking legal action can seem daunting because of the costs involved.
Your lawyer will want to talk your legal issue through with you briefly at the outset, and most, if not all, will do this for free.
You should feel free to ask about how they will charge at your first appointment. That way you know, for example, what happens if you want to call with a question. You should receive details of the arrangement in writing - if not, it’s a good idea to ask for it so you have it for reference later on.
How much legal advice costs depends on a wide variety of factors, including how complex the case is, and what it concerns.
Some cases that reach court include a risk of an "adverse costs order" being made against you if you lose the case. This may mean paying the legal costs of the other side, and can be a significant amount of money. Your lawyer will advise you if this is a risk, and talk you through the implications before you make any decision to go ahead.
There are many ways to fund a legal case, including by using CrowdJustice to crowdfund for some or all of the fees involved. You can read more about using CrowdJustice and other methods of funding your case in our guide to paying for your legal case.
Your first appointment
When you go for your first appointment with a solicitor, it is important to be well organised and prepared. Here is a list of things we would recommend taking to the appointment:
Proof of your identity (e.g. your passport or driving licence).
A pen and paper to take notes.
Evidence supporting any claim you are making (for instance, documentation and letters, photographs or video).
Proof of your income.
If you are seeking legal advice about a dispute, any details of the other party that you have (name, address, other contact details).
For a divorce case, you will need to bring your marriage certificate.
For a case involving an accident, bring pictures or sketches of where the accident happened.
Any other documents you might think are relevant (your solicitor will be able to guide you on whether they need them or not).
You should think about the questions you want to ask beforehand - it might be helpful write these down so that you don’t forget anything. Take notes during the meeting so that you can look back on them afterwards.
By the end of the meeting, you should aim to be clear about what the next steps are and when they’re going to happen by.
What you should expect from your lawyer
Lawyers are required to follow professional standards. They must:
Treat you with respect and professionalism.
Provide you with objective assessments of your legal situation.
Communicate effectively with you, keeping you informed of what is happening with your case.
Keep information relating to your case in the strictest confidence.
Act in accordance with their professional obligations and code of conduct.
Inform you about your right to complain and how to make a complaint.
Keep you up to date with the costs of your case at reasonable intervals.
What does “instructing a lawyer” mean?
When you “instruct” a lawyer, you are authorising them to represent you. You can only instruct one lawyer, or team of lawyers, at a time on any one case.
Even if you don't have the money to pay upfront, most lawyers will accept your instruction for a nominal (very small) fee, for instance if you’re planning to raise money through crowdfunding.
The contract with your lawyer
Once you have decided on a solicitor and met with them, and they have agreed to work with you, they will send you a ‘client care letter’ or ‘retainer’. This letter sets out the contract between you and the solicitor.
It should include the qualifications of the lawyer, the fee agreement, an estimate of the overall cost, and details of how you can make a complaint. This is a helpful way of knowing what to expect from your lawyer, and is worth reading carefully.
We hope this guide has helped to make you feel more confident about finding a lawyer and instructing them to help solve your legal issue!