Tips for seeking legal advice – #SolicitorChat
1 - Why is it important to consult a specialist solicitor rather than assuming one size fits all?
Every area of law has its own unique procedures and terminology. Seeking out specialist legal advice is crucial for achieving the best outcome for any legal issue. Their experience of the specific area of dispute will ensure your claim is progressed more expertly, more quickly, and often at less financial cost to you.
Using a specialist could make the difference between winning or losing your case. In my area of work (clinical negligence) specialist experience means we are more likely to achieve a successful outcome, and the compensation is often higher whereas a non-specialist lawyer may miss the more technical/unusual parts of a claim, or fail to ensure that you are fully compensated for all your financial losses.
I completely agree with Ali's points. The only other thing that springs to mind is: clients need to be confident in their solicitor, both in terms of technical expertise, proven track record and building a good relationship. These are the most common reasons for clients transferring their cases to us from other solicitors.
2 - How do you help clients understand legal jargon?
This is one of the key skills for doing a good job for our clients. In order to offer appropriate advice and to take informed instructions, we have to be sure that our client fully understands the legal process.
For example, I communicate technical terms in plain, uncomplicated language whether orally or in writing and always ensure that my clients have a chance to ask any questions.
I also offer to send written information following a complicated or lengthy telephone discussion so that my client can review the information again in their own time, to help them digest it.
The starting point is to try and avoid legal jargon in the first place. Where technical terms are unavoidable in certain documents, explanatory letters or emails are generally well received along with a follow-up telephone call or a face to face meeting. This is especially the case for clients who do not speak English as their first language.
I deal with medical reports quite often and regularly prepare a glossary of terms to help the client understand the medical terminology which can often be as unfamiliar as legal jargon.
3 - What are the risks of trying to tackle legal issues alone?
I think the biggest risk is not knowing what you don’t know! Things can escalate quickly and there may be serious and costly implications from legal proceedings if they are not managed properly.
There are procedural complexities and technical jargon to contend with and, although the Court should make allowances for a litigant who is acting alone, you are likely to be at a significant disadvantage without specialist legal representation.
The financial and/or emotional stakes are often high for people dealing with their own legal issues without professional support or representation.
The support and guidance that a solicitor can provide during the lifetime of a case is invaluable, as are the relationships the solicitor has with other professionals who might become involved.
With most things in life, we all want to put our best foot forward and feel confident that we did our utmost to achieve the right result. I suspect those people who represent themselves and who are unsuccessful with their cases could be left with a nagging doubt about what might have been.
4 - How do you ensure clients can trust you?
I think this comes down to being able to build rapport quickly with a client, showing understanding of their concerns and being honest with them from the start (rather than making promises that can’t be kept).
Clients often come to us through recommendations which gives us a head start but they still want to know that their solicitor is someone they trust to do the best by them and to share the burden of the legal process.
Trust has to be earned, and one of the most important parts of the solicitor/client relationship is that clients should have complete trust in their solicitor. Often highly personal information will be shared and sensitive fears or worries discussed.
In my experience, clients do not instruct solicitors about whom they have concerns over credibility or trust.
The important values I practice include; keeping my word, giving clear advice, being honest about the strengths and weaknesses of particular cases, and taking the time to get to know and understand my clients.
5 - What advice would you give to someone employing a solicitor for the first time?
I would highlight the need to be clear about what they are hoping to achieve and to be honest about the information they provide as this can have serious and costly implications later on if they haven’t been completely transparent.
Legal matters can take time to resolve and are often emotionally charged, so I would stress the importance of having the right solicitor by your side. Pick someone you have faith in, and someone with specialist experience, to guide you through the process.
Ask for recommendations from others or use a reputable search database, like the Law Society's, to find a solicitor within a specialism. Within clinical negligence, I recommend contacting AvMA or APIL.
Do your research, and do not instruct a solicitor or sign terms of business unless you are entirely happy and clear about the agreement. Ask friends, family or colleagues for recommendations, or use professional bodies for recommendations (e.g. the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers).
It is also important to weight the importance of various factors, e.g. do not sacrifice expertise for geography but remember it will be much easier to meet with and build rapport with a local solicitor.
Finally, don't be afraid to speak to more than one firm at the outset to decide the best solicitor for you.
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